2022 Nissan Pathfinder first drive review: More tech, more toughness

It’s hard to think of a better name for an SUV than Pathfinder. It has adventure and military connotations (pathfinder paratroopers were the first American soldiers to put boots on the ground during the World War II D-Day landings) and was also very appropriate for the original Nissan Pathfinder. When it launched in the 1980s, the Pathfinder was one of the first modern SUVs, taking the auto industry down a new path.

Fast forward three decades, though, and the new 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is no longer a trendsetter. Three-row family SUVs like this redesigned model are common now, with vehicles like the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride twins, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, and Volkswagen Atlas crowding school parking lots.

So Nissan threw everything it had at the 2022 Pathfinder. This fifth-generation version gets more tech — including a first-ever digital instrument cluster, wireless Apple CarPlay, and a long list of standard driver aids — plus clever storage solutions and a restyled exterior, among other things.

The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder hits dealerships this summer in S, SV, SL, and Platinum trim levels, with standard front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive. Pricing ranges from $34,560 for a base front-wheel drive Pathfinder S to $49,240 for a range-topping all-wheel drive Platinum (both prices include a mandatory $1,150 destination charge). We tested out the Platinum model for this review.

Design and interior

In the past, the Nissan Pathfinder has used trucklike body-on-frame construction, but the modern version is a crossover, with carlike unibody construction. That didn’t stop Nissan from trying to make the new Pathfinder look like a brawny, old-school truck, though.

In a media presentation ahead of our test drive, Vishnu Jayamohan, Nissan senior manager for product planning, said the automaker bucked the conventional wisdom that longer and lower is better, making the 2022 Pathfinder shorter and taller than its predecessor. That provides a less-cramped feeling for passengers, Jayamohan said. It also gives the Pathfinder a much bolder look.

Where the last Pathfinder was an anonymous blob, the new version truly stands out. The upright profile and tall hood are what SUV buyers expect and what many competitors also have. But the Nissan’s shield-shaped grille, unusual headlights (mounted high on the fenders), and two-tone color options give it more personality.

Where the last Pathfinder was an anonymous blob, the new version truly stands out.

The 2022 Pathfinder also boasts a well-appointed interior. Our range-topping Platinum test car had leather upholstery (with heated and ventilated front seats) and a massive panoramic moonroof. Unlike most competitors, material quality also felt worthy of this vehicle’s nearly $50,000 price tag. The Pathfinder can also be equipped with up to 16 cup holders, a few short of the Subaru Ascent’s 19 cup holder record.

The Pathfinder is available with eight seats for the first time, or seven seats when equipped with the optional second-row captain’s chairs. Passenger space is fairly close to the outgoing Pathfinder, but the 2022 model does have more front-row headroom and legroom (both figures are also best in class). Nissan also added a helpful one-touch latch for the second row, which slides the seats forward with the push of a button. It’s much easier than the typical second-row shuffle and even works with a forward-facing car seat in place.

At 16.6 cubic feet with all three rows in place, 45 cubic feet with the third row stowed, and 80.5 cubic feet with both the second and third rows folded, cargo space is about the same as the outgoing Pathfinder, and a bit below average. Nissan did at least include a washable storage bin below the cargo floor, which should be handy for things like dirty hiking boots. Up front, a raised center console puts controls within easy reach while making room for a storage cubby underneath.

Tech, infotainment, and driver assist

The standard infotainment system includes an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, but the options list includes a 9-inch touchscreen, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, 10.8-inch head-up display, a built-in Wi-Fi hot spot, wireless Apple CarPlay (Android users can’t cut the cord), and a 13-speaker Bose audio system.

Nissan offers USB ports for all three rows, but not as standard equipment. The Pathfinder comes standard with one USB-A and one USB-C port for each of the first two rows, but third-row USB ports are an extra-cost option and USB-A only. Wireless smartphone charging is also available, with an angled charging pad that keeps phones from sliding around while you’re driving.

The infotainment system is basic but functional. Even with the Platinum trim level’s high-end system, you don’t get many bells and whistles, but you do get crisp-looking graphics, a responsive touchscreen, and easy-to-navigate menus.

You don’t get many bells and whistles, but you do get crisp graphics and a responsive touchscreen.

The Pathfinder comes standard with the Nissan Safety Shield 360 bundle of driver aids, including automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, automatic high beams, rear automatic braking, a driver attention monitor, and traffic-sign recognition.

Options include Nissan’s Intelligent Around View Monitor 360-degree camera system and ProPilot Assist, which combines adaptive cruise control with automated lane centering for highway driving. ProPilot Assist has been available on some Nissan models for several years, but the Pathfinder SL and Platinum trim levels get a new Navi-link version that can proactively slow the car for highway curves or off-ramps.

We didn’t get to test out ProPilot Assist with Navi-link during our short drive, but in the past we’ve found the standard ProPilot Assist system to be of limited use in regular driving. However, it still offers more capability than the driver-assist features available in other three-row crossovers.

Driving experience

The Pathfinder’s 3.5-liter V6 engine carries over from the previous generation. It makes the same 284 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque as before but is coupled to a new nine-speed automatic transmission and a retuned all-wheel drive system.

The geared nine-speed automatic replaces the continuously variable transmission (CVT) used in the previous-generation Pathfinder. Nissan has been a proponent of CVTs because of fuel economy benefits, but these transmissions are generally disliked by driving enthusiasts because of their lethargic behavior.

The nine-speed automatic transmission also provides more torque from a standstill, which helps with towing, according to Nissan. We didn’t get to test that claim, but it’s worth noting that the Pathfinder’s 6,000-pound maximum towing capacity (unchanged from the previous generation) is pretty impressive considering most competitors are only rated to tow 5,000 pounds.

The new transmission cracked off quick shifts to keep the power flowing.

The new transmission also improved the Pathfinder’s on-road driving dynamics, cracking off quick shifts to keep the power flowing. The Pathfinder doesn’t have the most potent powertrain in its segment, but acceleration was more than adequate. We were also impressed by the ride quality and the overall quietness of the interior but did notice above-average tire noise. The Pathfinder also didn’t hide its size; it always felt like a big vehicle and was hard to maneuver with precision.

Nissan also upgraded the Pathfinder’s all-wheel drive system, giving it a new clutch setup that can transfer power to the rear wheels more quickly, Jayamohan, the Nissan product planner, said. It still isn’t adequate for hardcore off-roading but should provide better traction on loose surfaces, Jayamohan said. The Pathfinder also gets a Terrain Mode Selector with seven driving modes (Standard, Sport, Eco, Snow, Sand, Mud/Rut, and Tow) and hill-descent control, which automatically holds a set speed when going down hills.

While the Pathfinder didn’t get us stuck on a short off-road course set up by Nissan, we wouldn’t recommend this kind of driving on a regular basis. The sound of a tree stump scraping the car’s underside had us worrying about the lack of underbody protection, and the lack of a mechanical four-wheel drive system with low range is a major limiting factor. Still, the Pathfinder should be able to tackle dirt roads and snow without breaking a sweat.

Gas mileage and safety

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