It’s hard to believe there once was a time when the Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner competed fender to fender for off-road supremacy.
That changed in 2013, when Nissan ceded the battle to Toyota as Nissan looked to conquer cul-de-sacs, not creek beds or off-road trails. It settled into a middle-aged senility with styling to match.
But to then-CEO Carlos Ghosn, product volume meant more than product image, and he seemed more than willing to sacrifice the latter to get the former.
But Ghosn is now a fugitive, hiding out in Lebanon. Meanwhile Nissan is slowly rebuilding its lineup after the damage he’s inflicted. Certainly, vehicles like the 2024 Nissan Pathfinder ias a step in the right direction.
Handsome new design
Certainly the newest Pathfinder is no longer the automotive mall-crawling globule it once was. Square-shouldered and masculine, it has a look of handsome ruggedness about it, much like the old models fading fast in most people’s minds. The new Pathfinder does look at home among Nissan’s newest trucks, with which it shares some design cues. But it’s far more trucklike in appearance, no longer looking like a minivan reject.
Offered in five grades — S, SV, Rock Creek, SL and Platinum — the Pathfinder’s newfound mainstream SUV design language continues inside, where a 7-inch digital instrument cluster or optional 12-inch display and head-up display greet the driver. An 8-inch infotainment touchscreen is standard; a 9-inch screen is available.
Both come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Opt for an SL or Platinum, and you’ll get wireless Apple CarPlay and smartphone charging instead. Regardless of trim, four USB ports come standard, although you’ll get up to five on the SL and six on Platinum. A 120-volt second-row power outlet is optional on the Platinum.
The Pathfinder’s controls are straightforward as its style, and prove easy to operate at first glance. Nissan didn’t go crazy by using touchscreen buttons, choosing instead to use conventional switchgear. Somehow, it seems more apropos.
And there are plenty of places to stow things. There’s space under the center console. There’s 16.6 cubic feet of cargo space, expanding to 80.5 cubic feet when both rows of seats are folded. Not enough space? The roof rack can transport 220 pounds on the Pathfinder Rock Creek Edition.
Certainly the seats prove up to the task of being supportive and comfortable. The second row can be fitted with a bench seat or captain’s chairs, the latter separated by a center console that can easily be removed. Outward visibility is fairly good and the ambience, especially on Platinum trim, feels premium.
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Looks can deceive
But there’s a catch to this vehicle’s return to form.
It hasn’t returned to body-on-frame construction. Nor does it have a burly V8. Nor is it as capable as the top SUVs in this segment.
That’s because it retains some essential elements from previous versions. It still uses a unibody front-wheel-drive car platform powered by a double-overhead-cam 3.5-liter V-6. But it does produce a healthy 284 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque through a 9-speed transmission with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. All models use regular unleaded gasoline except for the Rock Creek Edition, which inexplicably requires premium unleaded.
Towing is rated at 3,500 pounds with front-wheel drive, 6,000 pounds with all-wheel drive.
Standard driveline gear includes limited slip differential, Hill Start Assist and trailer sway control. All-wheel-drive models also come with Hill Descent Control. In addition, Pathfinders come with Standard, Sport, Eco, Snow and Tow drive modes, with all-wheel-drive models also getting Sand and Mud/Rut modes.
Standard driver assistance technology includes Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Assist, Rear Automatic Braking, Driver Alertness Monitor, Rear Door Alert and rear sonar sensors. A surround-View Monitor, Blind Spot Intervention, front sonar sensors and Traffic Sign Recognition are optional.
A good performer
Although it takes a little longer than expected for the transmission to downshift, power seems to be plentiful. Steering and throttle response feel quicker, shifting speed is unaffected by switching to Sport mode, even if other parameters are. The easiest way to swiftly extract additional power is to shift using the paddle shifters.
Its conduct is otherwise unremarkable. There is a slight body lean in corners and the steering seems a bit light. Like other Nissan models, the Pathfinder’s turning radius is quite wide. The suspension does a decent job of smothering road abrasions, but the compliance needed for off-road work, even mild off-road work in the Pathfinder’s case, does little to enhance the driving experience.
In the end, while the Pathfinder maintains its punchy V6 and sports handsome new looks, the heart of the vehicle remains relatively the same. It’s still more the foul weather friend than one who likes to venture down the road not taken, nor paved.