As I first approached the 2005 Nissan Pathfinder, I kept asking myself, Who could possibly need this much car? Keep in mind, I am the proud owner of a Mini Cooper S, which could probably fit in the backseat of a Pathfinder. I did not look forward to the limitations of driving an SUV, such as having to take curves slowly, searching for large parking spaces, and staying with the soccer moms in the slow lane.

But the worry was for naught. The Pathfinder SE 4x4 proved itself on a weekend trip to Kentucky. Acceleration was surprisingly fast and easy thanks to the 4.0-liter, DOHC V6 engine which puts out 270 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque. The transmission features a super wide gear ratio to help acceleration, and a Direct Control system helps shifting.

Our test vehicle came with the optional 4x4 system which includes 2WD/Auto/4Hi/4Lo modes and an electronically controlled transfer case. Hill Descent Control (HDC) lets drivers go downhill without constantly applying the brakes. HDC must be engaged by the driver by a switch and is available only when the transfer case is in 4Hi or 4Lo. It can be activated at speeds up to 31 mph in 4Hi and 15 mph in 4Lo.

Hill Start Assist (HSA) lets drivers stop on a slope, release the brake pedal, and not roll back for up to 2 sec. HSA is designed for rugged, low-speed, off-road driving. Other 2005 Pathfinder driveline components include engine-speedsensitive power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel antilock disc brakes and electronic brake-force distribution.

Though we didnt take the SUV off-road, we traversed the wooded, hilly back roads of Kentucky. It was comforting to be in a vehicle that could win a game of Bambi versus vehicle. The Pathfinder is built on a fully boxed, all-steel ladder frame and adds an all-steel double-wishbone front suspension with coil-over shocks and stabilizer bar. In the rear, an independent rear double-wishbone suspension with coils on the toe control link (offset spring and shock) and a stabilizer bar improves the ride and optimizes handling, especially on rough terrain.

The Pathfinders interior made the 6-hr trip comfortable. A third row gives the car room for seven passengers. The split fold-down second and third-row seats can be folded down individually, and, when combined with the fold-down front passenger seat, provides up to 64 different seating and cargo configurations. We didnt try all 64 but after a quick glance at the instructions, we folded the second and third rows flat into the floor, which left plenty of room for the kitchen table and five chairs we picked up.

The dashboard paneling was sleek and well thought out. We had enough room for coffee cups and extra bags between driver and passenger seats. Another bonus for a short gal like me were the power-adjustable foot pedals. They should be standard on every vehicle.

Our test car arrived just as gas prices topped $3 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We averaged between 19 and 22 mpg with a mix of city and highway driving. It is rated at 15 city and 21 highway. I hear this is pretty good for an SUV, but my eyes still teared up as the pump ran past $50 at one fill up.

Base price for the Pathfinder starts at $27,850. An optional comfort package, air-bag package, floor mats, and destination charge brought the price of our tester to $30,590. Though my personal bias will keep me from getting an SUV any time soon, those in the market for a peppy, stylish, and roomy truck will like it. And maybe youll let me park my Mini in the back seat.