The 2017 Pathfinder is the latest Nissan to receive the brand’s front-end reno treatment (new grille and more aggressive headlamp lenses leading to a more aerodynamic shape being the main attractions), and the transition has done it a world of good. In fact, of all the current Nissans on sale—or at least of the company’s SUVs and crossovers, of which there are many—the Pathfinder is probably the vehicle that needed it the most.
The Murano is kind of the quasi-luxurious model of the bunch, so you expected it to be one of the first to get the new look. The JUKE is in a world of its own, but that’s OK for a compact crossover—in fact, it’s expected. The Rogue is not only the biggest-selling Nissan, it’s one of the highest-selling vehicles in all of Canada and the U.S., and the brand’s mass-market masterpiece. The Armada is the somewhat freaky outlier that only really appeals to those who need big V8 power but don’t want to go the domestic route, as well as those who want to feel like they’re crushing desert sand dunes every day. (The Armada’s Patrol cousin has actually served with the U.N. in some of the world’s hottest climes for decades now.)
So where does that leave the Pathfinder, then? What’s its identity?
Pathfinder or Nissan’s most stylish minivan yet
Well, it’s got three rows of seating, so there’s that. That third row remains one of the most accessible in the biz, thanks to the way the middle row both slides forward and tilts; you can leave a car seat in there and still have easy access to the back row. A great feature. For 2017, they’ve also added a motion-activated liftgate as standard on SL, SL Premium Tech and Platinum trims.
It’s also got the single choice of a gutsy V6 engine mated to a continuously-variable automatic transmission, the likes of which are becoming more and more popular throughout the car landscape, but which Nissan was one of the first to adopt. As a result, they’ve gotten quite good at making their CVT do a presentable job of hiding the fact that it’s a CVT at all. It’s smooth-operating—a given, considering that smoothness is one of the CVT’s main calling cards—but not loud and moaning like so many often are. It stands to reason; other than the styling refresh, a re-vamped CVT was one of the biggest additions for 2017. It’s now been programmed to operate more like a proper transmission, and the drive is all the better for it.
Really, then, the best way to describe the Pathfinder is that it replaces the Quest mega-minivan, a model that kicked the bucket in 2016 after steadily decreasing sales. It’s got seats for as many travellers, a proper amount of storage, especially if you keep the third row folded, and gutsy V6 power.
Nissan has massaged more power out of the 3.5 V6 under the hood, with the Pathfinder now providing 284 hp and 259 lb-ft of torque, for increases of 24 hp and 19 lb-ft. While the remapped CVT is partially responsible for making the Pathfinder feel zippier in general, the added power is a welcome bonus. The new edition features 50% new internal parts, as well as a new direct-injection system, which also helps improve fuel consumption. Having said that, we spent most of our time in the city (during a cold snap, mind, with a lot of strain on the climate control system) and saw 15.2L/100km, a little higher than Nissan’s claimed 12.1L/100km in the city.
The result? A big, chunky crossover that actually feels pleasingly zippy off the line. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s “fast”, but there’s no denying that Nissan wanted to ensure that even a people-mover like this can retain some of the athletic flare that they’ve bestowed on so many other models in their lineup, from the Micra and its Cup Racer twin to the JUKE NISMO and so on.
Of course, not many multi-person-crossover buyers are really going to care all that much about how “sporty” it feels. To them, practicality and safety are what matter when it comes to the powertrain. Those folks will be happy to learn, then, that the added power helps the Pathfinder haul up to 2,722 kilograms, giving the Pathfinder the best tow-rating in the class, besting competitors like the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot. That’s big news.
If you’re not towing, then the combination of newly-tuned CVT and added power makes highway work quite relaxing; passing is never an issue, nor is entering the freeway, and I’ll challenge anyone to argue with me that the turbo plants offered by Ford are really that much more potent-feeling than this. If a little off-roading is more your thing, you’ll be happy to learn that the Pathfinder hasn’t completely forgotten its Nissan hardbody-truck off-road roots; it’s the only vehicle in the class to provide 2WD and 4WD lock modes, as well as an auto function. Those gravelly (or snowy) trips to the cabin should not be a problem.
Along with power to pass, this segment is all about comfort and access. We talked about the access to the third row, but what about the rest?
The step in may be a little on the high side, but the door openings are nice and big and once inside, there’s room to spare for even taller drivers like myself. The view out is good—the roof is high enough for headroom and for big side glass—and helped along in our model by the Around View monitor, which provides about umpteen exterior views to help make parking the fairly long-wheelbase Pathfinder that much easier.
Once you’ve got all the in-tight manoeuvering out of the way and it comes time to hit the road, you’ll discover that the minor tweaks done to the suspension and steering for 2017 have been well-implemented. They’ve kept the hydraulic power steering, which is a nice departure from pretty much everything else in the crossover game today.
The ride of the older Pathfinder wasn’t bad, it was just so pillowy that body roll was, if not omnipresent, pretty close to it. Now, with firmer damper and spring settings (as well as new rebound springs added to the front struts), the situation has been improved. Still, our test weekend in Montreal and that city’s winter-ravaged, pockmarked streets allowed us to confirm that they’ve somehow managed to keep the ride appropriately soft. It’s a neat trick, and one that helps the Pathfinder stand out from the crowd a little.
Nissan’s old infotainment was getting long in the tooth; the graphics were dated, and the interface was clunky. They’ve updated that for 2017, adding a pinch-and-swipe 8-inch touchscreen and updated graphics as standard. If selected, the second-row displays have also grown from 7 to 8 inches in diameter. The navigation system has also been upgraded to include voice recognition; the Pathfinder may be a little behind the times in this regard, but it’s nice to have it anyway. We made good use of it, finding that it understood our instructions most of the time.
While not quite as heated as the compact crossover segment, the three-row full-size CUV category remains one that every notable brand has an entrant in, including some that figure among their manufacturer’s highest sellers. It appears Nissan knew that the landscape was going to start looking like this; the Pathfinder is a valid entry and if it weren’t for the overheated Rogue market, I reckon it too would be one of the brand’s top sellers, especially with this recent facelift.