Nissan’s Pathfinder is a pleasant, versatile car that suffers from a mild identity crisis. Its unibody construction, car-like handling and decent fuel economy place it firmly in the ranks of crossovers. But it has many traits of an SUV, with 7 inches of ground clearance, hill start assist, hill descent control and 4×4 drive, as well as 5,000-pound towing capacity. It’s also one of just five midsize, medium-priced SUVs with seating for seven – and the third-row bench is functional enough to warrant comparisons with minivans.
Now in the third year of its current design, the Pathfinder is powered by Nissan’s 3.5-liter, 260-horsepower V-6 with the continuously variable transmission in all trim levels. The base Pathfinder S, with front-wheel drive, is priced at just under $30,000. Our dressed-up Pathfinder SL with four-wheel drive had a sticker price of $42,475.
While we preferred the audio and climate controls on the Nissan Altima, the midsize sedan on which the Pathfinder is based, the Pathfinder’s interior was nicely laid out, and systems generally were easy to operate. The car also was easy to drive on all kinds of roads. Ride, cornering, acceleration, noise levels and brake performance all were more than satisfactory.
One of the Pathfinder’s strongest suits is its third seat. In most compact and midsize SUVs, only a child (or a dog) can clamber comfortably into the third-row seats. Some of the cars we’ve tested presented such narrow or awkward paths to the third seat, we didn’t even make the attempt. But one of our drivers, a 60-plus 6-footer, was able to climb into the Pathfinder’s third row, thanks to a sliding and folding second-row seat, and he even had enough head room.
Other attractive features in the Pathfinder included plentiful trays and enclosed compartments for small items in front; ample leg room for drivers and knee room for second-row passengers; and high-quality plastics and fabrics throughout. The Pathfinder is also a safe vehicle with 5-star overall ratings in government crash tests and a Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Speaking of safety, three of the most effective accident-prevention features – blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and rear-view camera – are standard on the SL, SL Tech and Platinum trim levels.
In the world of medium-priced midsize SUVs, the only three-row models are the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento and Dodge Journey. So if the third row is a priority, and large SUVs like the Chevrolet Traverse and Nissan Armada are too big, the choices are limited.
Built in Smyrna, Tenn., the Pathfinder dates to 1985 in the U.S. market. It’s a strong seller for Nissan; among the Japanese automaker’s trucks and SUVs, only the Rogue, a compact SUV, routinely attains higher sales figures. The 2016 Pathfinder’s sales are a little higher this year than they were a year ago, at 22,408 units sold through March.
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
2016 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4X4
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 260 horsepower, 240 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: selectable 2WD, AWD and 4×4
Ground clearance: 7.7 in.
Weight: 4,149 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 18×7.5-in. alloy
Tires: P235/65R18 all-season
Towing capacity: 5,000 lb.
Seating capacity: 7
Luggage capacity: 16 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 79.8 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 19.5 gal.
Fuel economy: 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
Fuel type: Regular unleaded