Continuing to build on a reputation of off-road ruggedness melded with on-road sophistication, the '09 Nissan Pathfinder is a strong contender in the mid-size SUV category. A highly-acclaimed 4.0L V-6 with 266 hp is the star of the show providing ample power throughout the RPM range and the five speed automatic does an impressive job finding the proper gear when climbing or passing. All-Mode 4WD with a two-speed transfer case ensures the adventure won't come to an end and with a 6,000 pound tow rating, the V-6 Pathfinder can bring most outdoor gear along for the ride. Body styling is easy on the eyes with an attractive front grille and headlight combination and heavily-accented body lines that add to a strong profile. The list of praise may seem long, however, the scales begin to tip against its favor once the doors are opened.

Our LE tester came with the optional leather package and the seats were both comfortable and supportive. Once acclimated, using the Pathfinder began to get more and more difficult. Fighting for space within the center stack were the HVAC controls and controls for the Bose audio system. Button placement was not well-thought out, as the volume and tune buttons were arranged on the far ends of the center stack with the climate controls inbound. This meant every time we extended our hand to the natural volume area, we instead adjusted the A/C. It may sound petty, however, after a week's worth of driving, it was still a common occurrence and no less frustrating. Another large shortcoming was the audio system's functionality. The large center knob directly below the screen could be turned to select items or the arrows could be used for the identical function. Is there really a need for such a large redundant knob on an audio system without navigation? We don't think so. Also, many buttons on the center stack don't do what is clearly marked on them. Two last items while we're on our soapbox, the steering wheel controls and Bluetooth didn't work the entire week of our test. An SUV with less than 9,000 miles shouldn't already need audio maintenance.

Sport Rack Highlight
During our time with the Pathfinder, we made several off-road trips with a cabin full of gear. To keep the adventure going, we teamed up with Valley for one of its Sport Rack Escape 3-bike hitch carriers. Designed for use in 11/4-inch or 2-inch receivers, the carrier is made out of powdercoated-steel and features a pivot point allowing the bike carrier to fold down for easy access to cargo areas. Soft anti-sway cradles have rubber mounting straps that slide back and forth to accommodate different sized bikes and the two support arms keep the bikes secure. With a suggested retail of $129.95, the rack is a great value for safe transportation of all bike types. For more info on Sport Rack's full line of carriers, check out sportrack.com or you can reach them at (800) 561-0716.