As a kid growing up in the 1990s, a favorite pastime of mine would be to identify the year, make and model of whatever cars I could see from the backseat of the family Jeep. The Nissan Pathfinder was always an easy one – it had a distinctive look that stood out from everything else on the road and its rugged well-proportioned styling attracted my eyes. Growing up, I had the chance to drive a few Pathfinders, mostly second-generation examples, and I recall being impressed by how well mannered and luxurious they were, while maintaning rugged appearance and high centre of gravity.
In the following years, the Pathfinder would lose that distinctive styling edge it held in my eyes as it moved to be more competitive within the hot family crossover segment. Now in its fourth generation and representing a full-sized seven-seater family SUV, the Pathfinder is much more in line with what today’s families are seeking in a reliable hauler. I spent a week with this loaded 2016 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum with all-wheel-drive to see just what the cult classic has evolved into.
From the outside, the current Pathfinder is a large departure from its roots as a compact and rugged off-roader. With its long swooping lines and rounded off features you could say that the Pathfinder has a very agreeable appearance. It’s certainly not looking Dakar-ready like its lineage, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t like the Pathfinder’s styling. Notice that I said “like” and not “love” – the current Pathfinder is just not unique enough to love. Lined up alongside the three or four mainstream competitors in this segment, there really isn’t much to differentiate the Pathfinder from its rivals.
My tester did come in a distinctive dark green and sported very nice 20” wheels, but that alone is not enough to have a real identity in today’s market. I will say that I prefer the Pathfinder’s pleasant and low-key appearance to some of the more recent radical designs that have been popping up. When it comes to effortless and comfortable family hauling, there’s something to be said for blending in. Climbing into the driver’s seat of the Pathfinder you’ll quickly forget any reservations you might have about the exterior.
As I mentioned, this tester happens to be the top-line Platinum trim, and at $47,000, it comes with all the latest bells and whistles required to keep the entire family comfortable and entertained. Up front, the outstanding leather seats are heated and cooled, the steering wheel is heated, and the faux-wood trim adds a splash of color across the soft-touch dashboard and door panels. There is plenty of storage up front too, with a deep centre console, big door pockets, a functional glove compartment and integrated storage trays.
In the back there’s plenty of headroom across the second and third rows, dual screens built into the headrests and wireless headphones keep the kids occupied on those extended road trips. The full-length panoramic sunroof can really brighten up the otherwise dark interior and it was an appreciated feature on the first few days of spring. The second-row seats are adjustable, maximizing spacing between rows when required. Both rows fold to form a nearly flat load floor for when you need to haul larger items. There’s even a very handy storage compartment built into the floor to keep valuables and it’s easily accessed regardless of whether or not the third row is folded.
After living with the Pathfinder every day for a week, I began to notice a few of the reasons why this platform of vehicle is just so popular with families. The low and flat floor makes exiting and entering very easy, and loading the rear cargo area is also just as painless with its low bumper. Visibility from the driver’s seat is also fairly good for a vehicle this size, and the turning radius is surprisingly tight, making city driving a little less nerve-wracking; in that regard, same goes for the 360-degree camera views standard on the Platinum trim level.
The Pathfinder’s only drivetrain option is the aging VQ-series 3.5L V6 outputting 260 horsepower, mated to a version of Nissan’s CVT. The V6 actually offers plenty of low-end power which helps the Pathfinder feel responsive and quick in the city, but the engine is let down by the CVT when tasked with higher rpm merging and passing. There are lots of revs and noise, but not a whole lot of action. The other aspect of the driving experience that let me down a little bit is the steering and handling. The steering is light, which is fine, but there’s almost no detectable connection to the road, which doesn’t inspire much confidence. The suspension also tends to wallow into corners and body roll is more pronounced than many competitors. The trade-off here though, is that the ride quality is exceptional and the softer suspension does a great job absorbing potholes.
One area where the Nissan shines is in its truck-like capabilities, which is a bit of a throwback to the Pathfinder’s heritage. With the factory tow package, my tester is equipped to haul up to 5000 lbs. That is enough to easily take a weekend race car to the track, or the family boat to the lake. It also offers a true 4WD mode, in addition to the 2WD and automatic 4WD modes. I didn’t get a chance to put the Pathfinder through its paces in any off-road situations, but the fact that Nissan offers the only true 4×4 mode in the segment definitely lends it some credibility in my books.
I had the Nissan out on a decent highway run, and even after spending a couple hours in the driver’s seat, I stepped out feeling great. The new Pathfinder really is a relaxing and confident highway vehicle. My only complaint in that respect would be the level of noise in the cabin – both tire and wind noise are louder than I would have expected for a vehicle of this stature and refinement. To be fair, my test vehicle was wearing aggressive Toyo winter tires, which are a definite factor in the aforementioned tire noise.
In my week’s worth of commuting I averaged 11.5L/100km. Considering the Pathfinder’s size and capabilities, I’d say that actually a very good figure. As much as I dislike CVT transmissions overall, in this application it’s hard to argue much with those results. If fuel economy is a prime concern when making a purchase within this segment, the Pathfinder just might have an edge on its competitors when it comes to real-world consumption and long-term efficiency.
The latest Nissan Pathfinder may have lost a lot of its rugged looks and with it, a good portion of its original identity. It has however, evolved and grown up along with its buyers and is properly equipped to deliver exactly what families are looking for. Buyers really owe it to themselves to shop the segment completely, because at this price point there really are a lot of exceptional vehicles available to haul your family around. If you’ve done your shopping and the Pathfinder’s extra capabilities, great fuel economy and cavernous interior space keep it at the top of your list you can make your purchase knowing that you’re getting into a solid and competitive product.