2017 Nissan Pathfinder Review

The most important remark I heard when driving people around in the Nissan Pathfinder was, “Wow, this is comfortable.”

People who remember Nissan Pathfinders from back in the day remember the truck-based SUV that, while capable off-road, was a brute and not at all easy to drive anywhere civilized. The Pathfinder, however, has always had a bit of an identity crisis, starting life as a truck-based, body-on-frame Bronco competitor then switching to a unibody car-based platform and then back to truck-based again. And then back to unibody one more time. This 2017 Nissan Pathfinder, which has just been refreshed, is still built on a unibody platform, something it looks like the SUV will do for the foreseeable future.

Comfort Over Capability

Why will Nissan stick to a unibody platform? Because no one actually takes their Pathfinder off-road anymore – this a crossover aimed at families who need space and a bit of capability, not a military-grade tank. During my time with the seven-seat Pathfinder, I used it to take a day trip into wine country to see the fall leaves, visit an outlet mall in search of a winter coat, ferry around my parents to dinner and a Walmart run, pick up some pumpkins, and take a few bags of clothing to a donation depot. I imagine most other people driving it would be doing similar things, except with a couple kids and strollers in tow. The worst conditions it saw was a gravel road, something even a Nissan Sentra could have handled without any drama.

2017 Nissan Pathfinder-12

But that’s not to say the Pathfinder has gone completely soft. Although there is no option to lock the car in lower gears like more traditional off-roaders, the Pathfinder should be able to easily handle most eventualities like a snow storm, dirt trail to the cottage, or drive across a field to get a Christmas tree.

Through a three-mode drive selector on the center console, you can choose to drive only the front wheels for maximum fuel efficiency, you can let the car decide where the power is needed in Auto mode, or you can lock the rear differential for more challenging conditions.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Honda Pilot vs 2016 Kia Sorento

The SUV also has a hill descent mode, which is like cruise control for driving down steep hills. It keeps the car at a crawling speed so if you are off-roading, you don’t have to modulate the brakes or throttle; all you’d have to take care of is steering and making sure your wheels are pointed where you want to go. Another feature, hill start assist, holds the brakes as you move your foot to the throttle on a steep incline so the car doesn’t roll back. The Pathfinder is also rated to tow 6,000 lb when properly equipped, a full 1,000 lb more than last year’s model. There is also a tow mode that optimizes the transmission for towing.

Back to the Comfort

Regardless of all that, the most standout feature about the Pathfinder is how comfortable it is and how easy it is to drive in an urban environment. I had no difficulty navigating the three-row SUV around condo parking garages, with the steering light enough at slow speeds to make tight turns effortless. A top-down 360-degree overhead view is displayed on screen when reversing or can be turned on at parking lot speeds, which makes things a lot easier. Even parallel parking the Pathfinder was effortless because of that camera.

2017 Nissan Pathfinder-12

Sitting in the cushy driver’s seat, you have a commanding view of the road, even with the thick A-pillar making for a pretty big blind spot. Rearward blind spots are not a huge issue, as blind-spot monitoring and large windows and side mirrors help alleviate the stress of driving such a large vehicle.

The ride is also soft enough to soak up rough roads, but not so soft that pushing through a corner is a scary experience. The seats are also comfortable and the cabin is roomy for all passengers, except for those in the third row.

All About That Space

One of the best reasons to get a Pathfinder is a massive amount of cargo space. With both rows folded flat behind the driver, the Pathfinder boasts a massive 79.8 cubic feet. Behind the second row, there is 47.8 cu-ft, and with all rows upright, that space shrinks to 16 cu-ft. All those figures are slightly less than the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, but more than the Mazda CX-9.

There are also useful storage cubbies all around, and an underfloor storage compartment in the trunk big enough to keep a large laptop bag away from prying eyes.

2017 Nissan Pathfinder-12

Adjusting the third row, which will stay stowed most of the time for the majority of drivers, is easy with a pull lever for the headrests and the seat back. There are two steps to adjusting the third row, but a lot of the Pathfinder’s competition can now do it on one step or even electrically.

Adjusting the second row takes a bit more muscle and a kid probably won’t be able to do it, but it is easy enough for an adult to master quickly. Nissan was also the first to introduce a second-row seat that can be flipped up and forward with a child seat installed, allowing easy access to the third row without having to unlatch the child seat, a feature that only a handful of other vehicles offer, but is much appreciated by parents with young kids.

The interior is well laid out and the touchscreen is responsive and user-friendly. There is a useful AC plug for second-row passengers and plenty of USB ports throughout.

The Drive

As part of the refresh for the 2017 model year, the Pathfinder gets a tweaked engine. A direct-injection 3.5-liter V6 with 284 hp and 259 pound-feet of torque, the engine was more than capable of getting the big SUV moving, making the car seem much lighter on its feet than you would assume. The engine is a carryover, but it was been tweaked to have higher power output all while being more efficient. Hooked up to a responsive CVT, there was little worry when accelerating off the line or to pass a slower moving car or merge onto the highway. The brakes felt a bit mushy, however, and this is where the weight of the Pathfinder was more obvious. I wish the brakes were a bit sharper and required less effort to bring the big SUV to a halt.

2017 Nissan Pathfinder-12

The rest of the drive is quite predictable with the emphasis put on comfort instead of performance, which is how it should be for a vehicle like this. The most important thing was that it felt natural to drive; the SUV wasn’t intimidating behind the wheel as its size might suggest.

The Verdict: 2017 Nissan Pathfinder Review

The 2017 Nissan Pathfinder gracefully does everything  you need a vehicle like this to do. It’s quite competitive in its segment, and while some newer models might have more features and technology, the Pathfinder’s refresh helps it stay relevant. Although it doesn’t stand out as a car that does one particular thing really well, it does everything you need it to with little drama, and that’s worth a lot.

  • Jeff T

    Apparently autoguide is “all about that space.” As someone who has a primary 6speed manual and regularly drives a 2015 and 2016 Nissan CVT I can agree that the CVT is actually a good transmission. 99.9% of buyers would only notice at the pump when their bills are lower. I have been driving the 3.5L since 2003 and am amazed Nissan still uses it, but I haven’t driven it since DFI so I would love the chance. I will say though, Nissan needs to rename this as the Nissan “mallfinder.” The days of mechanical LSD rear diffs and locking hub are history.