The Pathfinder is one of the most iconic models in Nissan’s American lineup. Like, say, a Lexus LS, its 1980s debut marked the beginning of a Japanese assault on car making not just in the U.S., but worldwide. And it did things we didn’t know we wanted at the time, like traveling off-road with confidence, and not falling apart like the sadder American SUV competition of the day.
So it’s ironic, given the name, and the fact that Nissan has sold over 1.8 million Pathfinders in the U.S. in the vehicle’s 35-year history, that the brand lost its “path” with the vehicle. Critics call out the most recent generation getting a bit soft riding and soft looking—and not particularly capable off-road, either.
That’s changing now, albeit not in a Jeep Wrangler sort of fashion. However, Nissan is returning the SUV to some of its stronger roots, while also making it way more cost- and feature-competitive in the mid-size, eight-passenger SUV segment. The biggest improvement is gifting the gen-five Pathfinder with poised on-road manners, so it’s not wafting all over the road like a bloated barcalounger.
Here are three callouts we really like about the new three-row Pathfinder—and one feature we hope is on the way.
[$33,410 FWD, $35,310 AWD; nissanusa.com]
It can haul stuff.
With 80.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity with both rear seat rows folded, you’d guess the Nissan was plenty roomy, but the catch is that sheer volume alone never tells the whole story. Nissan widened the Pathfinder, rather than making it longer. And that means you can load drywall or 48-inch-wide sheets of plywood completely flat. (If you’ve ever had to make do with a narrower vehicle, you know that one edge always gets hung up, and then you’re stuck making multiple trips to the hardware store—or returning home for bungees to tie the load to the roof rails.)
And Nissan also made sure you can carry kids, so the second row will fit three car seats across, and you can still slide either of the outboard seats forward to access the third row without having to pry those carseats free of their anchors.
Smart. Oh, and the front center console is also super roomy, with a double decker arrangement with room below, for larger items like an iPad or a laptop, as well as above. Even the rear hatch gets a hidden area below the load floor, which is a good spot to stow valuables—or, beer, since it doubles as a cooler, with its own drain plug. Add ice and refreshments and hit the road!
It’s reasonably capable.
Nissan ditched its prior CVT, which of course was smooth shifting, but sacrificed some performance along the way. The new nine-speed automatic is actually quieter because the 284-hp V6 engine doesn’t have to wind as much to reach peak torque. Plus, the seven-mode shiftable off-road system (in 4WD models) enables either more or less wheel-slip, depending on the sand/snow/rocks ground beneath the rig—meaning, you get back more control off-roading. More than that, the suspension is well tuned for both pavement and dirt, so the Pathfinder always felt poised during our testing in mud, soft high desert grit, and the highways of northern Montana.
Safety comes standard.
In addition to standard LED headlamps, which, yes, are plenty bright, Nissan is on a big push to spotlight the gains first made on its Leaf electric car. Increasingly, it’s building in its Safety Shield 360 technology without charging more. That means every Pathfinder gets forward-collision warning; driver alertness warning (drowsiness); alerts if a rear door is opened by your kid; rear sonar to prevent backing into another car; auto-dimming high beams; and a cool system that automatically honks the horn when you refill the tires and reach the correct air pressure.
Make an Adventure Edition!
While the new Nissan Pathfinder’s color palette, especially with lots of two-tones, looks pretty sweet (we especially dig the green and black combo), Nissan also showed off a concept model that was lifted and came with meatier Goodyear Wrangler knobbies. With only 7.1 inches of ground clearance on the stock model, the Pathfinder could use a more macho edition.
As we drove the Pathfinder off-road, that lack of ground clearance was all too evident. Nothing went awry, and the multi-mode traction setup works, but there’s no substitute for being able to drive over obstacles. Bigger picture: Nissan currently doesn’t have a legit off-roading SUV. The forthcoming Frontier overhaul should address that, partly, but a more rugged Pathfinder wouldn’t hurt either.