2017 Nissan Pathfinder

By January 31, 2017

The Nissan Pathfinder midsize crossover SUV, last redesigned for 2014, gets refreshed for 2017. There’s new front and rear fascia on the 2017 Pathfinder, a better engine, firmer suspension, new infotainment and available active safety features.

Somehow, it still seems a vehicle from another time.

It’s front-wheel drive with available all-wheel drive, as well as an optional third row that’s roomier and easier to reach than others, making it a useful seven-seater. It drives more like a car than a truck, but can still handle moderate offroad work, and can tow 6000 pounds. That’s an increase of 1000 pounds, thanks to the new engine and chassis reinforcements in the region where the tow hitch mounts.

The 3.5-liter V6 engine is upgraded with direct injection and variable valve timing, increasing horsepower to 284 from 260, and torque to 259 pound-feet from 240, a solid boost for both. It’s mated to the existing continuously variable transmission (CVT), that’s better than many, thanks to Nissan’s D-Step logic, but when you floor it there are still delays to the otherwise good acceleration.

The Pathfinder is EPA-rated at 20 miles per gallon city, 27 highway, and 23 combined with front-wheel drive, one less mpg with all-wheel drive.

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 inventive Easy Fill Tire Alert that honks the horn when you’ve inflated a tire to the correct amount. Better than being honked at every time you get out of the car, for locking it or not locking it.

The 2017 Nissan Pathfinder hasn’t been crash-tested by the IIHS, but the 2016 impressively got the top score in every category, as well as five stars overall from the NHTSA.

Model Lineup

2017 Nissan Pathfinder models include S ($29,990), SV, SL, and Platinum. Pathfinder SV ($32,680) 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. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)

Pathfinder SL ($35,700) gets rear park assist, blind-spot monitors, surround view, and rear cross-traffic alerts. The Pathfinder Platinum ($41,870) 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.

All-wheel drive will add just under $2000.

Exterior

The new front and rear fascia, including the bumpers, are blocky to make the Pathfinder look more like a truck. A bolder chrome grille completes the transition. The lines are otherwise like a car, with a long hood, raked windshield, flowing side creases with chrome touches, and upswept third window. The incongruous shapes somehow blend to make the Pathfinder look smaller than it is. You have to stand up against it to appreciate its enormity.

Interior

There’s more incongruity in the cabin, where a glossy dashboard meets semi-matte, soft-touch door panel material. The fabrics are unremarkable and the plastics are hard, smooth and textured; maybe durable and easy to clean, but not exactly lending an upscale feeling, despite some Infiniti influence in other places. For example the new NissanConnect infotainment system with the touchscreen’s pinch and swipe controls, tile icons, and connectivity.

There are only two interior colors, Charcoal and Almond.

The Pathfinder’s size allows for a lot of elbow room, while Nissan does a good job balancing the challenging objectives of comfort, access, space and especially storage. There’s a cupholder in each front door pocket, and two more in the center console along with two big trays; also many bins, map pockets on the backs of the front seats, 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 that allows child seats to stay in place even while the seat partially collapses, a thoughtful feature moms and dads will love. The child seat system is called Latch and Glide. The kid doesn’t glide with it. The youngest children have to climb out, for the older children to reach the rear.

But the second row is still disappointing, as passengers might find themselves squirming to find comfort, because the rear seat demands a leaned-back, legs-splayed seating position. That seems to be the compromise for the ability to fold far forward for third-row access.

That 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 both rows folded, the Pathfinder provides a big 79.8 cubic feet of cargo space, still nothing like the massive 116.3 cubic feet in Chevrolet Traverse, but that’s a full-size SUV. With all the seats up, the Pathfinder has only 16 cubic feet behind the third row, (Traverse has 24.4 cubic feet), so when you go family grocery shopping for a week, leave the kids at home. But you’d do that anyhow.

Driving Impressions

Nissan says that 57 percent of the parts are new in the 3.5-liter V6, totally believable, with direct injection instead of port injection, electronic variable valve timing, new air intake system, and a mirror-bore coating process for the cylinder walls to reduce friction. Compression climbs from 10.3:1 to 11:1. It takes these kinds of changes to increase horsepower by about 10 percent, to 284, and torque nearly the same, to 259 pound-feet.

The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is unchanged, and we have mixed feelings on it. Nissan’s D-Step shift logic enables the CVT to mimic the distinct shifts of an automatic, which is good, as it removes most of the high revving of a CVT. But it’s sometimes slow to respond. When it’s been running casually at low revs for a while, and you suddenly need power, the CVT won’t quickly allow the engine to give it to you.

Which is a shame, because we like the new engine and want to feel it more. Nissan says it’s about .2 seconds quicker from zero to sixty, and we guess that time to be around 6.5 seconds, pretty quick for an SUV of this weight.

The suspension has been stiffened, with the front shocks 11 percent stiffer and the rears 7 percent stiffer. The front struts get rebound springs, and the rear rebound springs are 25 percent stiffer.

The changes work. The ride is still comfortable, and the handling is more controlled, as the new suspension reduces body lean a bit. The hydraulic-electric power steering is fairly quick and well-weighted, and it has decent on-center feel. 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.

It’s easy to forget the Pathfinder is a big SUV. It’s lighter than some rivals, and feels it. Pitch the Pathfinder back and forth on choppy roads, and it will respond with better control than some rivals. However the low-rolling-resistance tires on some models (intended to improve fuel economy), both 18-inch and 20-inch, don’t have the grip that the chassis can handle. And the firmer suspension adds road feel, in particular over bumps, which might not be universally enjoyed, but it’s never harsh.

Nissan concentrated on reducing vibrations and road noise, and the result makes Pathfinder better than some others in the class. The CVT still drones a bit.

Final Word

Significant changes for 2017, starting with a new V6, make the Pathfinder worth a fresh look. The CVT is the only transmission, better than most but not as good as the Subaru Outback’s. The interior has heavy plusses for function and significant minuses for style. If you need seven seats, it’s very good in that department.

Sam Moses contributed to this report.