Nissan is increasing its stake in the New Zealand SUV market with the strikingly-styled new Pathfinder.
Nissan is selling the truck in two variants - the petrol or diesel-powered ST, both costing $61,700 and the petrol-only Ti, at $67,000.
The seven-seater five-door wagon was styled in Japan and North America and is made in Spain.
It's based on the Dunehawk concept vehicle unveiled at the 2003 Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany.
There's a decidedly American look about the truck from some angles. Seen from the front three-quarter it has an imposing and distinctively American look reminiscent of the Ford Explorer.
But the Pathfinder has Nissan's now-signature, three-aperture, four-wheel drive family grille.
The side profile is dominated by a strong horizontal shoulder/window line that is broken by a sharply angled C-pillar; and by exaggeratedly muscular wheelarch flares.
Short body overhangs allow a useful 33-degree approach and 26-degree departure angles for offroad driving.
The truck's offroad abilities are also enhanced by a 254mm ground clearance and a river wading maximum depth of 450mm.
ST models are available with a 4.0-litre DOHC V6 petrol engine (a variant of the V6 used in the Nissan 350Z sports car) or a 2.5-litre turbo diesel.
Both are mated to a five-speed automatic gearbox with manual sequential shift function. Nissan is not offering manual gearboxes on NZ market Pathfinders.
The new Pathfinder uses a revised version of Nissan's electronically controlled All Mode 4x4 system which has a low range gear for offroad driving.
The All Mode 4x4 has electronic controls and is integrated with the braking system.
It can be set in rear-wheel drive or in Auto 4WD which distributes power to the front wheels if the rear wheels lose traction or start to slide. The transmission can also be locked into 4WD High or 4WD Low modes, distributing power and torque evenly to front and rear axles.
Low 4WD is used mainly offroad or in heavy, slippery going.
When 4Low is selected - the truck must be stationary to connect or disconnect the Low mode - an active brake limited slip function uses the ABS braking sensors to detect any loss of traction.
If it does, it independently brakes the wheel which is beginning to spin or slip, effectively transferring drive to the other wheels.
Double wishbone front, multi-link rear independent suspension and anti-roll bars are designed to give good tarmac handling.
Brakes are ventilated discs front and rear, and an ABS system with brake assist and electronic brake distribution is standard.
The wheels are 17-inch alloys shod with 255/65 R17 tyres.
The 2005 Pathfinder has a body-on-frame construction with a fully boxed all-steel ladder chassis.
It's based on the same platform as Nissan's North American pick-up truck, the Titan.
The Pathfinder is 4740mm long, 1850mm wide and has a 2850mm wheelbase.
Nissan says the Pathfinder's seven seats - arrayed in three rows (two-three-two) - can be configured in 64 different ways to cater for passengers or cargo.
The truck has a potential maximum cargo length of 2.8 metres.
On-board storage includes two gloveboxes, under-seat storage boxes and luggage capacity of 190 litres with all the seats in place. That rises to 2091 litres with the second and third rows of seats lowered.
The 4.0-litre DOHC petrol V6 develops 198kW of maximum power at 5600rpm and 385Nm of peak torque at 4000rpm.
The engine is a member of the VQ family which includes the 3.5-litre V6 found in the 350Z sports coupe, Murano crossover 4x4 (due here later this year) and Maxima sedan.
The 2.5-litre common-rail turbo diesel engine generates 128kW at 4000rpm and 403Nm at 2000rpm.
This engine, codenamed the YD25, is a development of the Navara ute's diesel.
It has twin overhead camshafts and 16 valves.
On and offroad
Few manufacturers would argue that most of the 4x4 SUVs they sell are never used offroad.
Many are used mainly in the city - a good proportion for the school run, mums dropping off and picking up the kids in vehicles they perceive as having a safety advantage.
But almost every manufacturer takes pains during a new SUV launch to demonstrate their new baby's offroad prowess to motoring writers.
That can backfire. Wet grass can be the SUV's worst enemy if it's running on highway tyres, the trucks slithering backwards as the gradient and the wet grass conspire to rob them of forward progress.
Nissan was no exception to the show-off-the offroad-chops at last week's media launch of the 2005 Pathfinder, a truck it insists is as happy toiling through challenging offroad territory as it is negotiating the urban jungle on the twice-daily school run.
Nissan has always had a sense of adventure in its models' media launches - like debuting the 2006 Pulsar on the West Coast of the South Island in mid-winter, gambling that some crazed motoring writer wasn't going to tangle disastrously with black ice.
None did and the Pulsars returned unscathed from the run through the Haast. The only victims of the icy conditions were one or two motoring writers who lost traction on the iced-over ramp out of the dinner venue and were stranded holding on to the handrail fearful of moving either forwards or backwards.
Nissan got a little daring last week, too, with the help of both PR consultant John Coker who plots the finest drive programmes in the business, and offroad expert and tutor Pete Ritchie.
Coker's notion was to take the convoy over the hill from Nelson City into Marlborough wine country by the old route - up the narrow, mud-surfaced roads that make up the Maungatapu Track.
Coker's an old rally hand whose CV includes rallying Skodas of varying vintages and tackling the round Australia trial.
He remembered the Maungatapu from the 1980 Rally of New Zealand, in the days when a rally really was an adventure rather than a collection of relatively-short breakneck sprints.
So into the Maungatapu we went, after threading our way out of urban Nelson.
Colin Smith and I teamed up and we hit the trail first. Nissan's advice was to put the Pathfinder into 4WD Low before starting the climb. That required stopping the truck, putting on the handbrake and selecting Neutral. However, the Pathfinder is capable of covering such terrain in High 4WD as Coker had discovered during a recce run before the launch.
As we began the steady ascent, Smith one of NZ's top rally co-drivers - he's also driven a handful of rallies - tested the Pathfinder's handbrake turn prowess on a couple of hairpin corners and found it didn't really have any. In fact, it seemed downright offended at being asked to perform such antics.
The hill went on and on, the climb seemingly never-ending. The road was deeply rutted in places - no place for a modern rally car (back in 1980 the council still kept the road maintained to a level cars could cope with).
The Pathfinder ground relentlessly onwards and upwards, never losing its footing even in deeply muddied sections. The diesel roared and clattered (not the quietest of oil-burners the Nissan 2.5 turbo) but never lost breath.
We broke into a sparsely wooded area - the summit - which was the site of the infamous murder by highwaymen of a group of gold prospectors in the 19th Century (three robbers were caught quickly and hanged after trials; the fourth turned Queen's evidence but later met his fate on the scaffold for another crime).
The descent from the summit was long and spectacular, and when I got to drive it, the Nissan proved precise and surprisingly smooth-riding (isn't it strange that the sorts of bumps that have you bouncing around as a passenger become barely perceptible when you're actually driving).
We reach the flat and we're on to a superb gravel road that has Smith itching to tackle it in a rally car.
The Nissan - now in 4WD Auto (rear-wheel drive with four wheels engaged whenever a back wheel loses traction) - is predictable, stable, nimble.
We hit the sealed highway and - now running exclusively in RWD - the Pathfinder is impressive. It's rock-stable, there's little body roll and the chassis has good bite in the corners. The diesel which was so noisy under extreme load is now whisper silent as the truck moves effortlessly through the Marlborough countryside at 100km/h.
In the afternoon, Ritchie puts us and the Pathfinder through the offroad hoops, inching along bankings, wading streams, showing off the chassis articulation in a gully-like dry stream bed, descending steep hills to show the braked limited slip in action.
The piece de resistance is a slalom on grass - mercifully not wet grass - where the constant steering movements required have my arms in a seeming blur and the arcs of the turns seem to be ever-increasing.
The Pathfinder emerges with top-flight offroad creds - you'd expect that, anyway, from the people who build one of the finest offroad SUVs in the world, the Patrol, but it's nice to have it confirmed.
But the nicest thing is that the Pathfinder is equally as competent on the road, with a refined feel and - in 4.0-litre petrol V6 form - electrifying acceleration.
It's an SUV for all seasons and all terrains, offering outstanding capabilities at a competitive price.
With a more evocative badge - the sort people call prestige - you'd pay tens of thousands of dollars more for this sort of ability and quality.
On initial acquaintance, the new Pathfinder offers prestige quality and ability at a price that will leave the man who's careful with his money with a feeling that he's made the right - and the value-for-money - choice.