by: Anthony Jarantilla
We got the opportunity to drive the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder for a week and evaluate Nissan’s latest contribution to the midsize crossover/ SUV market. 2017 is a refresh year for the Pathfinder, making some notable improvements for performance and seeing some aesthetic changes. The Pathfinder made a big change in 2013 going from a body on frame (truck chassis) to a more car like uni-body, which continues in 2017. For those who prefer the rugged capabilities of a truck and are Nissan fans, you’ll have to look at the Armada or the Frontier (put a canopy on the back and pretend it’s an SUV). This Pathfinder is the type of design that majority of the market wants, and even though it’s not my style, it does make a lot of sense for this segment.
Driving Impressions (8)
Now I’ll be the first one to admit, I wasn’t a big fan when Nissan decided to leave its rugged truck roots in the SUV market in favour of a more “wagon like” design. I like my trucks being trucks underneath and cars being cars. But the switch to a unibody does make a lot of sense for today’s market. A majority of owners that own 4X4 or AWD vehicle almost never take their vehicles off road on a regular basis. What they do is use the vehicle for commuting, running errands, road tripping and the vehicle may see the road less travelled when going camping the odd time. They also need their vehicle to be able to handle a variety of weather conditions on pavement no matter what the season.
So, building an SUV with car like properties with some ground clearance and 4-wheel traction just makes sense. I own a 2006 Nissan 350Z and I have to say the Pathfinder “drives like a Nissan”. What I mean by that is it’s well put together and handles and drives very well. Nissan says they tweaked the suspension making it a little stiffer and the addition of rebound springs in the front help with body roll. What you get is a vehicle that takes corners reasonably flat and brakes very well with very little nose dive, considering it almost weighs six thousand pounds. An attributing factor to good handling is how the weight is allocated throughout the vehicle. The as tested model has a 55/45 weight distribution, which is very good considering it’s a crossover and not a sports car.
The power plant is Nissan’s latest version of the good old (transversely-mounted) VQ engine. Over the years, this engine has received a lot of praise for its power, smoothness, and excellent build quality. Rated at 284HP @ 6,400 RPM and 259lb-ft of torque @ 4,800RPM, the Pathfinder has more than enough power to move through traffic and merge easily on the highway. Keep in mind I’m the only one in the vehicle for the test and I was not able to see how it was affected if I drove with a load of full grown adults. Even though the power is up a little, Nissan says fuel economy is not affected.
I think the fuel consumption is reasonable as I have been driving it to and from work, downtown on the highway and getting a return of around 11 L/100km travelled, which is in between its Energuide fuel consumption rating. For the most part, I tried to keep it in 2WD since it’s the only vehicle in this category that can do it which helps maximize fuel economy. However, with a spirited take off the front wheels can break traction slightly. Putting the vehicle into auto gives the vehicle more grip immediately and it just seems to drive different. I don’t know what Nissan’s torque split is but there is no slippage then engagement to get traction, so it seems that in the “Auto” setting, all four wheels are receiving power as opposed to only sending power to the rear when it detects wheel slippage. The CVT transmission is interesting because it acts like a typical CVT, kind of just holding the revs as you accelerate but when you pass or slow down it tries to simulate “gear changes” giving you the sensation of a regular gear box. I’m just going to vote to put a 6-speed automatic transmission with the ability to select gears; I prefer it for engine braking purposes, especially if you like to tow. I also prefer having gears for the driving experience.
As for off-road, I would keep it to gravel roads and terrain, preferably without a lot of ruts and big rocks. The Pathfinder only has about 7 inches of ground clearance, lacks skid plates and has a “Low” selection on the transmission, but lacks a transfer case with a 4 Low setting for further gear reduction. It will however conquer snow and dirt roads well with its seamless 4WD system and a fully independent suspension to adapt to the road conditions. In my opinion, this is all you need for a vehicle like this. Remember, its name is Pathfinder, not Pathconqueror!
Overall, the Pathfinder is a very pleasant vehicle to drive with good handling, ample power and a steering feel that is more on par with their sporty sedans.
We talked a little about passive safety with the suspension updates which helps control the body of the Pathfinder. The Pathfinder is equipped with decent sized rotors on all four corners (12.6 inches in the front and 12.13 in the rear) giving it a very powerful bite when you get on the binders.
The Pathfinder we drove was also equipped with a plethora of electronics devices: anti-lock brakes, vehicle stability control, emergency crash detection, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, front, seat mounted and roof mounted airbags as well as a full 360-degree camera system to assist with parking. I thought the 360 camera system was great and worked well when in tight areas. The forward camera will turn off as soon as you hit 10 KM/h. Other piece of mind safety items included are an immobilizer and an alarm.
I thought it was a good thing the Pathfinder was equipped with winter tires given the season. Proper tires depending on the season is the single greatest safety item that can be put on any vehicle.
I like the interior of the Nissan a lot. Everything flows nice and the materials feel good. Yes, looking at it from a distance it’s simple, but that’s what you want. You don’t need the interior to call attention to itself. The gauges are simple but have depth and a pleasing look and the screen in the middle is useful. The center entertainment screen is large (8 inches) and is easy to look at. The navigation system seems a bit dated as when it’s tracking you, it isn’t that smooth. Also, compared to the aftermarket, the navigation can get busy and a little difficult to read at a quick glance. Unfortunately, you can’t just change it out so it is something you’ll just have to live with. The factory sound system does come equipped with auxiliary and USB connectivity which is nice. The Bose sound system sounds decent, relatively clear and provides lots of mid-range bass from the doors. Its problem, however, is you can’t hear that mid-range bass until you’re at about 7/8 up on the volume and at high volume, it seems to lose sound clarity. I would, at the very least, build a custom enclosure with a sub to help pick up the low end frequencies but also not take up that much cargo space.
The 2017 Pathfinder is a decent looking vehicle, but a little more on the mundane side, which it’s probably supposed to be. When you need to make a vehicle practical, you can’t hit cool looking lines that evoke emotion, like the 370Z, for example. The front treatment is nice – it looks tougher and the LED lights are a pleasing accent. It would have been nice to see some fenders similar to the old Titan or Armada to give it a beefier look. I do like how Nissan didn’t opt for a “dual exhaust” look at the rear of the vehicle because it looks tacky and should be reserved for sport sedans, coupes and sports cars. Big points there for just keep the exhaust hidden, clean and avoiding an unnecessary cost. I prefer the older more boxy looks, but aerodynamics take priority here for the front of the SUV, giving it more of a car/ wagon appearance as opposed to more “truck like”. It’s a respectable looking vehicle that doesn’t draw attention to itself. I would consider changing the wheels if you want it to look more aggressive. Nissan does make some nice wheels that are concave for some of their cars and I wish they brought some of that styling over to the Pathfinder.
The Pathfinder suits its purpose. It traded it’s rugged off road capability for better road manners, practicality and fuel economy, which is what the market wants from vehicles like this.
Price As Tested: $50,193
by: Anthony Jarantilla