Let’s face it, you’ve got to be good to get ahead ― and stay ahead ― in today’s midsize SUV segment. The Nissan Pathfinder has done just that with little change since the totally reimagined, fourth-generation, car-based crossover replaced the outdated, body-on-frame model in 2012 for the 2013 model year.
It’s neither fancy nor very exciting, but it’s exactly what many families need, which is why it remains a popular entry in a hotly contested, 20-competitor strong midsize SUV class (from the Ford Edge to the Kia Sorento and Toyota Highlander, just to name a few). More specifically, the Pathfinder is the third-best-selling model among dedicated 7-passenger SUVs, which means we Canadians like it a lot.
A practical family hauler
It makes sense, of course. We’re practical people, still enamoured with our minivans, so a vehicle that does most things a minivan can while looking a great deal more SUV-like should fare well.
To that end the 2016 Nissan Pathfinder provides best-in-class passenger volume and the segment’s most accessible third row thanks to EZ Flex seating that tips the lower cushion of each second-row outboard seat upwards as the entire mechanism slides forward, this opening a gap that’s wide enough for average-sized adults to easily pass through. You’ll need to slide the second row forward to improve third-row legroom, but this allows seating for full-sized folks in all seven positions, which makes the Pathfinder a far cry more accommodating than most competitors. Another bonus is the ability to access the rearmost seats without removing a forward-facing child seat from the second row (although you’ll want to remove the child first!).
The big SUV strikes a minivan pose when it comes to cargo capacity, too, although I must say it’s easier for hauling large items than most vans that require removal of the second-row seats. Just tumble the 50/50-split third row into the floor to expand the Pathfinder’s 453-litre minimum capacity to a much roomier 1,201 litres, while the 60/40-split second row flips forward just as easily for a maximum of 2,260 litres.
Sure, that’s not as much overall space as any modern van with all seats removed, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to make happen. I chose the Nissan Pathfinder for picking up a sizable load of furniture consisting of two wide and three narrow IKEA Pax wardrobes with shelves, the latter trio complete with heavy mirrored doors no less, and it not only swallowed them up without the need to push the driver’s seat uncomfortably forward, but it also remained extremely stable at highway speeds. No doubt there’s little this SUV can’t do, its tow rating even measuring a considerable 2,267 kilos (5,000 lbs).
Smooth and comfortable on the road
Nissan reconfigured the Pathfinder’s continuously variable transmission last year for a more engaging driving experience and it really feels more like a regular automatic due to positive shift increments when getting on the power, although it remains one of the smoothest operators in the segment and also one of the most efficient amongst 6-cylinder offerings.
Engine output hasn’t changed since this most recent Pathfinder came on the scene. The 3.5L V6 still makes 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque, which is more than ample enough to get it moving quickly from standstill and keep it ahead of traffic on the highway, while passing performance is excellent.
By the way, the 2016 Nissan Pathfinder is more about comfort than speed, which seems to be how most people like their crossover SUVs anyway. The ride is as smooth as the powertrain with good compliance over rougher pavement. Meanwhile, the big ute is still quite capable through corners as long as you don’t ask too much of it, which is par for the course in the large 7-passenger crossover SUV segment.
Loads of luxury goodies
My Pathfinder tester was priced at $47,398 due to its top-line Platinum trim, which meant its wheels were 20” alloys and tires were 235/55 all-season rubber, no doubt helping it navigate corners more effectively. Speaking of navigation, a useful GPS was integrated into its 8” centre touchscreen along with nav traffic, a handy 360-degree Around View monitor, and a great-sounding, 13-speaker Bose stereo with streaming Bluetooth audio.
Additional Platinum upgrades include a power tilt and telescoping steering column with memory, cooled front seats, premium leather upholstery, plus rear DVD entertainment with dual 7” displays, two wireless headphones, and rear audio/video input jacks.
All of this gets added to a host of other features pulled up from lesser trims, namely S at $31,598, SV at $38,098, and SL at $41,198. There are auto on/off headlights, fog lights, power heated side mirrors with reverse tilt-down, chrome body-side mouldings, roof rails, remote start, welcome lighting, proximity access with push-button start, stainless steel kick plates, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, woodgrain trim, leather upholstery, an 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support, driver’s seat and side mirror memory, a 4-way power front passenger’s seat, heated front and second-row outboard seats, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, a universal garage door opener, tri-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth, auxiliary and USB ports, satellite radio, voice recognition, a household-style 120V power outlet, a rear parking sonar, a power liftgate, a tow hitch receiver with a 7-pin wiring harness, hill start assist, hill descent control, tire pressure monitoring with individual display, all the usual active and passive safety features, and more.
Equal parts utilitarian and luxurious
As far as refinement goes, the 2016 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum mixes straightforward utilitarianism with a decent dose of luxury, although Nissan doesn’t dress up the dash and instrument panel with soft-touch materials like most of its competitors, preferring instead to relegate pliable plastics to the door uppers. The door inserts and armrests are nicely padded and covered with the same comfortable leather as the seats.
A Pathfinder strength is switchgear that’s mostly premium quality with tight spacing, good damping, and an overall substantive feel. The general layout of the centre stack is quite attractive albeit a bit dated due to a button-intensive infotainment interface positioned just below the touchscreen. There is a helpful rotating dial controller at centre, but no simple home or menu button to get you back to any sort of starting point. For this reason it’s not the simplest to operate, and it doesn’t yet feature Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Furthermore, its screen resolution isn’t the sharpest in the class. Also a bit behind the times, the audio and HVAC controls are purely analog, only showing adjustments on the touchscreen briefly when being used.
The 3-level heated and cooled front seats in my tester were plenty nice, though, as was the woodgrain surrounding the centre stack and lower console. I found the driver’s seat to be extremely comfortable even after long stints behind the wheel. A power glass sunroof sits over the front passengers and a larger, panoramic glass roof hovers over both rear rows, making the entire cabin feel open and airy.
Efficient and safe, but not the most reliable
Another way the 2016 Nissan Pathfinder shines is in fuel economy. The big Japanese SUV manages to eke out 11.9L/100km in the city and 8.6L/100km on the highway in FWD configuration or 12.1 and 8.9 for lower trims equipped with AWD. As for the fully loaded and therefore heavier Platinum model, it achieves 12.7 and 9.0, respectively.
According to both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power, the Nissan Pathfinder is not the most reliable, however, with a rating of minus126 from the former and a below-average score in the latter third-party analytical firm’s latest Vehicle Dependability Study.
On a more positive note, the NHTSA gave the Pathfinder five stars overall for crash worthiness, whereas the IIHS rewarded it with the best possible “Good” score in all categories. A lack of active safety technologies such as forward collision warning or automatic emergency braking means it didn’t earn either Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ status.
That will hardly matter to most Nissan Pathfinder buyers, who aren’t paying top dollar for all the bells and whistles. Despite boasting fewer active safety features than most fully loaded rivals, this Platinum model is impressively upgraded over its more proletarian versions, although the S, SV, and SL might be better bets considering their more approachable price points.
Anyhow, it was easy for me to appreciate why the Pathfinder remains so popular and incredibly easy to live with. It comes down to that comfortable, roomy, and accommodating interior, along with a relatively relaxed driving experience. Aren’t these the attributes we all want in a family hauler?