After driving my Honda Prelude for almost two years, life with a small, 2-door car had begun to get old. Mechanical issues aside, going anywhere with friends comfortably or hauling anything was out of the question in the Honda. So, I cracked open the classified and began shopping. I didn’t know quite what I wanted, but ended up test driving — and buying — a 1994 Nissan Pathfinder on somewhat of a whim.
At the time, there was a 1997 floating around in the family, but this first-generation machine was not nearly as refined. Basically a Nissan Hardbody pickup with an extended roofline, this truck was a *truck.* It offered real-wheel drive, body-on-frame ruggedness that I would come to enjoy quickly.
That’s not to say that the Pathfinder didn’t offer any creature comforts. My particular example came with four doors in gold with chrome wheels, window tint, cold AC and a solid (if not basic) gray interior. Being a 1994, my Pathfinder was at the tail-end of the first generation of the line. When Nissan had decided to add a 4-door version lineup to the family, it didn’t extend the wheelbase, shrinking the length of the front doors.
Nissan moved through a couple of different variations of the 4-door design. Mine featured the full-size spare tire being mounted inside the trunk, against the driver side rear window. This made of getting stuff in and out of the tailgate easier, as there was no spare tire holder in the way, but greatly ate into storage space.
This Internet-found image is actually a 1995, but it shows just how bulky the spare tire holder was on these things.
This gave these trucks a more upright appearance than I think they would have had otherwise. However, Nissan designers added a little touch that I still love — hiding the vertical rear door handles in the black trim covering the B pillar. While this design element is used all over the place now, in 1994, it was hot stuff.
Thanks to increased ground clearance and rather straight-forward nature, the Pathfinder is where I learned much of what I know about maintaining and taking care of a vehicle. I changed my own oil, rotated my own tires and performed several repairs over the course of my ownership, including a water pump over Thanksgiving break in a friend’s driveway.
My Pathfinder, surviving a rare Memphis snow event.
The weekend before I started college, my girlfriend and I were given tickets to see a play. We took a break from moving me into my dorm to enjoy a night on the town. Upon returning to the parking garage where I had stashed the Pathfinder, my heart sank.
The driver door was wide open, and spilling out of it was a mix of glass, plastic and wiring. Upon inspection, it became clear that someone had attempted to steal the truck. They had been unsuccessful, but not before totally trashing the steering column and driver footwell. The thing wouldn’t even start. With the help of a friend with a Tahoe, we got it pulled out the parking garage to where a tow truck could get it home.
It took some time — and most of the dashboard out of a junkyard truck — but the Pathfinder was resurrected by a local shop.
Sadly, the transplant didn’t take perfectly. The Pathfinder developed a nasty habit of setting its own alarm off at random once the key was removed from the ignition. I lived in a dorm at the time, and after the 4th of 5th time the campus police called me, I wired in a kill switch to the battery to keep the electrical minions at bay.
(More than once, I jumped in the truck to go somewhere, forgetting about the switch. After getting mad that the battery had gone dead, I’d remember the toggle and roll my eyes.)
Even with its criminal-induced problems, the Pathfinder served me well. It never complained when I overloaded it moving in and out of dorms my first year and a half of college, but after a while, owning an older, large SUV began to drain on me — and my checkbook at the gas pump. I put a For Sale sign in the window and looked to move on.
Where Ive been working lately there is a one of these in maroon but a diesel labelled Terrano it goes and gets used as a runabout if nothing else is on offer its slow and wallows about but everything still works, it starts first shot and the five speed box still shifts ok, they are just quite hard to kill and with a turbo actually go quite well.
My friend has a diesel Terrano. Not fast but built tough. He likes to thrash it down gravel roads and regularly bounces it off the verges, but it seems to never receive any significant damage.
It never ceases to amaze me that people only discover the high cost of feeding a guzzler AFTER they get one.
I think people do have a general understanding that it’s going to be more expensive going into it, but they can’t truly grasp the difference until they personally have to pay for it.
Also I don’t know what years he owned this things but perhaps gas got much more expensive while he owned it – the 2004 to 2008 years saw gas rise from 1.50 to 4.50 a gallon.
At the height of Hummer I remember all the new H2 owners bitching about their 8-12 mpg. Duh.
In this case though Stephen, as a college kid, went from a 4 cyl Honda to a 3.0 Nissan. College kids (or a number of adults) don’t always extrapolate the added costs of new things.
At the opposite end, going from my 16 mpg no-matter-what Trooper to the 25-27 mpg Outback has been awesome. I’d gloat more if gas wasn’t at historically low prices for the past 3 years.
I had the King Cab version of this platform – the truck was awesome and ran to 250k before I sold it to get the Trooper because of the baby. With the 3.0 and 5 speed transmission, it went to the first looker for full price and was immediately wisked south of the border. Apparently the engine-tranny combo was a hot commodity there.
It’s a penalty that you (hopefully) choose to live with, rather than it being an unexpected drag. I know–I daily drove my Marauder during the $4/gallon days of 2008-09.
Besides, how do you discover the cost before owning one? Unless you know that you’re going to be shopping for a new car and take the very deliberate step of withholding extra money from your paycheck for a couple months to see how you cope with the added expense, it’s hard to figure theoretically. Plus that method requires that you drive a relatively consistent number of miles both months, not necessarily something that describes a lot of college students!
Nice write up; I almost bought one of these when I purchased my ’96 Maxima. Since I also owned a truck, I figured I’d go for comfort, and didn’t regret it for the next 190,000 miles.
In my opinion, and my experience of owning Nissans off and on since the ’80s, this era was a low point for the marque in terms of design and materials quality. It was around the time leading up to the point where Nissan was all but bankrupt, and Renault stepped in.
Yet, the mechanicals of mid-90s Nissans – particularly the engines and transmissions – are solid and bulletproof; the VQ engines are perhaps the best I’ve ever owned. To me, the cost cutting was most evident in the suspensions and in the interior. Yet, my two Nissans of that timeframe still washed up and shined like new for many years, despite their clunky rear axles, appetite for a wheel bearings, easily torn vinyl where the leather wasn’t used, and broken welds on two driver’s seat frames (I’m 6’1″ and my weight ranges from 180 to 200, in case you’re wondering if I’m morbidly obese).
I think the financial situation of Nissan at the time also explains why they didn’t lengthen the wheelbase for the four-door Pathfinder.
Being victimized like that sucks. This invasion in your space really gets under your skin. I would be mad every time something reminds me of it. Like having to deal with an alarm gone wild or a kill switch.
Once my motorcycle got messed with, another time there was an attempt at theft, a minivan got the window shot out with a BB gun, bicycles got stolen out of the garage. So I know how it feels.
SUV’s have their place in the market. However in my opinion most are misplaced in suburban driveways. Where they shine are gravel roads, logging roads and other rough terrain. I drove a few but never could warm up to them. A Ford Explorer felt really good on the interstate, a Trail blazer was just OK.
A big GM SUV felt right at home on a deeply washed out dirt road in Wyoming. But that is where I spent just a few days of my life. I have the feeling your next vehicle was better suited to your needs.
(Minor correction: the hidden door handle is at the C-pillar.)
I lived in Memphis from 1988 to 2011, you don’t say so but I would guess from my own experiences that your Pathfinder was nearly stolen while in Memphis. In my nearly 23 years there I had 4 different vehicles broken into, though none were stolen. And like your experience the damage done wasn’t completely fixed to “like brand new” condition. I even had 1 car that was broken into 2 or 3 times…..A 10 YEAR OLD CIVIC.
BTW, it snowed 3 times in the 22 years I was there, and being from Pennsylvania I couldn’t believe how such a miniscule amount of snow pretty much closed down the city.
I’ve always liked this generation of Pathfinder and have tried to find a nice one with a manual transmission, but more importantly an older model…one of the 2 door models. I just missed one about a year ago.
My nephew had a Pathfinder, not sure which generation, but he credits the solid build quality for keeping him from being killed in a car accident he had while driving it.
Might be hard to imagine now, but when new these trucks had a certain sex appeal to them. A buddy of mine bought one with his first real job out of school, and his dates liked it so much he started calling it the Assfinder.
Funny that you mention that. I remember that my high school yearbook, in my senior year of ’97-’98, did a little segment on student and faculty cars, and the “best faculty car” went to one of the teachers who had a nearly new Pathfinder. I heard that described as a “sexy car” more than once by female students. (It probably didn’t hurt that the teacher was young and handsome.)
My personal “fave” teacher cars were the art teacher’s ’87 BMW L6 and the principal’s late 80’s 560SEL. But perhaps I wasn’t representative!
My aunt and uncle owned a total of at least 5 Pathfinders over the years including 2 of the first generations ( a gray 91 or 92 and a 95 green SE). At multiple points, they each had one. I remember thinking how cool the rear door handles were. After the Pathfinder got redesigned in 2005, they switched to 4Runners. I remember going to the Philadelphia Auto Show with them and seeing the new Pathfinder, and my uncle went out and bought one of the last 2004s as he didn’t like the new body style.
I had one of the 1st “Hardbody’s”. It was an ‘861/2 Pickup. Unfortunately, the manual transmissions had an inherent problem of losing reverse. When I’d lost reverse (the 1st time) & forgot to park in such a position that reverse was never needed, I was stuck, either pushing the truck backwards, or trying to “bounce” off a curb stop, to get it to roll backwards out of it’s parking spot. After the 2nd transmission lost reverse, I parted the truck out, as RUST had taken it’s toll. I put a Toyota bed on it at one point.
I bought one of these in 2002 from a local Nissan dealer. It was a 1994 LE with only 54k on the odometer. It was absolutely like new and the price was right. I thought I had found the deal of the century! Only one problem – my wife hated it. I knew I was doomed from the moment I brought it home. She was afraid of the way it handled. If you had to make an emergency maneuver the back end would sway uncontrollably. It happened to me several times too so I knew she wasn’t making it up. Plus the V-6, which I expected would be a gas eater, never got more than 15 miles per gallon. Plus it was extremely under-powered. So I decided 6 months later to trade it in and never looked back.
Since the Pathfinder in 2000? was redesigned and adapted a new unitized body and chassis, the new and shorter Xterra still probably used a similar BOF construction like this 1G version of the Pathfinder. That’s just my guess though since the Xterra was still based on the pickup truck chassis.
I drove Datsun/Nissan trucks for years. Finally tired of losing head gaskets on the NAPS engines. I still think the V6 Nissan engines are practically indestructible. Now I have the “brother from another mother” of your Nissan in my 95 4runner.
My 4runner is probably the most practical car I ever owned and if I were still a single man I would probably still like the 2 door like yours.
Getting ripped off leaves a permanent scar. My losses were a stolen motorcycle and a vandalized MGB. I can find little forgiveness for that.
Good article and there are still a number of these in Oregon, but the Hardbody is much more common.
I bought one of these in the mid 2000’s with over 200k miles on it for about 1000 bucks. An LE iirc with a 5 speed and the “Lego” wheels. It ran like stink and was tough as nails. Great in the snow! The BOF construction would up being its undoing here in New England. Apparently, the box frame steel made no provisions for drainage, and the chassis rotted from the inside out. Snapped in half eventually.
When I pulled my cap off & bedliner out of my 86 1/2 Hardbody pickup, the bedliner & cap were the only things holding the bed sides from virtually falling off. The hidden rust was the WORST I’d ever seen. I did a lot of rust preventive maintenance on the frame though. That did hold up!
When I purchased my 1995 Pathfinder XE (in 1997, and I owned it until 2007), I was also looking at Jeep Cherokees, which were very similar in the size of SUV that I was looking for. I thought that I would probably experience better reliability with the Nissan. I really liked the Pathfinder a lot.. very low maintenance until 190k when the transmission needed to be repaired (no more reverse) and for me it wasn’t worth the cost to get it fixed. I thought the 3.5 V6 had enough power for this kind of vehicle, and the mileage was as I expected (it might have been the same or a little better than 4.0 V6 in the Cherokee).
In 1996 I was dating the CFO of Hilton gaming and she tired of her old Mazda Coupe and bought a new red 2WD 4 cylinder automatic Pathfinder .
I couldn’t figure out why as she wore a skirt to work every day and as much as I enjoyed watching her climb into it , it was difficult for her….
It also had the external spare tire and for some odd reason she insisted in always putting the groceries in the back instead of easily in the rear side door .
She quickly grew to hate opening the swing away spare carrier .
It was reliable like an anvil , she was quite concerned when I drove her up the Angeles Crest Highway then down a dirt road for a picnic in it once but it didn’t complain .
I imagine these made good light duty shop trucks and general haulers , he’s never got dirty and occasionally carried her luggage to the airport for business travel .