A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing: The Nissan Pathfinder Is Nothing But a Minivan in Disguise

Aesop’s Fables told a story of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but the Nissan Pathfinder turns that on its head. Instead of being something big and mean on the inside with an unassuming exterior, the Nissan Pathfinder is pretending to be something badder than it is by disguising itself as a sheep in wolf’s clothing. On the outside the Nissan Pathfinder presents a sleek and stylish SUV, but under it all it’s just a minivan.

Reports of a ride that barely makes the cut compared to other SUVs put this 7 passenger family toter in the middle of the pack. A vehicle that just isn’t big enough to justify its boat-like drivability, the Pathfinder comes from rugged roots.

Its modern body harkens its origin as a body on frame beast made for off-road adventure. Still, the new Nissan Pathfinder converted to the unibody dark side some years ago.

The Nissan Pathfinder

A brief history

The Nissan Pathfinder began based on the 1985 Nissan hardbody pickup truck. The original design of this body on frame SUV set the tone for the Pathfinder to head down the trail and rumble off the beaten path.

Its first year of production in 1986, the first-gen Nissan Pathfinder emerged as a 2-door utility vehicle ready for adventure. Ready to take on a mountain, the Pathfinder forged a name for itself as a capable hardbody SUV. This sturdy first generation remained though 1989.

An old school Nissan Pathfinder in its natural habitat.

In an effort to compete with competition from the likes of Jeep’s Cherokee, the Ford Bronco II, the Toyota 4Runner, and the Chevrolet Blazer, the Nissan Pathfinder was a burly body-on-frame, backcountry-ready family car.

It kept improving, but remained true to its pickup truck roots

In 1990, the Pathfinder received a major redesign for the first time ever. Its new look and modern accouterments gave it a name amongst other such family friendly adventure vehicles on the market at that time. It had a reputation for comfort and style with its new, more balanced 4-door look. The passenger space made room for the entire crew, and outdoorsy families who were active and likely to spring for an off-road excursion began to choose the Nissan Pathfinder more often due to its truck like capabilities.

One of the big changes for the Pathfinder at that time was that it moved away from the 2 door only model to adopt a 4 door frame, and it has remained strictly 4 door since 1989.

Over the years, the Nissan Pathfinder continued to evolve. It gained increasingly modern and luxurious upgrade, but retained its boxy rugged look and body-on-frame design. The third generation in 2005 sat on an Armada chassis.

The third generation Nissan Pathfinder

The Nissan Pathfinder: from wolf to sheep

The Pathfinder to a walk away from the wild side when it made the change to a unibody frame in 2013. That fourth, and the next (fifth) generations were adopting the same changes that countless other SUVs have made over the years to become more modern and efficient.

Changes were made

The unibody frame lends a more luxurious ride to help the Nissan Pathfinder keep up with the times and remain competitive in its class. But this change literally put the Pathfinder on the same chassis as the Nissan Quest, which facilitated a massive sacrifice in the way the Pathfinder handles.

The sleeker, softer Pathfinder that shares a chassis with the Nissan Quest minivan.

On the inside, the Quest and Pathfinder are hard pressed to find any real differences. Aside from the tagged interior of the new Rock Creek edition Pathfinder.

The Nissan Pathfinder went from rugged all-terrain truck underneath to a minivan dressed up as an SUV. That’s why we are calling it a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

It may look like a predator ready to take on the tundra from the outside, but deep down the Pathfinder is as tame as they come. Despite a vaguely reminiscent style that tips its hat to the Pathfinder’s past, the modern Nissan Pathfinder’s gone soft.

There’s no denying that we miss the more rugged third gen Nissan Pathfinder.