There are plenty of choices out there for buyers after a seven-seat SUV, and the Nissan Pathfinder is one of the most popular ones.
Now, with the introduction of the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder line-up – which has seen a big mid-life update with a new look, revised drivetrain and strong pricing – the new range will undoubtedly remain a popular choice for customers in a segment that includes some thoroughly impressive options, like the Mazda CX-9, Toyota Kluger, Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe.
The updated Pathfinder range sports a new appearance, with revised headlights, a new grille and bumper, new wheel designs and colours, and different looking tail-lights, too.
At first I thought the new design looked a bit frumpy, but in person it’s an improvement over the previous generation. The new Ruby Blue paint you see here is lovely, but the fact you get LED daytime running lights, but still halogen headlights, is a bit dumb. You can get full LED headlights on the top model, though.
The base model ST variant is priced from just $41,990 plus on-road costs for the front-drive model through to $45,490 for the all-wheel-drive version that we have here (Nissan lists it at $49,797 drive-away). Read the pricing and specs story here.
It comes reasonably well specified for that expenditure, with 18-inch alloy wheels with Continental tyres, rear privacy glass, a rear-view camera and rear parking sensors, a new 8.0-inch touchscreen media unit with two USB ports, push-button start and keyless entry, and the driver’s seat has electric adjustment. To keep things cool – or warm – there’s three-zone climate control, but this spec doesn’t have seat heaters in any row, and there’s no leather seat trim, either.
It’s worth considering that only the ST misses out on Nissan's suite of active safety technology – if you choose the ST-L or Ti models, you get autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert and a surround-view camera system – and you can’t option it on an entry grade car.
That may or may not be a big consideration for you, depending on your feelings about safety kit. But, rest assured, there is airbag protection for all outboard passengers, with seven airbags fitted (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee).
Our ST has the 3.5-litre V6 engine. There’s a hybrid model with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder supercharged engine, which adds $2500 to the price of the base model ST 2WD, and it’s available in ST guise with front-drive only. If you want AWD you need to spend up big on the ST-L ($60,690).
We wouldn’t bother with that drivetrain, because of two reasons: the V6 is a pearler, and the fuel savings on the hybrid aren’t great enough to justify the extra spend. Nissan claims combined fuel use of 10.1 litres per 100 kilometres for all-wheel-drive V6 models (down from 10.3L in the pre-facelift version), and we saw 11.2L/100km on test, admittedly without seven people on board.
The 3.5-litre six-cylinder petrol engine has seen a power bump of 12kW and 15Nm, with totals of 202kW and 340Nm. The difference is hardly what you’d call profound, but it offers strong response when you get on the throttle from the traffic lights.
It feels peppy from a standstill, even with the continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic. Typically these sorts of gearboxes can be a bit painful, as they make a lot of noise under acceleration and can often be caught out when you need to suddenly call on the engine to overtake or move away from an intersection.
Not here, however. This V6-CVT pairing is a peach, one of the best drivetrains in the class. While the engine is vocal when you do give it a bit of stick, the response on offer outweighs it. Plus, it doesn't sound too bad.
Because the Pathfinder is aimed at the US market, there is no diesel option, thus it strays from the Pathfinder’s roots. It used to be a hardcore off-roader, based off the Navara platform, with diesel as its mainstay. But this version, which launched in 2013, has always been petrol only, with hybrid as its alternative drivetrain.
That’s not to say that the Pathfinder is as soft as it appears. There’s a switch-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive system that is one of the simplest examples of that technology on the market.
There are three settings: 2WD for running around town or on the highway, Auto mode which will adjust the torque distribution depending on the surface conditions – handy if it’s raining – and Lock four-wheel-drive mode for more serious terrain.
We sampled the Lock mode up a craggy dirt track and the Pathfinder made easy progress. Back down the same hill we sampled the hill-descent control, which stops the car from skidding down a hill under brakes, and it was good.
That said, it wouldn’t be our dream to go too far off the beaten track with these tyres (Continentals – good grip, but not made for off-roading, and with a space-saver spare under the boot floor – definitely not the option of a hardcore adventurer), and this ride height (181mm of ground clearance), but for gravel roads like those that span our nation, the AWD system is perfectly suited.
The update saw Nissan make adjustments to the suspension and steering components of the Pathfinder, with a quicker steering rack and a firmer suspension tune – and the big SUV is all the better for it.
The body control is better than it was – previously if you went over a series of bumps, paved or not, the Pathfinder could wallow and wobble, but now it feels more tied down and more controlled and comfortable as a result.
The steering is better, too – it doesn’t feel quite as woolly on centre as it did previously – though it’s still not perfect, and there’s not too much torque-steer (where the steering wheel will tug to the side under acceleration) in 2WD mode as we recall. When you choose Auto, or in particular, Lock modes, the steering is very heavy at low speeds, and the turning circle is large.
The 3.5-litre V6 model has a tow capacity of 2700 kilograms (for a braked trailer, or 750kg for un-braked trailers), which is strong for this type of SUV. But that’s yet another reason not to buy the hybrid, which has just 1650kg capacity. There’s a tow mode button, too, which adjusts the behaviour of the gearbox to make hauling feel like easier work.
This is a large vehicle, stretching more than five metres long and spanning close to two metres wide, and Nissan reckons the Pathfinder has seven ‘adult-sized’ seats. We agree.
Space for adults in the back is among the best in class. There’s a huge amount of space in the second row, and that seat slides to allow access to the back row. There’s a fold and tumble mechanism to make it easier to get in to the third row, and even for awkward adults like me it’s an easy task. If you adjust the seats to suit a six-footer in the third row, there’s still adequate legroom and headroom all around. Toe-room is a bit tight in both rows, but vision from all three rows is great.
The boot space with all seven seats in place isn’t massive, but it’s better than some, and with the rearmost chairs folded down there’s 453 litres of room, which jumps to 1354 litres with all five rear seats stowed.
If you care about cupholders, you'll be stoked with the number in the Pathfinder: 16! (Four in the third row, six in the second row, six up front). Plus there's good door storage all around, and large map pockets.
The media system, while an improvement, still isn’t even close to the best in class. It lacks the latest smartphone connectivity of Apple CarPlay and/or Android Auto, and the interface remains fiddly at times. We had some issues with our car and the Bluetooth not reconnecting to the attached phone, but the call clarity and audio streaming was fine.
There are some other annoying elements like the steering wheel volume button being in the wrong spot – the toggle on the left is where it should be, but instead that’s a menu scroller that you’ll barely use unless you’re a mad radio channel flicker. The lack of a digital speedometer is a pain, too, considering the driver info screen does just about everything else you could ask of it.
Nissan requires owners to visit the dealership for servicing every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first. Over a five-year or 50,000km period, the cost averages out to $338 per year (not including brake fluid, due every two years). Nissan offers three years’ roadside assist and a three-year/100,000km warranty.
The new-look Nissan Pathfinder is an improvement on the vehicle it replaces, but it still falls short of the best in class in terms of equipment. It’s a big thing, yes, but it’s hugely practical, comfortable and powerful, and if you’re a fan of any of those things and don’t insist upon a diesel engine, you should probably put it on your seven-seater short-list.