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The $48,000 Nissan Pathfinder is one of the best family SUVs money can buy — but it has one major flaw

Benjamin Zhang
Nissan Pathfinder 2018

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider


  • The fourth generation Nissan Pathfinder has been on sale since late 2012.
  • It's the first Pathfinder to be a front-wheel-drive-based crossover.
  • Nissan updated the Pathfinder in 2017 with fresh styling, more power, and more tech.
  • Business Insider took the Pathfinder on a long road trip and was impressed by its smooth ride, comfortable cabin, and powerful engine.

For more than three decades, the Nissan Pathfinder has been one of the most popular SUVs in America. But in 2012, Nissan shook up the formula and turned its rugged pick-up truck-based SUV into a front-wheel-drive family crossover. (Four-wheel-drive is a $1,700 option.)

A vehicle some critics have derisively called the Mall-Finder.

In spite of the furor from off-roading purists, the four-generation Pathfinder has generated robust sales. In its first full year, sales more than doubled to 88,000 units in the US.

Half a decade in into its production run, the current Pathfinder is the longest-serving member of Nissan's SUV family in the US. (Nissan's full-size Y62 has been on sale since 2010 in various parts of the world as the Patrol and in the US as an Infiniti. But the Y62 didn't arrive in the US with a Nissan badge until 2017 as the second-generation Armada.)

Nissan Pathfinder SE 1996

NissanWhich is why Nissan revamped the Pathfinder in 2017 with updated styling, more power, and more tech.

Business Insider had the opportunity to sample an updated Pathfinder late last year in the form of 2018 model year Platinum 4WD edition. The base front-wheel-drive "S" edition starts at $31,040 while out fully optioned, top-of-the-line- test car left the showroom at $47,840. 

Our week with the Pathfinder included in-town driving as well as a 1,200-mile road-trip from Northern New Jersey to Charlotte, North Carolina and back. 

The Pathfinder is big and stylish

In 2012, the fourth-gen Pathfinder swapped its ruggedly handsome lines for sleek car-like curves. Even with an updated front end, the curvy lines originally penned by Nissan design boss Alfonso Albaisa remains virtually unchanged. 

The current model's sleek and elongated body also redefines the Pathfinder's mission. The short overhangs and big tires found on previous generations make it perfect for plowing through jungles and up mountains. Things are very different now. This Pathfinder's mission in life is as a three-row family hauler. 

But, that doesn't mean it's completely inept when it comes to the rough stuff. 

Nissan Pathfinder

NissanAccording to Nissan, the Pathfinder offers an adequate seven inches of minimum ground clearance. Paired with an advanced four-wheel-drive system, the Pathfinder should be able to maneuver its way out of a sticky situation. But I still wouldn't recommend taking on Jeep Wranglers in a spot of rock climbing.  

Inside, the Pathfinder's cabin offers a premium experience in a very usable package. As usual, Nissan is quite generous with the feature content. Even the base model comes standard with an eight-inch touchscreen, back up camera, triple-zone climate control, and Nissan's Rear Door Alert System. More on that later. Our Platinum test car came loaded with a litany of goodies including heated power leather seats, adaptive cruise control, a premium Bose sound system, a motion-activated rear liftgate, and a dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system. 

The Pathfinder's tech features all worked as intended. The Nissan infotainment system, while a bit antiquated in feel, was effective and easy to learn. In spite of its age, it's easily the best of the Japanese infotainment systems we've come across. Nissan's adaptive cruise control also worked flawlessly. It allowed the Pathfinder to chew up highway miles with ease on our 1,200 mile-trip.

The Rear Door Alert system took a bit a get used to and proved to be more of a nuisance than a help. The RDA is designed to alert you by honking the horn if you leave something in the back seat and forget to retrieve it. The logic behind the system is sound. After all, we've all seen the tragic consequences of leaving children and pets behind in locked cars. However, it doesn't take into consideration the times when you put something back there because you want to leave it there like luggage or shopping. The system can be deactivated, but it can be jarring if you forget to turn it off. 

Nissan Pathfinder 2017

NissanWhile the overall styling, execution, and material quality aren't on the same level as something from a luxury brand like a Lexus or Mercedes-Benz, our Pathfinder Platinum interior appointments felt quality and solidly put together. 

Its luxury won't blow you away, but the cabin is nice enough to make living with the Pathfinder on a daily basis a pleasant experience. At the same time, it's plebeian personality won't fill you with overwhelming anxiety if everyday life happens to blemish the leather or wood. 

The cabin is also positively cavernous. 

At 16.5 feet long, the Pathfinder has room to seat up to seven occupants comfortably. In fact, even the third row will easily hold two average sized adults. A task many other three-row crossovers struggle to accomplish. 

There's also plenty of room for stuff. 

Nissan pathfinder platinum interior seven seats original

Nissan

The big crossover can swallow up a colossal 79.8 cubic feet of cargo with the second and third rows folded. That number falls to 47.8 cubic feet with just the third row folded and 16 cubic feet if all three rows of seats are upright. These figures fall in line with segment leaders such as the Ford Explorer and the Toyota Highlander

It's a great highway cruiser, but there's one thing lacking

Under the hood, you'll find a 3.5 liter, 284 horsepower VQ35DD V6 engine. Simply put, the Nissan VQ series is one of the best engines in the world. And it has been for more than two decades. It's silky smooth, powerful, and rock solid reliable. (I say this as the owner of an 18-year-old VQ-powered Nissan Maxima that still get 29 mpg on the high way.)

Here, the VQ engine is mated to Nissan's XTRONIC continuously variable transmission. Herein lies my biggest complaint with the Pathfinder. The CVT spoils the driving experience. While CVTs are great at boosting fuel economy — we managed to hit 25 mpg on the highway in a 4,700-pound SUV— they are notorious for dulling down power delivery. 

Nissan Pathfinder VQ engine

NissanAnd it's such a shame because the Pathfinder's engine is an absolute gem that is ready and willing to perform. But add a CVT to the equation and you've effectively shot up your racehorse with tranquilizers. Step on the gas hard and the engine strains to deliver acceleration. Speed builds over time instead of that immediate burst we are accustomed to in a traditional automatic or manual transmission. 

Yes, XTRONIC is generally considered to be one of best CVTs on the market, but that's like being the captain of the gang that couldn't shoot straight. 

Apart from the CVT, I thoroughly enjoyed my time behind the wheel of the Pathfinder. The ride was smooth and the cabin proved to be remarkably quiet. Making it a truly amazing highway cruiser. 

Sure, the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder may no longer be the star of Youtube rock crawling videos. But as a family crossover for everyday life, Nissan's Pathfinder is an absolute rock star. 

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