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If you need a hardcore off-road SUV that can handle whatever you throw at it, the 2010 Nissan Pathfinder is a good choice. However, if your main priority is safety or seating for seven, your best bet is to look elsewhere.

The 2010 Nissan Pathfinder is a great traditional SUV. It has a high towing capacity, it’s effective off-road and reviewers loved its powerful available V8 engine. However, it drives like the truck it’s based on, and gets the same kind of fuel economy. Shoppers who intend to take advantage of the Pathfinder’s strengths will be happy with this SUV, but those who prefer a comfortable ride, a back seat that fits anyone larger than a child or good fuel economy will be better-served by a seven-seat crossover. Additionally, the Pathfinder’s safety scores are low for its class.

All 2010 Pathfinder trims come standard with a 4.0-liter V6 engine and rear-wheel drive, though a V8 engine and four-wheel drive were both optional. All trims get disappointing fuel economy, and the V8’s gas mileage is atrocious at 13/18 mpg city/highway. Standard features on the base trim include a tilt-adjustable steering wheel, cruise control, keyless entry and a six-speaker stereo and CD player. Upgrading to higher trims can get you features like Bluetooth phone connectivity, heated front seats, adjustable pedals, leather upholstery and a heated steering wheel.

If you like the Nissan Pathfinder but want burlier off-road abilities, consider the 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee. It only has five seats, but the Jeep gets better fuel economy than the Nissan does, and reviewers liked it better in nearly every way. Like the Pathfinder, the Grand Cherokee won’t handle as well on the pavement as a more-refined crossover would, but if you don’t need the two extra seats, the Grand Cherokee is a better choice.

The 2010 Toyota Highlander is geared toward a different crowd than the Nissan Pathfinder. It’s a great choice for families who need lots of room for kids and cargo. Though nowhere near the off-roader that the Pathfinder is, the Highlander is a much better choice for shoppers who need seven seats and want a more comfortable experience. Its base four-cylinder engine gets fantastic fuel economy, and its safety scores are outstanding. Overall, the Highlander is one of the best family SUVs in its class.

Compare the Pathfinder to the Grand Cherokee and Highlander »