From the November 1986 issue of Car and Driver.

You don't need this vehicle. Life would go on for you without a Nissan Pathfinder in it. Just as you could get through a day with­out carrying your Swiss Army knife.

But what if an unexpected urge comes over you to whittle away at a little wood­land? Or to screw around in the sand? Sup­pose you suddenly must saw through a snowbank? How are you going to cork­screw up a canyon, or bore over boulders, or file down a defile if you don't have a versatile little utensil like this at your hip?

Doing it all is what the so-called sport­-utilities are all about. Chevy's S-10 Blazer, Ford's Bronco II, Jeep's Cherokee, Toyota's 4Runner, Mitsubishi's Montero, Dodge's Raider, Isuzu's Trooper II­—almost everyone is making compact sport­-utilities now, and Nissan studies show that some 489,000 were sold here in 1985. They've become popular because they of­fer so many automotive abilities in one small, smooth-cornered tool. Commuting, camping, conveying, cruising, carousing: With such a car, everyone feels ready for ev­erything. It doesn't matter if the owner never really takes advantage of all the pos­sibilities. That the possibilities are there, folded neatly away, always ready, is what makes these little "utes" appealing.

1987 nissan pathfinderView Photos

So appealing that finally Nissan, which claims the title of number-one importer in combined car and truck sales, has fielded its first American-market sport-utility vehi­cle. Available only in the U.S. (though, un­like Nissan's pickup truck, it will be built only in Japan), the new Pathfinder is basi­cally the six-month-old, new-generation "Hardbody" pickup, with an integral sheetmetal enclosure at the back. It was styled simultaneously with the new truck (at Nissan's California studios), it's built on an only slightly modified short-wheelbase truck chassis, and it offers most of the truck's optional hardware: fuel-injected V-6 engine, four-wheel drive, brush guards, etc. Nissan is taking great pains, however, to make sure no one thinks of the Pathfinder as a truck.

According to market research, sport-­utility buyers are a more upscale group than truckers. They have more schooling, they earn more, they have more refined lifestyles. They're older, too. All of which Nissan interprets to mean that, while they might buy trucks to get the tough cars they want, what they really want is tough cars.

Ergo, the Pathfinder has coil rather than semi-elliptic leaf springs atop its rear axle, for a smoother ride. Its interior is very carlike and exceptionally roomy both front and rear. The highest of the three available trim levels offers such amenities as electri­cally adjustable windows, mirrors, and shock absorbers. Power steering is stan­dard on all models, as is part-time 4WD. Nissan expects that some 75 percent of Pathfinder buyers will choose the 140-hp 3.0-liter 300ZX-derived V-6. In contrast, almost four out of five of the company's pickups are sold with the 106-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder.

The Pathfinder's selling points include the longest wheelbase in the field, the wid­est cargo area, and the largest optional fac­tory-available tires: Sized 31x10.5R-15, they put more than eight inches of tread on the road and measure more than 30 inches in diameter.

At a brief, rather carefully orchestrated press introduction in California's San Ber­nardino Mountains, we confirmed that the Pathfinder really does ride almost as smoothly and quietly as a normal passen­ger car on paved roads and seems to set a new standard for comfort and civility on unpaved ones. For the driver, visibility, steering feel, and overall handling are all satisfactory, given the vehicle's basic pur­poses. It's not exactly a fast vehicle, despite the power, but the torquey V-6 has little trouble stepping the back end out at will. Passengers, and that includes back-seat­ers, can actually enjoy the ride, thanks to the soft springing and ample leg- and headroom.

We weren't able to try anything like the rock-riddled Rubicon, but we do feel safe in saying that, for the roughest back-coun­try byways the typical owner is likely to tackle, the Nissan will be entirely satisfac­tory. And, since 99 miles of every 100 are probably going to be on asphalt or con­crete, the way this new sport-utility cod­dles its crew ought to make it a winner.

Even for those not in the Swiss Army.

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1987 Nissan Pathfinder
Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear/four-wheel-drive, 5-passen­ger, 3-door wagon

$15,000–$17000 (est.)

2.4-liter inline-4 or 3.0-liter V-6, iron block and aluminum heads
Displacement: 146–181 in3, 2389–2960 cm3
Power: 106–140 hp

5-speed manual, 3-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 104.3 in
Length: 171.9 in
Curb Weight: 3500–3900 lb

City: 15–16 mpg