The brand new Nissan Pathfinder is a welcome bang from the mannequin’s previous
The Pathfinder is one of the most iconic models in Nissan’s American range. Like a Lexus LS, for example, its debut in the 1980s marked the beginning of a Japanese attack on automobiles not just in the US but around the world. And it did things we didn’t know we wanted at the time, like being confident off-road rather than falling apart like the sadder American SUV competition of the day.
So, given the name and the fact that Nissan has sold over 1.8 million Pathfinders in the US in the vehicle’s 35-year history, it is ironic that the brand lost its “path” with the vehicle. Critics demand that the latest generation drives a little softer and looks soft – and also not particularly suitable for off-road use.
That is changing now, if not in some kind of Jeep Wrangler. However, Nissan is bringing the SUV back to some of its stronger roots while making it cheaper and more competitive in the mid-size, eight-passenger SUV segment. The biggest improvement is giving the fifth generation Pathfinder poised street manners so that it doesn’t blow across the street like a bloated barcalounger.
Here are three callouts we really like about the new three-row Pathfinder – and one feature we hope is in the pipeline.
[$33,410 FWD, $35,310 AWD; nissanusa.com]
It can move things.
With 80.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the two rear rows of seats folded down, you’d guess the Nissan was a lot roomy, but the catch is that sheer volume alone never tells the full story. Nissan widened the Pathfinder instead of lengthening it. And that means you can load drywall or 48 inch wide plywood sheets completely flat. (If you’ve ever had to get by with a narrower vehicle, you know there is always an edge stuck and then you make multiple trips to the hardware store or return home to tie bungees to tie the rain gutter.)
And Nissan also made sure you can carry children so that the second row can fit three car seats, and you can still slide one of the outer seats forward to get into the third row without disengaging those car seats from their anchorages .
Clever. Oh, and the front center console is super roomy too, with a double-decker layout with space below, for larger items like an iPad or laptop, as well as above. Even the tailgate gets a hidden area under the loading floor, which is a good place to stow valuables – or beer, as it doubles as a cooler with its own drain plug. Add ice and refreshments and be on your way!
It’s reasonably capable.
Nissan did without its previous CVT, which of course shifted smoothly, but sacrificed some performance in the process. The new nine-speed automatic is actually quieter because the 284 hp V6 engine does not have to pull up so hard to achieve maximum torque. In addition, the switchable off-road system with seven modes (on 4WD models) allows either more or less wheel slip depending on the sand / snow / rock surface under the rig – which means that you get more control off-road. In addition, the suspension is well tuned to both asphalt and dirt, so the Pathfinder always felt confident during our tests in mud, soft sand in the desert, and on the highways of northern Montana.
Security is standard.
In addition to the standard LED headlights, which are very bright, Nissan is in the process of highlighting the first advances in its Leaf electric car. It is increasingly building in its Safety Shield 360 technology without charging more. This means that every Pathfinder will receive a forward collision warning; Warning the driver to be alert (drowsiness); warns if your child opens a rear door; rear sonar to prevent reversing into another car; automatically dimming high beam; and a cool system that automatically honks when you inflate the tires and reach the correct air pressure.
Make an Adventure Edition!
While the color palette of the new Nissan Pathfinder looks pretty cute, especially with lots of two-tones (we’re digging the green and black combo in particular), Nissan also showed off a concept model that was raised and came with meatier Goodyear Wrangler knobbies. With only 7.1 inches of ground clearance on the production model, the Pathfinder could use a macho edition.
When we drove the Pathfinder off-road, this lack of ground clearance was all too evident. Nothing went wrong and the multimode traction setup works, but there is no substitute for being able to run over obstacles. Larger picture: Nissan does not currently have a real off-road SUV. The upcoming Frontier overhaul should fix this in part, but a more robust Pathfinder wouldn’t hurt either.
Subscribe to YouTube for access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more!