2017 Nissan Pathfinder Review: Keeping Pace With Maturing Competition
– Cleveland, Ohio
The timing for this refresh of the Nissan Pathfinder couldn’t be better. Nissan’s largest crossover has stiff competition to contend with from old stalwarts like the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander, and brand new three-row crossovers, like the Volkswagen Atlas and upcoming Subaru Ascent, are joining this already-crowded segment every year. The Pathfinder has to keep up, and Nissan is making sure it’s up to the job with a new face up front and more powerful engine under the hood. The rest remains status quo for the most part, which is fine since the Pathfinder was an above-average option to begin with.
Better engine. The Pathfinder’s 3.5-liter V6 engine has been upgraded with direct injection and a higher compression ratio, and 50 percent of its parts are new. The result is a big jump in power. Horsepower climbs from 260 to 284 and torque increases from 240 to 259 pound-feet. This brings the Pathfinder more in line with popular competition like the 280-hp Ford Explorer and 295-hp Toyota Highlander. The Pathfinder still isn’t the most powerful three-row crossover available (the V8-powered Dodge Durango R/T makes 360 hp and the biturbo V6 Ford Explorer Sport generates 365 hp), but Nissan doesn’t need to offer a hot rod motor that only a fraction of buyers want. The upgraded V6 is plenty powerful for a standard engine.
Tow king. The Pathfinder’s maximum towing capacity has also been raised thanks to its more powerful V6 and new body reinforcements around the tow hitch. The new max number is an impressive 6,000 pounds, which should be able to handle everything up to and including dual-axle trailers. Most competitors top out at 5,000 pounds, and only the aforementioned V8-powered Durango can tow more than the Nissan with a max rating of 7,200 pounds, but it also starts more than $10,000 higher than a base Pathfinder.
Easy third row. The plight of the third-row passenger is real, with most manufacturers of large crossovers assuming only small-in-stature adults or highly flexible children will climb back there. The Pathfinder, however, uses what Nissan calls a Latch and Glide system, which is marketing speak for second-row seats with flip-up bottom cushions that allow them to slide forward farther against the back of the front seats. This creates the largest opening possible for real people, not just children, to get to the third row. What’s more, you can leave a child seat right where it is and still use this feature; the opening will be smaller, but it’s still workable... for kids, at least.
Disjointed design. Having been on sale since 2013, the Pathfinder was due for a visual refresh. For 2017, Nissan has moved the Pathfinder away from the wind-swept, aerodynamic look of prior model years in favor of something more square-off and chiseled. That is, at least for the front end. The rest of the Pathfinder’s curvy lines and organic shape remain, with only the taillight elements having been rearranged. Thus, the new front end looks like a head stuck on the wrong body. Maybe you won’t notice the incongruity if you weren’t familiar with the Pathfinder before, but for me, it’s all I see.
Drives like a minivan. Large SUVs are a refuge for people trying to avoid the dreaded minivan; they seek something that both looks and drives better than a mommy-and-daddy-mobile (even if they need it for the exact same tasks). Looks aside (see the con above), the Pathfinder’s ride and handling actually mimic those of a minivan more than its competition. It’s eminently comfortable in a straight line, keeping all passengers coddled and well isolated from road imperfections, yet when it comes to turns, the Pathfinder would prefer you slow way down. There’s plenty of body roll to reinforce that preference. It may look like an SUV, but the Pathfinder is a minivan at heart.
Photos: John Neff / Motor1.com