The Nissan Pathfinder is a three-row, seven-seat, midsize front-wheel-drive SUV that became a crossover for 2013, by chucking its chassis that previously came from the rear-wheel-drive pickup truck. So today it’s more comfortable than it is tough, down to its very crossover-ish continuously variable transmission, which takes on the SUV challenge by using an internal chain rather than belt.
The CVT is programmed to feel like an automatic transmission by shifting in steps, and this eliminates much of the high-rev annoyance of a continuously variable transmission. However we found a long delay when you floor the superb 3.5-liter V6 engine and ask for all of its 260 horsepower. An available tow package enables it to pull 5000 pounds, with the CVT making adjustments for the weight.
Pathfinder is available with all-wheel drive.
The Pathfinder is spacious and flexible, longer than a Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, and shorter than the Chevy Traverse, about the same length as a Ford Explorer or Mazda CX-9. It weighs less than some of its rivals, including the Traverse and Buick Enclave, and although it’s still hefty, it handles more like a sedan than a truck, thanks to the tuning of its hydraulic-electric steering. And the ride is refined. It has less ground clearance than the Subaru Outback, but it takes on rutted roads with confidence.
The EPA rates the Pathfinder at 20/27/23 miles per gallon City/Highway/Combined with front-wheel drive, one less mpg with all-wheel drive. The fully equipped and heavier Platinum model gets 21 mpg Combined.
With six airbags standard, the NHTSA gives the Pathfinder five stars overall, with four stars in the categories of front impact and rollover. The IIHS gives it the best Good rating in all of its categories. Rearview camera is not standard.
The 2016 Pathfinder lineup includes Pathfinder S with front-wheel drive ($29,830), the better-equipped Pathfinder SV ($33,150), the even better equipped Pathfinder SL ($36,410), and the top-of-the-line all-wheel-drive Platinum ($43,300). Platinum includes the tow package, Bose sound system, surround-view camera, and navigation with voice command and streaming Bluetooth.
The curvaceous shell of the Pathfinder has nice proportions, concealing its bulk and height. It’ a bit swept back, with a long hood, raked windshield and upswept rear window, as well as a bold chrome grille, sculpted fenders, and other touches that remind you it’s part of the fancy Infiniti family, while more realistically resembling the smaller Rogue and larger Armada SUVs.
The contours flow up around the front fenders, drop below the window, and climb back over the rear wheelwells. Deep character lines on the hood and front wheelwells give the Pathfinder pop. Too bad it lacks LED headlamps to finish the stylish design.
Despite any Infiniti influence, the Pathfinder cabin is conservative, with just two colors to choose from, charcoal and almond, in functional fabrics, and plastics that are hard and smooth, durable and easy to clean. Meanwhile the glossier dashboard clashes with matte door panels. The Pathfinder’s screens, both the standard screen and the higher resolution navigation screen, aren’t touch screens; they use a dial and buttons. The integration of some of the infotainment functions isn’t as good Ford’s MyFord Touch system, which has its own problems.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive for the driver’s back, but the bolstering is lacking. The second row is less comfortable, with short, flat and low seats, so the passengers must lean back and splay their legs. There’s plenty of headroom, as a result.
But the rear seat has a feature parents will love, as it allows access to the third row without any adjustment to a Latch and Glide child seat in the center of the second row. Except you should take the child out, first. The second row slides forward to give the third row more legroom. It’s roomier than most third rows, with low cushions and a raked back, but it’s still mostly just for kids, like them all.
More family friendlies comes with the many bins and trays in the back, including no less than three bottle holders in each rear door panel, along with cupholders on each side of the third row, not to mention four up front. That would be a total of 12, if we’ve counted right. It sounds very convenient, until you think of the restroom stops.
With the seats folded, there’s 79.8 cubic feet of cargo space, on par with most midsize SUVS but dinky compared to the Chevy Traverse’s vast 116.3 cubic feet. With the seats up, the Pathfinder shrinks to 16 cubic feet, a number that’s doubly dinky.
Nissan engineers worked hard on making the cabin quiet, and it shows.
The engine is Nissan’s sterling 3.5-liter V6 that has proven itself in countless applications, including the 370Z sports car (a 3.7-liter version). It makes 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, good enough for the Pathfinder, if the CVT could only connect to that torque without having to be woken up, especially after the car has been loafing along for a while.
The ride is smooth and pleasant, making long trips a breeze. Noise and vibration, including wind noise, are at a minimum. The Pathfinder rides like a softly sprung sedan, and its lighter weight it noticeable behind the wheel.
In the front-wheel-drive Pathfinder you can feel some torque steer, the front wheels pulling to the side when you get hard on the gas; but it goes away with the more balanced all-wheel drive. That system allows the driver to select fwd only, or awd, with the power electronically dividing between the left and right sides,, as needed depending on the traction at those wheels.
The Pathfinder can be pitched around on choppy roads with more success than some of its rivals, although it is a relative thing, and we’re not saying it likes it. The hydraulic-electric power steering is quick and has the right amount of resistance, with a sureness at center. We’re not so sure about the tires, however; most models come with tires designed for better fuel mileage, with low rolling resistance, and their hardness doesn’t offer as much grip as the steering encourages the chassis to ask for. We drove models with the standard 18-inch wheels and optional 20-inch wheels, and they felt the same.
If you need a third-row seat, and the Nissan Rogue isn’t big enough for you, the Pathfinder is next to look at. Wonderful V6 engine, good fuel mileage, and soft ride; too bad about that slow CVT transmission.
Sam Moses contributed to this report, with staff reports.