Review: The 2017 Nissan Pathfinder gets a fresh look

MODERN STYLE: A more rugged exterior design gives the Pathfinder new appeal.
MODERN STYLE: A more rugged exterior design gives the Pathfinder new appeal.
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The Nissan Pathfinder received quite a redesign this year with updated styling, a more powerful engine, and new, modern safety features. Although it technically isn’t all-new for 2017, this Pathfinder is very different than last year’s model. Numerous improvements give the already popular seven-passenger SUV even greater appeal for families on the go.

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Changes start before you even open the door with a major exterior redesign that includes Nissan’s V-Motion grille, boomerang-shaped headlights, and LED daytime running lights. Take a closer look at that front end and you’ll see the hood and front bumper are newly sculpted for a more aggressive overall stance.

Those changes make the Pathfinder look more rugged and serve a practical purpose. The grille improves cooling so there’s no need for an active grille shutter and the front spoiler directs air downward for better aerodynamics. The rear of the car gets a matching update with a new bumper design and taillights.

These changes combine to give the overall impression that the Pathfinder is a more capable SUV with true off-road chops. That impression is spot-on as the Pathfinder is at home on the highway as it is on a rutted dirt path. This is an SUV that you can truly take off-road and have a little fun.

It has selectable two-wheel drive, four-wheel-drive lock, or auto modes. You choose whether you want two-wheel drive, which provides the best fuel efficiency, or four-wheel drive for tougher terrain and snowy winter roads. You can also choose auto mode and let the system automatically adjust power between the front and rear wheels for maximum traction.

Power comes from a new 3.5-liter V6 engine with 284 horsepower and 259 lb.ft. of torque. That’s a 24 horsepower and 19 lb.-ft. increase over the previous model and it helps make the Pathfinder more responsive. Maximum towing capacity also increased this year. You can hook up an extra 1,000 pounds for a best-in-class 6,000 pounds total on properly equipped models.

The engine is paired to the third generation of Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable transmission. The benefit to a CVT is improved fuel economy, but these transmissions can be loud and intrusive. The Xtronic does its job quietly and smoothly without attracting any notice.

Driving an SUV isn’t always the most exciting experience. After all, these are fairly large boxes of metal on wheels so they’re not designed to hit the track on the weekend. This one is also large enough to accommodate seven passengers so it’s not a small vehicle.

Still, the Pathfinder proved a fun ride. That more powerful engine improves responsiveness so when you hit the gas to merge into heavy traffic this SUV moves. You won’t find yourself worrying if you have enough room to make that lane change or if the other guy is going to end up right on your tail. Hit that pedal hard and the Pathfinder is up to the challenge.

UPDATED INTERIOR: Plenty of room for seven passengers, cargo, or any combination of the two.
UPDATED INTERIOR: Plenty of room for seven passengers, cargo, or any combination of the two.

Steering is also responsive and requires less effort on your part than in years past. Even the suspension is better. That provides the dual benefits of greater control for the driver and a smoother, more well-mannered ride for passengers.

There’s room for seven in the Pathfinder in a quiet and comfortable interior. Improvements like cup holders that will accommodate mug handles and two USB ports instead of only one are small changes, but they make a big difference.

The biggest challenge many face with a three-row SUV is getting into that third row. Nissan takes care of that issue with its EZ Flex Seating System with Latch and Glide. This lets you tilt and slide the second row forward without having to remove any child safety seat. Parents will love this feature.

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The second row splits 60/40 with manual slide/recline/fold flat while the third row splits 50/50 with manual recline/fold flat to suit a variety of cargo or passenger needs. The seats are easy to move around, too, so you won’t end up struggling to make changes. There’s also a motion-activated tailgate making it easier to load.

The standard 8-inch color display includes NissanConnect with HD Radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, and Bluetooth hands-free phone. Navigation is optional as is a Bose 13-speaker audio system for you audiophiles. It’s an easy infotainment system to master with commonly used options quickly accessible through icons on the screen rather than being hidden in endless menus.

Safety also gets an upgrade with new features including forward emergency braking, intelligent cruise control, and Around View monitor with moving object detection. The Around View monitor provides a 360-degree view around the vehicle that helps keep you on track when you’re off-road. It’s also great for navigating low obstacles that you might miss while backing out of unfamiliar driveways.

There are four different trim levels offered, starting with the Pathfinder S and topping out with the fully-loaded Platinum model with 20-inch machined aluminum-alloy wheels, LED headlights, heated and cooled front seats, and woodgrain finishes. Pricing won’t be out until fall, but is set to start under $30,000.

The 2017 Nissan Pathfinder is improved on all fronts offering better performance, improved utility, and a more welcoming interior. It also has an affordable starting price that makes it a solid choice for budget-minded families.