Extensively freshened for 2017, the Nissan Pathfinder seeks to give buyers a more adventurous experience.

That was the message at last February’s Chicago auto show, where Nissan unveiled the updated version of its 3-row midsize SUV. Nissan product planners contend that the corporate “V-Motion” grille, higher hood and more vertical front end give the Pathfinder a more rugged appearance -- an “adventure ready” look that’s more SUV and less crossover.

That’s a semantic distinction that may well be lost on most, but it’s fair to say that there’s more adventure in the Pathfinder driving experience.

Quicker to 60

The most readily identifiable element in the foregoing is more power. Nissan’s Chicago presentations included an outline of extensive revisions to the Pathfinder’s 3.5-liter V-6 engine -- new cylinder heads, new pistons, direct fuel injection -- raising output from 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque to 284 hp and 259 lb-ft, on regular fuel.

Predictably, this lends more urgency to forward progress. Based on previous tests, we predicted 7.5 seconds 0-to-60 mph after the Chicago presentation.

But based on recent seat time logged in and around Monterey, California, that forecast may be a bit conservative. The updated Pathfinder is quick off the mark, quick to 60 mph, and quick to speeds beyond mile-a-minute.

That’s stimulating -- but not entirely unexpected. The unexpected trait was the response of the continuously variable transmission. Nissan has done exhaustive CVT development, and it shows to excellent advantage in the new Pathfinder.

Adapting the software that makes the Maxima’s CVT the most acceptable example of this technology yet offered, the Pathfinder’s CVT computer control simulates the up- and downshifts of a conventional automatic transmission, and does so quite seamlessly. This almost entirely eliminates the slipping-clutch syndrome that’s been a CVT turnoff for decades, a side effect of the transmission’s drive belts trying to catch up with the engine during vigorous acceleration.

Also, the 2017 Pathfinder adds a thousand pounds to its towing capacity, raising the max to 6,000, best among front-drive based SUVs and by far the best for a CVT.

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Enhanced Agility

Other elements of the Pathfinder’s dynamic resume are more subtle, but add to a driving experience that’s more satisfying. For example, suspension components have been firmed by about 10 percent, reducing body roll in cornering and improving response in quick maneuvers.

Also welcome, updates to the Pathfinder’s rack-and-pinion steering, a system that retains hydraulics (as distinct from the pure electric units that are all but universal today), provide more tactile information to the driver.

Judging by a brief run over a challenging off-road course, the latest Pathfinder seems to be more capable in rugged terrain, its 4-wheel-drive system apportioning traction to wheels offering grip when the vehicle teetered with only two or three wheels in contact with mother earth. Also, the addition of an excellent hill-descent control takes most of the peril out of steep grades.

Although few Pathfinders are likely to see use in really trackless terrain, the potential for more adventure does seem to be more than mere marketing hyperbole.

The 2017 Pathfinder is due to reach showrooms in September with the current S, SV, SL and Platinum trims carrying forward. Pricing will start at $30,750 for the front-drive Pathfinder S with the SV kicking off at $33,580, the SL commencing at $36,600 and the Pathfinder Platinum opening at $42,770. Stepping up to 4-wheel drive adds another $1,690 to each of those numbers. 


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