EXPERT REVIEW

2022 Nissan Pathfinder Review: Outdoor Adventure Wagon Rebooted

nissan-pathfinder-sv-2022--03-angle--exterior--front--red.jpg 2022 Nissan Pathfinder | Cars.com photo by Leslie Cunningham
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Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman grew up in the Detroit area, comes from an automotive family and is based in Ann Arbor, Mich. Email Aaron Bragman

When SUVs first arrived on the American scene, they were purpose-built, off-road adventure and utility vehicles. They weren’t luxurious and they weren’t comfortable; they were work wagons used by forest rangers and farmers. Somewhere along the way, they became eight-seat family vehicles, replacing the station wagon and minivan in most driveways. But the trend we’ve spotted for the 2020s seems to be an effort by automakers to recapture some semblance of that off-road adventurism after decades of moving toward making them glorified tall wagons.

The latest automaker to do that is Nissan, which has redesigned the latest 2022 Pathfinder three-row to be more rugged, more outdoorsy and slightly more capable in the dirt than its solidly street-oriented predecessor without giving up any of the luxury, safety and connectivity that modern families expect in an SUV. I drove the new ’22 Pathfinder through Southeast Michigan recently to see if Nissan’s moves to butch up the new Pathfinder have paid off.

Related: 2022 Nissan Pathfinder: Going Rogue

The Family Resemblance Is Strong

The fourth-generation Pathfinder was a generic blob-shaped thing that bore no family resemblance to the chunky original 1986 model at all. This new fifth-generation model is a complete departure that incorporates some styling cues from the original Pathfinder, such as the forward-swept C-pillar, three-slot grille and overall squared-off, thick body styling. It’s actually a little shorter than the outgoing model, but changes its proportions by being taller and wider.

I have to say it looks much, much better than the last Pathfinder, with definite family resemblance to the latest angular Nissans like the larger Armada and smaller Rogue. The slim headlights taper into the wide and prominent fenders, with the taillights stretching across the rear to again emphasize the Pathfinder’s width. Its geometric looks make the new Pathfinder feel like a larger vehicle than the one it’s replacing, but the overall dimensions don’t change all that much. Suffice it to say, it both looks and feels big — this was not an effort to slim down the SUV, this was an effort to make it look more rugged and aggressive, and it worked well. 

It Expects You to Drive Like the Family’s in There

Powering the 2022 Pathfinder is the same 3.5-liter V-6 that’s in the outgoing model — it makes 284 horsepower and 259 pounds-feet of torque, which is unchanged from the previous Pathfinder. What’s new is what that engine is connected to: a conventional nine-speed automatic transmission, replacing the unloved continuously variable automatic transmission in the old Pathfinder. That change is meant to improve the Pathfinder’s off-road ability, its towing durability, its driving dynamics and more — and in most ways, it delivers. It doesn’t sacrifice gas mileage, which is up 1 mpg combined in AWD versions over the 2020 model (the last model year sold). Lower trim levels increased from an EPA-estimated 22 mpg to 23 mpg, and the AWD Platinum is up from 21 to 22 mpg. The combined rating remains 23 mpg for front-drive Pathfinders, but the city/highway distribution has changed slightly to 21/27 mpg city/highway.

nissan-pathfinder-sv-2022--09-angle--exterior--rear--red--towing.jpg 2022 Nissan Pathfinder | Cars.com photo by Leslie Cunningham

Driving the new Pathfinder is best done at a relaxed pace, as if the whole family is on board for a ride and you don’t want kids dropping juice boxes or Grandma to stress any joints. With moderate acceleration, the V-6 is perfectly adequate, the new nine-speed auto-shifts smoothly and calmly, and the whole experience is that of a big, heavy SUV doing what it does best: ferrying the brood to soccer practice or the mall in quiet comfort. The transmission does hunt a lot for its gears, but with nine speeds to play with, this is to be expected — only occasionally does it feel like it’s missing the beat and not keeping up with the driver’s anticipated moves. For example, when coasting down to a stop but then deciding to give it some more power as traffic has cleared from a light, it gets a little confused and might select a gear lower than it needs to. But overall, the powertrain is smooth, refined and perfectly adequate to the task of powering the Pathfinder.

The Pathfinder’s overall feel is of a heavy SUV, however, especially when negotiating tight turns and roundabouts or performing hard acceleration and braking maneuvers. Body movement is pronounced in such situations, squatting hard on its rear haunches under full acceleration, diving noticeably under hard braking and plowing through quick turns with considerable understeer. It doesn’t like being hustled along quickly, lacking the athletic feel that a Ford Explorer has with its tightly controlled body motions and punchy turbocharged engines. Slipping the drive mode selector into Sport mode does improve steering feel and feedback, but it becomes clear to the driver that this is the equivalent of a family minivan, not a sports wagon, and that you (and your passengers) are going to be happiest keeping the Pathfinder at a simmer rather than a full steaming boil. 

Comfort and Style Aplenty

But the Pathfinder will happily simmer along all day, with a truly comfortable ride even on high-spec models that have big wheels and low-profile tires. Road noise does make it into the cabin, again thanks to those big wheels and tires, and it’s made even more noticeable by the lack of wind noise to mask it. But the overall serenity of the Pathfinder’s completely redesigned cabin is barely affected by the outside world. The new look inside is excellent, with a modern feel and updated electronics that combine with solid material choices and build quality to create a well-updated cabin. 

Seat comfort is good, but we’re still not seeing the “magic” of the so-called Zero Gravity Seats. They just feel like seats — no better or worse than any others, really (except, perhaps, for the aforementioned Explorer, which has seat bottoms that feel too short). There’s noticeably plentiful passenger space, however, with tons of room up front or in the sliding second row, both for width and legroom. The third row in many three-row SUVs is often best used only for children, with a few notable exceptions (like the Volkswagen Atlas and Hyundai Palisade). The additional width that comes with the new 2022 Pathfinder makes the third row here a usable size for adults, as well, especially given the second row’s sliding ability, allowing for passengers in the second and third rows to negotiate available legroom among themselves. Third-row ingress and egress is easy, too, thanks to Nissan’s one-touch EZ Flex Latch and Glide button that slides and tilts the second row, even with child-safety seats attached.

The updated interior electronics are welcome, with an available 9.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system that’s located high on the dash for easy visibility and use. It’s accompanied by an available 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster that provides all sorts of information, some more useful than others, and two different configurations that look slick. There’s also an available 10.8-inch head-up display that puts all the relevant information up in the driver’s sight line but features an oddly offset speedometer readout. Still, everything is clear and easy to read, and after some experimentation with configurations and settings, you’re sure to find a setup that provides all the information you want without having to hunt through menus. As with most new vehicles these days, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard, and Wi-Fi connectivity with wireless charging is available. 

About That Ruggedness …

Nissan felt it important to demonstrate that the new Pathfinder is a capable off-roader, as the changes made to amp up its rugged image are more than just cosmetic. That’s why the company booked some time at Holly Oaks ORV Park north of Detroit for a brief romp through the dirt and mud to show off the Pathfinder’s terrain select function.

Rotating the selector through the options to the Mud and Ruts function changes a host of vehicle attributes, while a quick push of the central button engages the automatic hill descent control. And with that, the Pathfinder was off to tackle terrain that it’s unlikely to see in the hands of typical buyers — loose gravel ascents, steep and slippery slopes — which it did without complaint or difficulty, it must be said. We didn’t do any serious rock crawling, but let’s be honest here: Despite the Pathfinder’s looks, this is not a proper off-road machine. It does feature a new clutch that allows for predictive all-wheel drive (no longer waiting for front-wheel slip to be detected before engaging the rears, the computer makes the call before that happens now), but the all-season tires, lack of underbody skid plate protection and no locking transfer case mean this is still a soft-roader, and that’s perfectly fine. You can option up a Pathfinder with accessories that make it a bit more capable, but anyone serious about going further off-road is likely looking at a Nissan Titan pickup in Pro-4X trim instead. Suffice it to say that the Pathfinder will handle rutted dirt roads and family off-grid camping duty just fine thanks to its softer suspension, but you’re not likely to ever see one out overlanding across the Arizona desert.

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Simplified Ordering and Pricing

Nissan has kept the trim levels and pricing for the new Pathfinder simple with four trim levels. Two option packages are available, as well, so finding a Pathfinder that has a specific option you want (like the panoramic moonroof or leather interior) means finding the required trim level. The starting price is $34,560 for a front-wheel-drive S trim, which is roughly $1,400 more than the outgoing 2020 Pathfinder, while a Platinum 4WD rings in at just less than $50,000. That’s a healthy jump over the outgoing model, but it does reflect considerable added standard equipment, the most important of which might be the updated Nissan Safety Shield 360 system that brings automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot warning, high-beam assist and class exclusive rear automatic braking — that last one being a key feature for a family car, where kids may be running around the vehicle. The Pathfinder also features a driver alertness sensor, rear door alert and rear sonar as standard, with blind spot intervention, lane intervention and traffic sign recognition as optional. Nissan’s latest ProPilot Assist cruise control is also available, which helps steer the vehicle on the highway but doesn’t let you remove your hands from the steering wheel, unlike GM’s Super Cruise system.

So in the end, yes, the new Pathfinder is indeed a bit more rugged and a bit more capable off-road. But honestly, I think the areas that will matter more to its intended buyers are the better interior space, top-notch connectivity, smooth and quiet ride, and its ability to be an even more comfortable and capable family vehicle. The trend toward being more outdoorsy after enduring pandemic lockdowns will match well with the Pathfinder’s new image and abilities, but it’s good to know Nissan hasn’t sacrificed the aforementioned areas in which the Pathfinder needed to be good in favor of new areas where it really didn’t need to go at all.

Related Video: 2022 Nissan Pathfinder: First Drive

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