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Click to view picture gallery“Nissan expects to
  sell 3,000 Pathfinders
  in the UK this year.
  Will you be buying one
  of them? Read on…”

IT'S THAT TIME of year again, with rain, snow, ice and gale force winds. Weather that will reconfirm the initial decision
by some new car buyers that
it was definitely right to buy
a 4x4.

However, in the longer term that decision may not make financial
or environmental sense. Higher taxation levels and inner city residential and commuting charges are currently taking hold and additional draconian measures proposed by the EEC, based on the weight of vehicles, will hit off-roader owners' pockets even harder in the future.

In theory, everybody has the right to buy the vehicle of their choice. But as we probably know — and keep getting reminded of by the environmental lobby and the eco-police — 4x4s are OK in the right place. The 'right' place being in the country — not in a town or city environment and definitely not for urban school runs.

It seems as though the anti-social and high running cost messages associated with these vehicles might finally be getting through to owners. UK 4x4 sales dropped last year by six per cent, although top-of-the-range models actually increased their sales. From the seven
per cent growth in MPVs, it appears that some 'Yummy Mummies' at least might have seen fashion sense and moved from a 'soft' 4x4 to a people carrier.

The change in buying trends, plus new legislation, is not good news
for some manufacturers — for instance: Land/Range Rover, Jeep and Nissan.

Nissan is an interesting position. Their UK car sales were down by a substantial 20 per cent last year, and about half their current model line-up consists of 4x4 vehicles. If sales of SUV/4x4 vehicles continue to fall this year, times could become very difficult — even though Nissan says that SUV/4x4 models only account for 25 per cent of their total UK sales.

The Nissan SUV/4x4 model line-up consists of their X-Trail range (one of the better selling compact SUVs competing against the likes of the Land Rover Freelander), the highly-rated Navara King and Double
Cab pick-ups, the Pathfinder five- and seven-seat mid-sized models selling against the Land Rover Discovery, the fashionable Murano 4x4 'crossover' model that thinks it's a sports car and the Patrol, an out-right heavyweight authentic 4x4 that goes anywhere and tows any-thing up to 3,500kg. In addition, Nissan is about to launch the Qashqai (pronounced 'cash-kye'), a compact crossover/family hatchback with two- or four-wheel drive models that looks like a 'soft' 4x4 and which is being built at Nissan's Sunderland factory.

Nissan are undeniably big in 4x4s and they must be hoping not only that the British love affair with such vehicles continues but also that last year's decline in sales was nothing more than a 'blip'.

The Nissan Pathfinder range has recently been revised for 2007.
The 4.0-litre V6 petrol engine has been dropped from the line-up and the 2.2-litre turbodiesel unit now gives way to a new 2.5-litre Euro
IV compliant engine. With over 90 per cent of 4x4s sold having diesel engines, there doesn't seem much point in keeping petrol options. Nissan is expecting the Pathfinder to attract around 3,000 UK sales
this year.

The core attractions of the Pathfinder are its mid-size, five- or seven-seat options, go-anywhere 4x4 traction and affordability. Throw in Nissan's renowned build quality and reliability and already you have a sensible package. Prices start at £22,995 and rise to £29,895 for the fully spec'd range-topping Aventura model with automatic transmission.

They all share the same 2.5-litre 169bhp four-cylinder second-gener-ation direct injection turbodiesel engine mated to either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, depending on the particular trim level.

There are three trim levels: basic workhorse 'Trek' to mid-market 'Sport' to business executive 'Aventura'. I'd probably go for the Sport with auto transmission, priced at £26,895, which would be a good combination vehicle for country, town and motorway use. I can see country people wanting a rugged 4x4 sticking with the cheapest version which makes good financial sense. With its all-mode 4x4 system, two- and four-wheel drive and high and low ratio options —
all available at the turn of a switch — the Pathfinder is a really good performer off-road. Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist are additional transmission aids fitted as standard to the automatic models.

My test model was the top-grade Aventura with auto transmission. Clearly aimed at the business market, it's probably well suited to a dual role as a company car during the week and a family recreational vehicle at the weekend.

This model lacks for nothing in specification, as can be seen from the following list: seven seats, leather upholstery with power-adjust
and heated front seats plus memory, driver, passenger, front side
and curtain airbags, dual-zone climate control, rear heater and A/C controls, electric windows and door mirrors, auto-dim rear view mirror, rear privacy glass, opening glass on rear hatch, six-speaker sound system with MP3 compatibility, CD autochanger, leather steering-wheel with audio controls, trip computer, cruise control, auto headlamps and rain sensing wipers, new generation Birdview DVD satellite navigation with 7-inch colour screen, voice-command operation of SatNav and telephone system, colour rear view camera to assist reversing, 17-inch alloy wheels, side steps, Xenon headlights, headlamp washers and an electric tilt and slide sunroof.

The seating for seven is arranged over three rows and all seating positions have anti-whiplash head restraints. With simple actions, the two middle rows of seats fold individually (or together) to form a com-pletely flat floor with an extremely accommodating 2,091 litres of cargo space. For those with time on their hands, there are 64 seat/cargo configurations to experiment with. Legroom in the middle and third rows is not especially generous; definitely more suited to children than to adults. With all seats occupied the luggage area is relatively small, reminding us that this is, after all, a mid-sized 4x4. And while it may not have the road presence of some of the current 4x4 monsters, it is easier to park and to use on narrow roads.

As mentioned earlier, the new Pathfinder now has a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder engine — up from the previous 2.2-litre unit. More power and torque, a more refined and quieter power delivery are distinct improve-ments over the old 2.2. Power output is 169bhp and maximum torque
is 297lb ft from just 2,000rpm. Top speed is an acceptable 108mph with the 0-62mph dash covered in 11.8 seconds. Not exciting or the best in its class, but plenty good enough for real country-life custom-ers. Average fuel consumption is quoted as 28.8mpg but my model — heavily weighed down with executive specification — returned 29.5mpg during a week of average day-to-day style driving. Now that was pretty impressive for a 4x4 with automatic transmission. Official con-sumption figures for Urban and Touring are, respectively, 23.5 and 33.2mpg.

As you would expect in the handling department, there is the usual 4x4 body roll and fore/aft pitching — but it was better than many. Ride comfort was good as well: no harsh spine bashing, thanks to its pretty absorbent set-up.

The Pathfinder excels off-road. The ALL MODE (with ESP+ and traction control) 4x4 system is easy to use and, if fitted with some grippy all-terrain tyres, the vehicle would be a good off-road workhorse. For those who want a tow vehicle, the Pathfinder has a braked towing capacity of 3,000kg.

We live in a badge conscious age, so the Pathfinder will not necessarily have the brand appeal for everyone. On road driving is rather 'old school' 4x4 and the auto 'box on my test car was sluggish changing gear. On the plus side it offers practical, go-anywhere ability, seven seats, a comprehensive specification and Trek and Sport versions are well priced. And if that's not enough for you, it's also been voted the 'Best Medium Off-Roader 2006' in Planet 4x4 magazine's first ever awards. — David Miles

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Nissan Pathfinder Aventura 7-seater 2.5 dCi | £29,895
Maximum speed: 108mph | 0-62mph: 11.8 seconds
Test MPG: 29.5mpg | Power: 169bhp | Torque: 297lb ft

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-------------------------------------------------- Nissan Pathfinder Aventura