It’s been three decades since Nissan became a player in the U.S. sport-utility market, and the company is celebrating with a mid-cycle freshening of its most venerable North American offering. That would be the Pathfinder, a vehicle that started out, like so many, as a two-door variation of Nissan’s compact pickup truck, then known as the Hardbody.

Three generations later the Pathfinder has evolved into a unit-body seven-seater based on front-drive architecture.

Since the most recent major makeover occurred for model year 2013, a total redesign wasn’t in the cards, even with a big decade birthday at hand. The 2017 Pathfinder bears no anniversary badges, and in fact is not readily discernible from the 2016 model.

Updated hood and grille

Nevertheless, the front end, in particular, has had considerable attention, gaining a version of Nissan’s signature “V-Motion” grille, a new hood, new “boomerang” LED headlamps, side mirror turn signal repeaters, a new chin spoiler, a new spoiler at the rear of the roof, faired-in suspension components, and air deflectors ahead of the rear tires.

The hood is higher and the grille more vertical, lending a little more gravitas to the Pathfinder’s appearance—Nissan calls the look more “adventurous”—but as a result of extensive wind tunnel development the design team managed to improve the coefficient of drag to 0.326 from 0.34.

There’s new at the rear of the Pathfinder as well—a new bumper and new taillights. But more significant, Nissan has adopted the gesture-activated power rear liftgate pioneered by Ford, and sourced from the same supplier. Waggle a foot beneath the bumper and the hatch yawns open. There’s also a memory feature, for the height of the opening.

Engine Update

The refresh extends beneath the hood. The displacement of the Pathfinder’s V-6 engine—3.5-liters—is unchanged, but it’s been extensively re-engineered. Nissan says 56 percent of the engine is new, including the addition of direct fuel injection, new cylinder heads with revised combustion chamber design, and new pistons. The result is increased output: 284 horsepower, up from 260, and 259 pound-feet of torque, up from 240.

The power increase doesn’t come at the expense of EPA fuel economy ratings, which remain 20 mpg city/27 highway for front-drive models, 19/26 with all-wheel drive. Nissan cites improvements in aerodynamic and combustion efficiency for maintaining the Pathfinder’s EPA numbers.

Nissan anticipates improved acceleration, probably on the order of 7.5 seconds to 60 mph based on tests of the current model. But more impressive, the Pathfinder’s towing capability is increased by 1000 pounds, to 6000—unique among vehicles developed on front-drive architecture, and an exceptionally impressive achievement for a continuously variable automatic, which continues to be the Pathfinder’s only transmission choice.

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Interior Updates

New interior elements are typical of a refresh: Upgraded materials; updated infotainment and connectivity (available NissanConnect systems, standard on top trim level); standard 8.0-inch center dash touch screen controls and a new center console. Options include heated and cooled leather seating;13-speaker Bose premium audio; wood tone and metallic interior trim accents; heated steering wheel; navigation, and remote engine starting (top three trim levels).

The list also includes new driver assist features: adaptive cruise control with automatic forward emergency braking; and 360-degree around view monitor enhanced with moving object detection. These are added to an existing inventory that includes available blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert, although Nissan continues to refrain from offering the automatic braking feature that intervenes when the driver fails to detect something behind the vehicle when backing up.

Dynamics and dollars

In addition to increased engine performance, the updated Pathfinder also figures to be handier in brisk maneuvers, thanks to stiffer spring rates and revisions to the electro-hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering system. New 18-inch wheels are standard on the first three trims, while the top model will roll on new 20-inchers.

Like the current Pathfinder, the 2017 edition will be offered in four trims: S, SV, SL, and Platinum. All will be available in either front- or all-wheel drive. The updated Pathfinder will reach showrooms in September with pricing announced closer to launch. The 2016 Pathfinder starts at $30,700 and tops out just over $44,000.


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