The Pathfinder is one of Nissan’s longest-serving nameplates, having been launched in 1986 as a two-door, off-road-themed sport-utility derived from the brand’s Hardbody pickup. With its switch to a four-door body and then, for 2013, the move to a passenger-car platform (the Altima’s) with a transverse engine and front-wheel drive (all-wheel drive is optional), the Pathfinder pretty well traces the trajectory of the genus sport-utility in America. This once rugged vehicle has evolved into a soft, rounded carpool-mobile, no longer tasked with taming the jungle—as the original version did in its launch ad campaign—but with toting kids to school and sports. Four years into the Pathfinder’s latest iteration, Nissan appears to have had a tinge of regret at turning its SUV into the four-wheeled equivalent of mom jeans and, with the mid-cycle update for the 2017 model year, attempts to walk it back a bit. But only a bit.
Can You See the Masculinity?
Nissan restyled the Pathfinder’s hood, grille, headlights, and front bumper; it also tweaked the taillights and reshaped the rear bumper, flattening out some curves and ironing in some creases. But even when looking at before-and-after photos side by side, we were hard-pressed to tell the new one from the old. The company, though, seems to think these barely discernible changes make the crossover look “more rugged” and “more masculine.” Uh, okay.
More substantive changes were made beneath the skin. The 3.5-liter V-6 gets direct injection, a revised air intake, new pistons, a low-friction cylinder coating, variable intake-valve timing, and a higher compression ratio. As a result, output increases from 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque to 284 and 259. As before, the V-6 is teamed with a continuously variable automatic transmission, a technology that Nissan embraces with greater fervor than any other manufacturer. Maybe it’s a result of all that experience, or maybe a CVT is less annoying when hooked to a torquey V-6, but we found the transmission in the Pathfinder to be largely unobtrusive, with simulated ratio changes that help it do a passable impression of a conventional automatic. The V-6’s engine note is still gritty, however, and road noise is prevalent.
Nissan says the extra oomph should trim the zero-to-60-mph time by 0.2 second; we measured 7.5 seconds in our test of a 2016 Pathfinder with all-wheel drive, so figure 7.3 seconds for a similarly fully loaded example of the new model. That would still put it a full second behind the Honda Pilot, but most buyers will find the Pathfinder energetic enough when merging onto freeways or jumping out into traffic. The vehicle’s tow rating is raised from 5000 to 6000 pounds (for all models), while fuel economy stays the same at 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway for the front-wheel-drive model and 19/26 mpg with all-wheel drive—ratings that are near the top of the class.
Nissan also made some adjustments to the chassis to sharpen responses. Spring rates have been increased by 11 percent up front and 7 percent at the rear, and the steering was given a quicker ratio and retuned for greater buildup of effort as it moves off-center. The revised steering provides a welcome measure of additional heft and responsiveness. While the Pathfinder doesn’t threaten the Mazda CX-9 as the family-size crossover most likely to induce spontaneous bouts of canyon carving, neither does it whine in protest when hustled.
No midterm update is complete without new tech features, and the Pathfinder adds adaptive cruise control, which brings with it forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking (all exclusive to the top-spec Platinum). Other new tech items include moving-object detection for Nissan’s 360-degree-view monitor and a motion sensor that opens and closes the liftgate in response to a wave of a foot under the rear bumper (for SL and Platinum models). Blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert were already on hand. Inside, the touchscreen grows an inch, to 8.0 inches, and gets new connectivity features, as well as pinch-to-zoom and swipe functionality. Happily, Nissan (for now) continues to resist the call of auto-industry aesthetes and trend slaves to banish all dashboard buttons and knobs; as a result, the Pathfinder’s audio and climate controls are far easier and less distracting to use than those in some competitors. Similarly, the transmission gear selector is a traditional shift lever rather than silly buttons or some trick electronic joystick, but there are no paddles or other provision for the manual selection of ratios. Behind the shift lever, a simple knob allows one to choose front-wheel drive or (if so equipped) four-wheel drive and four-wheel drive lock, with a button for hill-descent control—the lone items of off-road gear.
As before, the Pathfinder’s third-row seat is standard across all trim levels. It’s strictly for small fry, although access is easy (including the unusual and appreciated ability to slide the second-row seats forward even with a child seat installed). All four trim levels get a bit more sugar for 2017. Besides the larger touchscreen, the base S adds Bluetooth, a rearview camera, SiriusXM satellite radio, and a second USB port. Standard equipment on the SV remains the same, but a new Tech package brings navigation, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic alert to this model. The SL now includes the 360-degree-view monitor and moving-object detection, the motion-activated liftgate, and metallic interior trim. The top Platinum level gets LED headlights and new 20-inch wheels.
The Pathfinder’s greater masculinity is mostly imagined but also perfectly harmless. Sensibly, most of the changes here help this crossover carry out its real mission: ferrying kids from one parental-soul-sucking activity to another. That dream of bushwhacking through the jungle? It died a long time ago.