Since its newest generation debuted in late 2012 as a 2013 model, the Nissan Pathfinder has found a lot of fans who don’t care that the crossover used to be a bonafide truck-based SUV. I’m not sure I’m one of those fans — yet.
One thing to understand about the Nissan Pathfinder as we know it today is it’s a darn sight bigger than it used to be. The first-generation Pathy was based heavily on the D21 Hardbody pickup truck and was sized more or less like one of those small trucks with a tall camper shell on its bed. Nowadays, it’s more the size of, say, a Chevy Traverse — which is to say, it’s large.
To wit, the Pathfinder is just shy of 200 inches long. It’s still about two feet shorter than a 1986 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham — my personal yardstick for determining whether a car is truly large — but it’s pretty long by modern standards. Consider a modern-day GMC Yukon comes in at 204 inches. If you grew up seeing those Hardbody-based Pathfinders crawling the streets and trails like I did, you probably think of the Yukon as a much larger vehicle than the Pathfinder. In fact, it’s just seven inches longer and three inches wider than the modern-day Pathfinder.
That size translates to a lot of space for family-hauling duties in today’s Pathfinder. There was plenty of room to not only haul both my boys in the second row in their child safety seats, but also for my wife to sit between them to feed the infant a bottle as we drove home from a recent shopping trip. The third row, which we did not have occasion to use, appeared quite a bit tighter than the second row in terms of both its width and legroom, but kids should have no difficulty occupying it for a cross-country run if required.
As I mentioned in my review of the 2016 GMC Terrain Denali, the Pathfinder’s powertrain may be down on power compared to its smaller American competitor, but it is worlds more willing to scoot away from traffic lights. Driving the Pathfinder felt effortless, with light throttle inputs resulting in easy departures at a rate of acceleration that kept the traffic behind me happy. Steering was mostly devoid of feedback, in the fine, electrically boosted Nissan tradition, but remained fingertip easy in most maneuvers.
Part of the Pathfinder’s easy acceleration attitude came from its use of Nissan’s Xtronic CVT, which delivered seamless go when my right foot summoned the available 260 horsepower and 240 ft-lbs of torque from the 3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve engine. That CVT also helped said engine return respectable fuel economy, as I was staring down an onboard trip computer-indicated 24.9 MPG at week’s end. That, too, was better than the GMC Terrain I drove the week prior.
So with all this praise, why am I not sure I’m a fan of the Pathfinder? It comes down to feel and fleece, mostly.
First, the feel: I would be remiss in my duties if I failed to mention that I never felt fully comfortable in the driver’s seat. Something about the contour on these seats constantly made me feel like I was either sitting too far forward or leaning too far back. There was no adjustment in the lumbar support of the seat, which felt as if it had a sloped section in the lumbar area that contributed to my feeling like I was sliding out of the chair an awful lot during the test week. This is an issue I also have with S- and SV-trimmed Nissan Altimas and their much-ballyhooed “zero gravity seats,” by the way.
The seats were a specific part of the car’s feel with which I just never squared myself, but more generally, the Pathfinder lacked enough edge to make it feel comfortable in its own skin, to me. It seemed like a vehicle trying to be something it wasn’t — the minivan of SUVs. Granted, many would-be minivan buyers who can’t admit to needing a minivan buy crossover SUVs, so perhaps Nissan is onto something here. It certainly provided a quiet ride and a cushy-enough interior for any soccer mom or dad to gleefully cart their kids to afternoon practice.
As if to cling to its former truck-based intentions, the Pathfinder I tested had Nissan’s 4x4i dial in the center console that would allow me to physically select four-wheel drive, two-wheel drive, or automatic all-wheel drive engagement modes. The also-AWD GMC Terrain I tested didn’t bother with that — and in the Pathfinder, neither did I, electing to leave it in Auto mode as I suspect 99% of buyers will. It’s not like they’re going to take this family cruiser off-road.
And now for the fleece: Any family truckster today needs a raft of technology features to make it competitive, and on its surface, the 2015 Nissan Pathfinder SV package appeared to have just enough. There was a USB input, AUX inputs, and satellite radio, after all. But the on-board technology proved disappointing in a number of ways.
The display, while large enough, was not nearly as intuitive to use as Nissan’s latest NissanConnect touchscreen units. It required use of a directional pad and an OK button in the array of physical buttons below the screen. Voice commands were limited to phone functions, and steering wheel controls were limited to volume and changing the currently playing track or cycling through radio station presets, depending on what mode I was using.
Finally, the head unit lacked the ability to sync with Bluetooth for music streaming — calling worked just fine — and plugging my Android 4.4 KitKat smartphone into the USB port resulted in a message on the screen asking me to check my USB device. When I attempted to play tracks from the Google Play Music app while plugged into USB, I got sound out of my phone, not the car’s speakers. I double-checked to ensure my phone was set to media transfer mode when plugged into a USB port, and indeed it was.
Logically, I went for the next-best thing when Bluetooth audio was nonexistent and the USB plug-in didn’t work: I wanted to use the AUX audio plug-in. Imagine my dismay when I found the AUX function of this infotainment system apparently dedicated solely to video players that can output signal via RCA plugs — the telltale red, yellow, and white receptacles being the only AUX plug-in points I could find in the car, located within the recesses of the center console armrest storage bin. My 2010 Nissan cube has a regular old AUX port on the face of its head unit. Why can’t we get that in the much more expensive, much newer Pathfinder SV?
There was a lot to like in the 2015 Nissan Pathfinder. If you’re someone who has a family to cart around who doesn’t mind its rounded look and who doesn’t mind plugging a cheap USB drive loaded with tunes into the USB receptacle and just leaving it — which works, by the way — you’d probably find a lot to like, too. But as for me, I’m waiting for the Pathfinder to become as comfortable in its own skin as the latest-generation Rogue has become while offering the technology I can get in the Rogue.
By the way, the Rogue also comes in a three-row configuration, albeit not by default. It’s also somewhat easier to park in tight spaces and comes in at a lower MSRP. Unless you need the extra space and 5,000-lb towing capacity offered by the Pathfinder, I’d suggest the Rogue as the first Nissan crossover you should check out if you’re shopping for a nicely equipped family hauler in the low $30,000s. Or you could go the way I would probably go and buy “The Best Minivan Nobody Buys.”
2015 Nissan Pathfinder SV 4×4
Base Price: $34,500
Price As-Tested: $35,570
Options: Carpeted Floor Mats ($210)
- Plenty of space inside
- Super easy to drive thanks to willing acceleration and easy steering
- Decent fuel economy given enormity of footprint — nearly 25 MPG observed
- Previous-generation technology needs an update, stat
- Awkward seat lumbar area is not adjustable in SV trim
- The least-edgy, and perhaps least-comfortable in its own skin, among Nissan’s new model redesigns that have taken shape since 2012.
(Photo Credit: Lyndon Johnson)