The Nissan Pathfinder is a front-wheel-drive midsize crossover with an optional (and relatively roomy) third row, and available all-wheel drive.
Last redesigned for 2014, it was substantially freshened for 2017 with a tweaked nose and tail, new engine, firmer suspension and better infotainment. The 2018 Pathfinder is updated with automatic emergency braking, and another warning, called Rear Door Alert, to check the back seats for forgotten pets or children, after you get out of the car.
A crossover that drives more like a car than a truck, Pathfinder is built on the chassis of the Altima and Maxima sedans. However, with all-wheel drive it can manage snow and rugged terrain, and it is rated to tow up to 6000 pounds. For 2017, the chassis was reinforced where the tow hitch mounts, to create this capability.
The 3.5-liter V6 engine has direct injection and variable valve timing, and makes 284 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to a continuously variable transmission. The CVT is better than many.
It’s EPA-rated at 20 miles per gallon City, 27 Highway, and 23 Combined with front-wheel drive, one less mpg with all-wheel drive. It aces the crash tests. NHTSA gives it five stars overall, and the IIHS gave it the top score in every category.
Standard safety equipment includes six airbags, with the side-curtain airbags having a rollover sensor and covering all three rows. A rearview camera and rear sonar parking sensors are also standard. Then there’s the Easy Fill Tire Alert that honks the horn when you’ve inflated a tire to the correct amount.
2018 Pathfinder models include S with front-wheel drive ($30,790) or all-wheel drive ($32,480), SV, SL, and Platinum. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Pathfinder SV ($33,480) comes well equipped with tri-zone automatic climate control, eight-inch touchscreen, HD radio, satellite radio with SiriusXM Travel Link, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, rearview camera, and 18-inch alloy wheels. It’s available with all-wheel drive ($35,170).
Pathfinder SL ($37,500) and SL AWD ($39,190) get rear park assist, blind-spot monitors, surround view, and rear cross-traffic alerts.
Pathfinder Platinum ($42,320) and AWD ($42,010) gets navigation, heated and ventilated front seats, a 13-speaker Bose audio system, panoramic sunroof, motion-activated power liftgate, 20-inch wheels, and active safety features including adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning and emergency braking.
The nose and tail are both blocky, to make the Pathfinder look more like a truck; the similar-sized Murano is the Nissan crossover that looks like a crossover (if not a space ship). On the truck-like Pathfinder, a bold chrome grille completes the disguise.
The overall lines go back to crossing over, with a long hood, raked windshield, flowing side creases with chrome touches, and upswept third window. The shapes, angles, and directions somehow make the Pathfinder look smaller than it is. You have to stand up against it to appreciate its enormity, mid-size or not.
The cabin stays true to the incongruous styling, where a glossy dashboard meets the soft matte material on the door panels. The plastics are hard and fabrics are unremarkable. The Pathfinder finds some influence from its elegant sibling the Infiniti, but not here.
The touchscreen is hard to clean, with its pinch and swipe control on tile icons, part of the NissanConnect infotainment system and its connectivity. There are two interior colors, Charcoal and Almond.
The Pathfinder does a good job of balancing comfort, access, space and storage. There is a lot of elbow room, cupholders in the door pockets and center console along with two big trays, map pockets on the front seatbacks, no less than three bottle holders in each rear door, and cupholders on each side of the third row.
The comfortable front seats have good back support but little side bolstering, while the driver has a lot of adjustment. Our seat time included a long trip on the highway, and we have no complaints. The lack of bolstering doesn’t do a thing for cornering, but the Pathfinder isn’t a vehicle to be tossed around anyhow.
The bench seat in the second row slides back and forth 5.5 inches for legroom, as long as there’s no one in the third row. It slides and folds to gain access to the third row, with a feature called Latch and Glide that allows child seats to stay in place even while the seat partially collapses. But not if a child is in it. The little ones will have to climb out, for the bigger kids to get in the third row.
The second row is not so comfortable, because the rear seat has a leaned-back, legs-splayed seating position. It’s the compromise for its folding capability, to improve third-row access.
The optional third row is roomier than most, with short, flat cushions that sit quite low, providing headroom enough for early teens but not fully grown people. It actually rakes back a bit.
With all the seats up, the Pathfinder has only 16 cubic feet behind the third row. With both rows folded, there is a solid 80 cubic feet of cargo space, still nothing like the massive 116 cubic feet in Chevrolet Traverse, but that’s a full-size SUV.
The Pathfinder keeps away vibrations and road noise better than some others in the class.
The continuously variable transmission (CVT) uses Nissan’s D-Step shift logic, to mimic the distinct shifts of an automatic transmission; it works, to remove most of the high revving of a CVT, but it still drones a bit. And sometimes it’s slow to respond. When the V6 has been running casually for a while, and you suddenly need power, the CVT delays the delivery. The strong V6 must hate being stifled, all that torque going to waste.
The 3.5-liter V6, new with the latest technology last year, is quite quick for what it is, with a zero to sixty time of less than seven seconds.
The suspension is fairly firm, significantly stiffened for 2017. The ride is still comfortable; you can feel the bumps, but it’s not harsh. And the handling controlled, with hydraulic-electric power steering that’s fairly quick, well-weighted, and has decent on-center feel.
The Pathfinder is lighter than you expect it to be, given its size and appearance, so you can pitch it back and forth on choppy roads, and it won’t freak out like its heavier rivals. But first check the tires; the low-rolling-resistance tires on some models, both 18-inch and 20-inch, don’t have the grip that the chassis can handle.
There’s some torque steer in front-wheel-drive models, but not in the all-wheel-drive versions, which send most of the power to the front wheels until it’s needed in back for traction or stability. The driver can select front-wheel drive only, maximizing fuel efficiency, or a locked all-wheel-drive mode to distribute power equally front and rear. Meanwhile, the system moves power from side to side, as needed.
The Pathfinder has less ground clearance than a Subaru Outback (whose CVT is the best), but it handles ruts with stability, while the locking center differential provides more traction offroad than most rivals.
Good ride, even better handling, great V6, 22 mpg with awd. CVT not as smooth as an automatic. Third row more useful than other mid-size crossovers. A million bins and cupholders. Super safe. Blocky styling makes it look like a truck. Perfect for a family with four kids and a pet.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.