$11,091 - $15,118

2012 Nissan Pathfinder Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2012 Nissan Pathfinder was new.


Performance: 7.0

Like other truck-based SUVs, the Nissan Pathfinder’s off-road intentions and high towing capacity force a trade-off in fuel economy and on-road comfort. If you don’t need the Pathfinder’s rugged abilities, you and your passengers will be far more comfortable in a smooth-riding midsize crossover like the Nissan Murano. And if you do need an SUV that can tow and haul with the best of them, there are more capable choices that would serve you better.

  • “The SUV species has moved toward carlike unibody construction, but the Pathfinder remains an old-school body-on-frame SUV. As such, it weighs a bit more than newer SUVs, but it also boasts V-8 power and the ability to haul and tow huge objects. It also isn’t afraid of off-roading.” -- Car and Driver
  • "With a choice of V6 or V8 engines, and the ability to tow up to 7,000 pounds, the Pathfinder is clearly superior to most (crossovers). … Still, when placed up against newer models like the Dodge Durango, the Pathfinder loses ground in the area of horsepower, fuel economy and price.” -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "Pathfinder is less absorbent than crossover rivals, but fine for a traditional truck-based SUV. The 16-inch tires iron out broken pavement better than LE's 18s or SE Off-Road's all-terrain treads. Still, bumps and expansion joints can cause some bounce and body shudder." -- Consumer Guide

Acceleration and Power

The Nissan Pathfinder comes standard with a 4.0-liter V6 engine that makes 266 horsepower and can tow up to 6,000 pounds. Only the LE model is available with the 5.6-liter V8 engine that makes 310 horsepower and can tow as much as 7,000 pounds. Both are paired with a five-speed automatic transmission, though all but the base S trim get a manual shift mode that aids in towing.

Reviewers say the base V6 is just adequate, but they love the V8's extra power. The Pathfinder's horsepower surpasses that of many competitors, including the Toyota 4Runner. More than one reviewer notes that the transmission has to shift often in order to keep the engine in its sweet spot for optimal power, and that sometimes it’s slow to downshift in automatic mode.

According to the EPA, the two-wheel drive Pathfinder achieves 15/22 mpg city/highway with the six-cylinder engine. The four-wheel drive model achieves 14/20 mpg with the six-cylinder and 13/18 mpg with the V8. These figures are in the bottom half of the Pathfinder's class of midsize SUVs.

  • "V6 Pathfinders are peppy from a stop and around town. … Passing maneuvers require a brief moment for the transmission to downshift, but power is ample thereafter. However, some testers feel the V6 labors to deliver brisk uphill acceleration from midrange speeds.” -- Consumer Guide
  • “The V-6 and V-8 both provide good acceleration.” -- Car and Driver
  • "There's an optional 5.6-liter V8 that shares the same five-speed automatic gearbox, but we'd pass unless you really need the ability to tow another thousand pounds and you think it's worth the fuel mileage penalty. And that's a very real concern - we averaged an absolutely dismal 13.8 miles per gallon in everyday driving with the smaller V6 engine.” -- Autoblog

Handling and Braking

Reviewers say that the Nissan Pathfinder’s handling is about adequate for a truck-based SUV. That means it comes with lots of body lean during turns and nose plow during hard stops, though that’s not uncommon for a body-on-frame SUV. However, many midsize competitors are now car-based crossovers, so they tend to have far better handling and a much smoother ride. Reviewers say the Pathfinder’s brakes feel secure and strong, though.

The Nissan Pathfinder comes standard with rear-wheel drive, and four-wheel drive with available shift-on-the-fly two-speed transfer case is available. Reviewers say it’s capable off-road, though the Nissan Xterra and the Jeep Wrangler are better in most cases because of their smaller dimensions.

  • "And, when we returned to the open highway, we found not a rough, truck-like ride expected of such an adept off-road suspension, but a fairly smooth, easily controlled driving experience.” -- Kelley Blue Book
  • “For whatever reason, the constant bumps, dips and ruts of an unpaved road brings out the best in the Pathfinder's suspension tuning, and the faster you go, the smoother it gets. And when the going gets truly tough, the Pathfinder's truck-based roots mean the transfer case can be slid into low gear, and its generous 8.9 inches of ground clearance mean you'd need to be doing something really crazy to get stuck.” -- Autoblog
  • "Low-effort cornering induces noseplow and body lean typical of truck-type SUVs. A wide turning radius hurts close-quarters maneuvering. Braking action is smooth and progressive.” -- Consumer Guide
  • “The ride is a bit choppy.” -- Car and Driver

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