In a weekly test of the 2015 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum, we found a revelation – a speedy, silent, smooth, very spacious, efficient, and unlike any previous Pathfinder 4X4. This doesn’t mean that dislike previous Pathfinders at all.
It was back in 1985 when Nissan Pathfinder established itself as a popular SUV. It was similar in its good looks and toughness with Nissan’s Hardbody pickup. It had everything one would expect from a traditional off roader.
This is what SUVs used to be; go-anywhere trucks suitable for both off-road fun and load-hauling utility, with some nascent ability to serve as a family passenger vehicle in a pinch. First generation Pathfinder can carry people and cargo, but the compromises forced by its genuine toughness and off-road ability mean it’s cramped, noisy, and jouncy compared to, say, a Nissan Maxima from the same time period. An early Pathfinder relegated to in-town duties is like Davy Crockett trying to hold down an office job.
But the Pathfinder has moved on pretty well since then. In the 2013 redesign, the tough truck-like body-on-frame construction has given way to a car-like unibody construction. Rear-wheel-drive with part-time 4X4 has been replaced with front-wheel-drive and electronically selectable AWD. The off-road-friendly low range has been replaced by electronic ascent and descent modes. As a result, the new Pathfinder is less well-suited than its predecessors for actually finding paths, but much improved at hauling families comfortably along those paths once found and paved.
Let’s discuss a few points of this new Pathfinder:
Rear 34 OpenI can’t remember noticing a new-gen Pathfinder on the road before this test, but considering the design constraints involved in accommodating three rows of passengers, the overall design is actually remarkably distinctive. It’s less chunky and cubish than SUVs like the Honda Pilot, with longer and lower proportions. It’s an inch narrower and an inch shorter in height than the Pilot, but six inches longer.
Generally speaking I think the Pathfinder is clean and handsome compared to other SUVs, with Nissan’s corporate grille giving it a pleasant face without the overaggressiveness that plagues some of today’s SUVs. My fully loaded Platinum example wore 20-inch wheels and a pretty dark metallic blue (officially named Arctic Blue Metallic) that really brought out the character lines along the hood and sides. The use of chrome in the grille and along the rocker panels makes the Pathfinder look special without going overboard.
The Pathfinder is handsome for a big people-hauler, but the interior needs no such qualification–it’s unquestionably excellent and a really nice place to be. The dashboard is nicely styled and made from high-quality materials. The buttons and switchgear have great tactile feel, and the push-button start is a novelty that quickly feels natural. There’s a multi-function LCD screen in the instrument panel that shows trip computer data, power split between front and rear axles, and a variety of other data. There’s a bright 8-inch nav/entertainment screen in the center of the dashboard that responds to both touch and presses of the big, clearly marked buttons. As a result, the Pathfinder avoids the pitfall of excessive complexity with confusing control common to luxury cars.
The Platinum trim includes a 13-speaker Bose audio system with streaming Bluetooth audio and USB input. It also includes an AC plug as well as at least five 12-volt DC plugs scattered throughout the interior. Dash switches control the heated steering wheel and toggle towing mode (the Pathfinder has a 5,000-pound towing capacity). A rotating dial on the console selects 2WD, automatic 4WD (electronic shifting of power from front to rear based on available traction, and 4WD locked (power split 50/50 front to rear). The knob is flanked by the hill start and descent control buttons.
The Platinum’s front leather seats are supportive, comfortable, made from high-quality leather, and can be both heated and ventilated. I love that they included both a heated steering wheel, ventilated seats–you haven’t lived until you’ve cruised with toasty hands and a cool backside.
The rear rows are very nice as well; the second row has plenty of legroom for adults (if not much bolstering and sculpting), and those seats are heatable as well. Nissan chose to design the Pathfinder’s third row to accommodate two adults rather than three children, which limits total passenger capacity but results in much more comfortable seating. Both rows fold and slide easily, and the Platinum’s dual panorama sunroof provides fresh air for all three rows. Unlike many three-row vehicles, the Pathfinder has reasonable cargo space behind the third row (16 cubic feet). The cargo space gets commodious when the third row is folded (47.8 cubic feet) and voluminous when both are folded (79.8 cubic feet).
Overall, the Pathfinder’s interior is comfortable, classy, and highly useful. There’s no pretension–no brushed metal, no avant-garde details, no attempts to redefine the art of instrument panel design. Instead, it’s simple, comfortable, and well-featured. In fact, the Pathfinder Platinum is so nice that I can’t imagine why anybody would need Infiniti’s ostensibly more luxurious twin, the QX60.
The Pathfinder does drive very well, particularly if driven in a style that is in sync with its purpose. We have no idea how it does at the limits of adhesion. The reason being, it is not exactly a tossable sports car meant for canyon carving. In normal driving, though, the Pathfinder drives with the smoothness and silkiness of a luxury car. The ride is pretty smooth and well damped without being very choppy. The structure is stiff, and the steering is correctly weighted. Everything has the feel of well engineered and well executed work. In all, the Pathfinder generally drive like a million dollars.
If at all there is any criticism with the dynamics of the Pathfinder dynamics is aimed at the engine. Nissan’s 3.5 liter VQ engine is a gutsy and torquey engine for sure. That provides sports car power in most settings, but its 260-horsepower is tested by the loaded Platinum 4,600-pound curb weight. Due to the weight or the Continuously Variable Transmission, the Pathfinder feels a little more hesitant off the line than expected. It is not at all slow though, low 7-second 0-60 times were sports sedan territory not long ago. The VQ pulls strongly, so we may be tempted to blame the CVT’s bias for fuel efficiency for the flat spot off the line.
Nissan’s CVT acted like a normal automatic in most circumstances, and we have heard that Nissan has toughened the CVT up after an early reputation of being fragile.
The other irritant is visibility. The Pathfinder is bulky, which is correct foe a three row people hauler, and visibility is poor at the corners and at the rear. As a result, parking and manoeuvring in narrow spaces is dicey, and the Pathfinder feels less wieldy in my corporate parking garage.
It is worth noting, though, that Nissan combats this lack of visibility with an impressive array of technology, including certain amber visual indicators that illuminate if a vehicle is in your blind spot and it also beeps loudly if your turn signal indicates an imminent lane change in that direction.
The best thing in this though, is Nissan’s Around View camera, a 360 degree camera system that provides a top down view of the vehicle’s surroundings.
Front Bowl Overall
This Pathfinder is softer and less rugged than others, but that does not make it just a bit different. Station wagons and minivans are fantastic at what they do, and a 260 horsepower AWD station wagon with three rows is genuine cause for excitement. If a name and look borrowed from SUVs help people accept wagon utility without the stigma, it is still okay.
At an MSRP of $44K delivered, the Platinum Pathfinder is not exactly cheap. Using Honda as an example, the Pathfinder slots between a similarly optioned Honda Pilot and Acura MDX, and almost identically priced with the Honda Odyssey minivan.