Midsize SUV Comparison: 2017 Nissan Pathfinder
Roomy and ready
Starting Price: $31,250 | Price yours
Above average: People space, cargo space, cruising capability and comfort
Below Average: Infotainment, cabin charm
Consensus: May not rule the segment, but still boasts plenty of buyer appeal
Seriously refreshed for 2017, the Nissan Pathfinder got an impressive load of enhancements that gave it greater visual appeal, upgraded creature/safety features and a healthy boost in power. As a result, Nissan’s roomy and capable hauler has become an even stronger player in today’s hotly contested midsize SUV segment. That extra measure of comprehensive goodness also helped the Pathfinder once again secure a spot in our 2017 Kelley Blue Book Best Family Cars competition.
While tasteful, effective nose and tail tweaks boost the 2017 Pathfinder’s curbside appeal and also improves its aerodynamic profile, a more significant change is found underhood where a major makeover to its now direct-injected 3.5-liter V6 bumps output from 260 to 284 horsepower and kicks torque from 240 to 259 lb-ft. Those gains add a bit more responsiveness and help boost its maximum tow rating from 5,000 to a class-leading 6,000 pounds.
Equally unseen but no less important, the 2017 Pathfinder now offers a number of new driver-assist features that help it earn a 5-Star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and be selected as a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Key adds include Forward Emergency Braking and Intelligent Cruise Control -- although both are only available on the top-line Pathfinder Platinum trim. The 360-degree Around View Monitor which is standard on SL and Platinum, also gains moving object detection capability.
With a modest 7.0-inches of ground clearance and the upgraded 20-inch wheel/tire package that comes on the Platinum version we tested, the Pathfinder is clearly more at home on paved surfaces than playing in the dirt. But its optional multi-mode Intuitive 4WD system does bring an added measure of all-season confidence while 4-wheel-drive locking plus Hill Start Assist/Hill Descent Control do bolster its light-duty off-road capabilities.
The Pathfinder also makes a solid case for itself when it comes to value. As in the past, each trim -- S, SV, SL and Platinum -- fills a niche and options/packages are few. Opening at an attractive $31,250, the front-drive Pathfinder S includes welcome touches like tri-zone climate control, a larger new 8.0-inch touchscreen for the NissanConnect infotainment package, keyless remote entry/pushbutton starting and more. But even the leather-lined and fully loaded Pathfinder Platinum 4WD stickers at $44,725, a competitive figure that made it the second most-affordable as-tested SUV in this comparo.
2017 Nissan Pathfinder
Like most of its midsize rivals, the Pathfinder is in its true element on the open road and the 2017 changes have made this versatile Nissan even better in that arena. With its extra underhood muscle, the Pathfinder is now more spirited, capable of cruising with ease and passing with a minimum of white-knuckle moments. Some credit also is due to the latest iteration of Nissan’s well-mannered Xtronic CVT transmission, which now features D-Step Logic Control to simulate a conventional automatic -- although it does lack shifter paddles. A focused chassis retune gives the Pathfinder more positive steering feel and better body control in corners while maintaining good ride comfort. That said, you won’t be mistaking it for a Mazda CX-9 under any circumstances. At 4,660 pounds, this Nissan also was the heaviest player in this group; and as one staffer noted: “It drives big because it is big.”
Despite its scale, the Pathfinder does a solid job of coping with day-to-day urban operations. Even with the added weight of 4WD, this Nissan steps out smartly from stoplights and easily paces traffic. The newly available Forward Emergency Braking system coupled with the Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert help the Pathfinder in close-quarters maneuvering. Equally notable, the enhanced version of Nissan’s already impressive Around View Monitor makes navigating into and out of tight parking spots far less stressful – although the Pathfinder does share the same 38.7-foot turning circle as the Acadia and Highlander so it still pays to be attentive.
The Pathfinder cabin merits fairly high marks overall, although there are a few details that could definitely use some tweaking. Space and space utilization are impressive and place this versatile Nissan offering near the top tier of both categories. The seats are long on comfort and adjustability, with even the third row being far above average. And despite the occasional intrusion of low-level road rumble on certain surfaces, the Pathfinder’s passenger compartment is commendably quiet. Basic control layouts are good, instrumentation – including the new Advanced Driver Assist Display – legible and stow space fairly generous. Despite those notable upsides, we did find the quality of some of the plastic bits far from class leading and the faux wood accent trim -- mercifully but rather ironically confined to only the Platinum variant – was universally panned for just looking cheap.
Part of the 2017 Pathfinder’s makeover included the fitment of the latest generation NissanConnect infotainment system that brings a larger 8.0-inch display and offers both touch and redundant conventional controls as part of a new and improved HMI (Human Machine Interface). While creating a somewhat button-rich environment, it does provide good operational capability and includes SiriusXM and HD Radio while offering NissanConnect Services as an option. However, like last year, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration are still notable no-shows. The Platinum trim also brings a Bose audio package and NissanConnect Navigation system with voice control. Nissan doubled the Pathfinder’s USB port count from one to two for 2017, although both are inside the covered center storage bin. That decision had several staffers wishing at least one was located in the open front tray that does contain a pair of 12V powerpoints.
Rear Seat Room
Nissan deserves major kudos for the 7-seat Pathfinder’s total packaging design brief, and that starts with the rear seats. The 60/40 split second-row bench features the automaker’s EZ Flex Seating System with Latch and Glide. In addition to incorporating a long, fully adjustable track slide to accommodate passengers of various size, the lower cushions pop up to allow the seat to move far forward permitting easy access to what’s still one of the best 50/50 third-row perches in the segment. Although not quite a match for the Atlas, with a bit of consideration from riders in row two, it can still accommodate modestly-scaled adults for shorter treks.
Part two of the Pathfinder’s superb versatility story revolves around how much it can handle in the way of personal possessions. In addition to a commendably low liftover height, the rear hatch has a large, optimally shaped cutout and its programmable power-activation on SL and Platinum-spec models is now triggered by a kick-under motion. Basic stow space grows from a slightly above average 16.0 cu ft behind the third row to 47.8 cu ft with the third row folded flat and 79.8 cu ft with both rear seats dropped. While all of those stats fall short of the mobile cave numbers offered by the new VW Atlas, they’re still quite respectable compared to other rivals.
Despite gaining more motive force for 2017 that improved its acceleration capabilities, the latest Pathfinder 4WD maintained its 2016 EPA fuel economy ratings of 16 city/26 highway/22 combined mpg – with a 21 mpg combined figure for the Pathfinder Platinum 4WD. Those stats slotted it neatly into the middle of this competitive set and the same held true for its performance during the comparison drive. There, the Pathfinder’s 21.6 mpg average landed toward the middle of a range bookended by the 20.7 mpg number of the VW Atlas and the Honda Pilot's 23.0 mpg.
Although it plays in a decidedly competitive realm, the Pathfinder is projected to maintain a reasonable portion of its purchase price over time. However, based on historical data, it’s still likely to fall significantly behind the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot in that category and marginally trail the other players in this comparative set. However, given an attractive cost of entry that extends into top-echelon Pathfinder trim grades, new driver-assist features and above-average versatility, this spacious and accommodating Nissan SUV still merits serious buyer consideration.
Inside and Out: 2017 Nissan Pathfinder
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