What a leap forward – the all-new Nissan Pathfinder goes from sleepy and mundane to adventurous and lively. Gone are the ponderous shape, inset wheels, and syrupy CVT that sucked the emotion out of the strong engine. The Pathfinder turns to its rugged roots for inspiration without neglecting the reality of a modern crossover’s routine.
Upright and squared-off surfaces are the name of the game for the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder. The large corporate grille provides a simple yet structured face for the Pathfinder while short front overhang and dominantly-horizontal headlights help to deliver the balanced proportions and lifted shoulder line of the macho and rugged SUVs of yesterday. Just as the front end is admirably free of excessive cut lines or faux garnishes, the side profile of the Pathfinder keeps it simple with smooth surfaces and only uses crisp styling lines to enhance the prominence of the fenders for a powerful stance. The C-pillar’s forward angle is a modern stroke of design and its slim black trim piece provides visual intrigue as it floats the back half of the roofline, however, when equipped with the currently-trendy gloss-black tops the effect is diminished, and the body-colored portion of the C-Pillar look like an odd protrusion going nowhere.
The large black fender flares and lower door cladding wrap around to the rear bumper where a chunky but clean lower fascia further emphasizes the rugged theme. The tailgate design is notable for the “Pathfinder” lettering that stretches across the panel (probably the most contentious aspect of the crossover’s entire design), the slim taillights which wrap around to the side panel to keep it from looking too heavy, and a rear spoiler that extends the roofline.
The interior adopts a similar approach in its design with large and simply-shaped surfaces that are detailed with premium and clever touches. A 9-inch touchscreen sits atop the center of the instrument panel and features crisp graphics and displays an HD surround-camera picture. The infotainment system is easy to navigate through the menus and the Pathfinder even includes physical redundant controls for certain menus located just beneath the screen. All of today’s expected smartphone connectivity is included, however, the base audio system will have you longing for the optional Bose stereo.
The front seats provide adequate long drive comfort but lack the support for overly enthusiastic driving and the large steering wheel has a comfortable shape but its controls look rather basic. The center console is clean and functional, with plenty of storage space and largely shaped cup holders, and the electronic shifter occupies very little space yet is intuitive to use and feels delightfully chunky. Space in the second row is generous with plenty of cubbies and features a raised seat position that allows passengers to clearly see ahead and avoid feeling claustrophobic. Access to the third row is by way of a simple button push, although still, climbing to the third row takes a bit more of a coordinated effort.
Once back there, space is reasonably good for slim adults and space behind the third row is plenty sufficient for rows of grocery bags. Folding down the third row reveals a very large space – enough for a barn party’s worth of tables, chairs, coolers, and beverages. Should that not be enough, the Pathfinder is also capable of towing 6,000 pounds of stuff.
Just as transformative as the Pathfinder’s design has proven to be, the powertrain and driving dynamics receive equally impressive updates. The engine is carryover but suddenly feels like it has a new lease on life now that the droning and dreary continuously-variable transmission has been kicked to the curb. In its place is a 9-speed automatic transmission with a first gear ratio that is so low that the Pathfinder has no trouble calmly outpacing traffic from a stoplight and the narrow spacing between the other gears allows the engine to find the power that it needs while sounding strong and refined in the process. Its widespread ratios allow the Pathfinder to be relatively efficient at an EPA-estimated 23 mpg combined. The only minor drawback with the new hardware is that it doesn’t like to be rushed when changing directions.
The capability of the all-wheel-drive system is a big part of the Pathfinder’s advertised rugged-ness but it feels merely adequate for the task at hand. The front-wheel-biased system doesn’t sufficiently route the power to prevent the front wheel from spinning when merging into traffic under full throttle nor transfer power quickly enough to avoid losing momentum during some light-duty off-roading before the traction control could figure out which wheels had traction – even with the mud/ruts terrain-specific driving mode engaged.
The suspension, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to mind whether it’s a bumpy dirt road or a broken concrete highway. Road noise and wind noise are well-controlled and having conversations with the second-row passengers doesn’t require a concentrated effort. And as much improved as the Pathfinder is at controlling its body roll, it still has a large SUV feel that is furthered with a slightly vague steering center. Its relaxed nature lends it to be a better cruiser than a carver.
After nearly a decade of feeling like it was dressed in someone else’s clothes, the Nissan Pathfinder is back on track for extending its rugged legacy. And while it may not be equipped for the tough off-road expeditions that it once was, this generation rebuilds its adventurous spirit yet proves more capable at overcoming everyday challenges than ever before.
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