Midsize SUV; Built in Japan
  • 4-door wagon
  • longitudinal front-engine/rear- or 4-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,800 – $4,700*

1996 Nissan Pathfinder LE

1996 Nissan Pathfinder SE

1999 Nissan Pathfinder LE

1996 Nissan Pathfiner interior

1999 Nissan Pathfinder SE

  • Instruments/controls
  • Passenger and cargo room
  • Ride
  • Steering/handling
  • Engine noise
  • Fuel economy
  • Rear-seat entry/exit
  • Rear leg room

Pathfinders are not cheap, but largely because of excellent road manners and truck-tough construction, they’re worth a look before buying an SUV in this class.


Fully redesigned for 1996, Nissan’s sport-utility vehicle went on sale after the model year began. This was the first major reworking of the Pathfinder since its debut a decade earlier. A new, longer-wheelbase unibody chassis replaced the old body-on-frame design. In addition to dual airbags and standard 4-wheel antilock brakes, the new Pathfinder got a bigger V6 engine. Overall length increased by 6.7 inches, wheelbase stretched 2 inches, and width grew by 2.2 inches. Despite the increased dimensions, weight actually dropped by about 200 pounds. The spare tire moved under the cargo area, but an outside-mounted tire carrier was optional. The 4-door wagon had a rear liftgate and a separate top-hinged glass back window. Three models were available: base XE, sport-oriented SE, and luxury LE. All three used a 3.3-liter V6 producing 168 horsepower. Peak torque increased from 180 to 196 pound-feet. A 5-speed manual transmission was standard on XE and SE Pathfinders. Four-speed automatic was standard on the LE, optional on others. The SE had standard part-time 4-wheel drive (not for use on dry pavement), with shift-on-the-fly capability via a console-mounted lever at speeds up to 50 mph. XE and LE models had rear-drive standard, with 4WD an option.

Yearly Updates

1997 Pathfinder
Changes were minimal in the new Pathfinder’s second season. All four doors got new map pockets. Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury division, introduced a plush QX4 sport utility, evolved from the Pathfinder.
1998 Pathfinder
Pathfinders were essentially unchanged for 1998.
1999 Pathfinder
Little change was evident as the model year began, but Pathfinders earned a facelift at midyear. Meanwhile, LE models now had body-colored fender flares, plus the same wheels, tires, and side steps used on the SE. In addition to freshened styling, the 1999 1/2 model got optional front side airbags, in a package with leather upholstery for SE and LE models.
2000 Pathfinder
Following its freshening in midseason of 1999, Pathfinders had a short 2000 model year. The Off-Road Package with outside spare tire was dropped. An revised Pathfinder debuted in spring 2000, as an early 2001 model.


longitudinal front-engine/rear- or 4-wheel drive

All Pathfinders carried the same engine: an overhead-cam 3.3-liter V6, producing 168 horsepower. Either a 5-speed manual transmission or optional 4-speed automatic might be installed.

ohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.3/201
Engine HP 168
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 196
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic

Road Test

Softer-riding than before, with additional rear seat and cargo room, the new Pathfinder also delivers better acceleration and has a more modern dashboard. Because of its relatively low ride height, getting in and out of the front seats is easy. Despite large rear doors, however, the back seat presents more of a challenge, partly because those doors do not open 90 degrees. There’s little room to swing your feet and legs through the narrow opening.

The V6 engine is smoother than in the previous model, though a heavy throttle foot yields a loud engine roar–too gruff and growly when worked hard. The 2001 V6 brought Pathfinder/QX4 up to par with the competition. ’01 Nissans claimed 0-60 mph in 8.8 sec–2.1 sec faster than earlier models. Low-speed response is good, though a Pathfinder cannot beat its domestic rivals–with V8 engines–in all-out acceleration. Fuel economy is on the dismal side, like most SUVs. An SE 4×4 with automatic averaged a meager 14.1 mpg in a combination of city, suburban, and highway driving.

Ride and handling rank among the most carlike in the sport-utility field. A tight suspension and linear steering contribute to a sense of control. Even so, you get a surprising amount of body lean and tire squeal during fast turns. The ride is firm, but devoid of harshness over bumps. Road and wind noise are low.

The Pathfinder’s dashboard is one of the most user-friendly you can find, with all controls easy to see and reach. Head room is good all around, if not exceptional, but the rear seat offers barely enough leg room for anyone taller than about 5-foot-10. Worse yet, toe room is scant under the front seats. Cargo space is good, but folding the rear seats requires tilting the cushion, then removing the head restraints so the backrests can lie flat. Thick side roof pillars might impair the driver’s over-the-shoulder views.


Model Tested: 1998 Nissan Pathfinder 4WD auto

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 4
Fuel Economy - 3
Ride Quality - 6
Steering/Handling - 4
Quietness - 5


Controls/Materials - 5
Room/Comfort Front - 5
Room/Comfort Rear - 4
Cargo Room - 6


Value - 5

Total: 47


4-door wagon
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
106.3 178.3 68.7 67.1
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
85.0 20.8 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
39.5 37.5 41.7 31.8
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1999 Pathfinder 4-door wagon


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 4
Front Passenger Injury - 5

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - 5
Rear Passenger Injury - 5


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 129
Injury 94
Theft 229

Trouble Spots

Description: Airbag-indicator light may flash, indicating a failure. Dealer will replace the SRS (supplemental restraint system) sensor under warranty. (1996)
Brake noise
Description: A high-pitched squeal or whistle from the area of the front brakes is eliminated by replacing the baffle plate on both sides. (1996-98)
Audio system
Description: The radio may loose its presets and the clock its time due to voltage spikes. A replacement radio, less susceptible to this problem, is available. (1996)
Suspension noise
Description: The front suspension squeaks on rough roads due to a problem between the strut rod and rubber bumper. (1996)
Vehicle shake
Description: Vibrations at 30-40 mph are often the result of the front driveshaft being installed out of phase. (1996-97)
Description: The black anodized lug nuts’ surfaces corrode (looking light white dust spots). Nissan will replace them with chrome lug nuts. (1996)

Recall History

1996 Pathfinder
Description: Due to type of lubricant used, steering-wheel effort at low ambient temperatures could increase.
1996 Pathfinder
Description: Carpet padding on some vehicles could be too thick, catching driver’s right foot.
1996-2004 Nissan Pathfinder
Description: For vehicles originally sold, or currently registered, in the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington D.C., West Virginia and Wisconsin.In areas of the country in which heavy concentrations of road salt are used, a mixture of snow/water and salt may enter an assembly location hole in the upper strut housing, causing water to and may result in corrosion of the strut tower housing in some subject vehicles. This may lead to grinding noises, increased steering effort, and possibly the steering column to break, resulting in the loss of steering control, which could result in a crash. Nissan will inspect the strut housing and repair the vehicles as necessary free of charge.
1997-2001 Pathfinder
Description: Recall affects vehicles originally sold in or currently registered in the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. The fuel filler tube may rust due to an incomplete coating process. In areas where road salt is used, the rust may perforate the tube, causing fuel leakage, increasing risk of fire. Dealers will replace the fuel filler tube with a new one with an improved coating process.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.