The three-row SUV has become the vehicle of choice for large families, and many models in the class have been redesigned or updated in the past few years. For the 2017 model year, the Pathfinder gets styling updates, new features and a new direct-injection V-6 engine that makes more power.

The 2017 Pathfinder starts at $30,930 (including a $940 destination charge) for a front-wheel-drive S trim level. We tested an uplevel, all-wheel-drive SL trim with an as-tested price of $40,390. Key competitors include the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Hyundai Santa Fe. (See their specs compared here.)

Exterior & Styling

The most noticeable styling changes are clustered up front, where the Pathfinder gets new bumper styling, new headlights and a restyled grille that adopts a variation of the design on some Nissan cars, like the Maxima. While the design is more intricate and detailed than what was there previously, it's also similar enough to the prior Pathfinder's look that the changes could easily go unnoticed by casual observers. In back, the biggest change is a switch to taillights with mostly red housings.

How It Drives

The Pathfinder is the rare three-row SUV with a continuously variable automatic transmission instead of a step-gear automatic. The CVT uses a belt-and-pulley system in place of conventional gears and doesn't produce the familiar feel that accompanies the upshifts and downshifts of an automatic.

Its firm-riding suspension lacks the refinement of the Kia Sorento, GMC Acadia and Dodge Durango and doesn't provide the sportiness of the Mazda CX-9.

The transmission is programmed to mimic the feel of gear changes, but the steady engine noise when accelerating is a little different at first. The Pathfinder's 284-horsepower V-6 minimizes the differences more than four-cylinder engines typically do; acceleration is swift and the CVT quickly responds when passing and merging. Still, other editors didn't like the groaning sounds from the drivetrain and thought the V-6 would perform even better with a conventional automatic.

The Pathfinder driving experience falls behind its three-row competitors in other ways: Its firm-riding suspension lacks the refinement of the Kia Sorento, GMC Acadia and Dodge Durango and doesn't provide the sportiness of the Mazda CX-9.

Front-wheel-drive Pathfinders get an EPA-estimated 20/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined; all-wheel drive knocks 1 mpg from each of those estimates, and the Platinum AWD model gets 21 mpg in combined driving. We averaged 20.5 mpg over the course of 170 miles on a mix of city streets, country roads and highways, which was a little below the Pathfinder's combined mpg estimate.

Interior

Like the Honda Pilot, the Pathfinder's cabin is among the more open and airy ones in the class. There's good headroom for adults in all three rows of seats (a rarity in the class) and our Pathfinder's lack of a moonroof added an inch or so of extra headroom in each of its three rows of seats.

Even though we tested an uplevel SL, its interior design failed to impress. Editors thought the cabin looked dated and despite some higher-grade finishes, like cream-colored leather upholstery, many surfaces and materials — like the painted plastic on the dashboard — are too low-rent for a $40,000-plus SUV.

The seats are noticeably cushier than what you'll find in other three-row SUVs; wide front-seat cushions and a relative lack of side bolstering enhance the easy-chair feel. The cushions of the 60/40-split second-row bench seat are similarly soft, and the seat slides forward and backward and reclines. It's very comfortable.

The second-row bench incorporates a unique walk-in feature for easier third-row access. Lifting a lever slides the seat forward and also flips up the seat cushion against the backrest. This collapsed position lets the seat move closer to the back of the front seats, leaving a wider opening to get in and out of the third row.

Ergonomics & Electronics

After you experience the Pathfinder's multimedia system, you get the feeling Nissan couldn't decide how the driver should use it. There are many ways to accomplish various tasks, and the result is an unwieldy arrangement of buttons and knobs in the middle of the dashboard. Simpler layouts with fewer buttons, like the Kia Sorento's touchscreen interface, are easier to use.

Standard features include an 8-inch touchscreen, a CD player, a USB port, satellite radio with three years of the SiriusXM Travel Link service, and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and streaming audio. (Travel Link provides real-time sports scores, movie times, gas prices and weather updates, among other information.) Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, which can mirror select phone apps on a car's dashboard screen for easier, safer use, are not offered.

Cargo & Storage

With all three rows of seats in place, the Pathfinder has 16 cubic feet of cargo room. There's 47.8 cubic feet with the third row folded and a maximum of 79.8 cubic feet when the second and third rows are down. There's also an oversized glove box for additional storage. A hands-free power liftgate is now available and can be activated by waving your foot under the rear bumper. 

The Pathfinder's 6,000-pound maximum towing capacity is 1,000 pounds greater for 2017 thanks to drivetrain updates and reinforcements near the trailer hitch receiver. Its rating is 1,000 pounds more than most competitors' but falls short of the Durango's 7,400-pound rating when equipped with rear-wheel drive and a V-8 engine.

Safety

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Pathfinder its highest rating — good — in each of its various crash tests, and the SUV received the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's highest five-star overall rating. Forward automatic emergency braking is a new option for 2017 and is included on Platinum models. The system received IIHS’ highest rating: superior.

A backup camera is standard, and SL and higher trims have Nissan's 360-degree camera system that can show a bird's-eye view of the SUV's surroundings. The camera images look a little blurry on the dashboard screen, but the system was a big hit with editors, who liked the extra measure of safety when entering and leaving parking spaces. Other available active safety features include adaptive cruise control and a blind spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert.

Value in Its Class

Nissan's updates to the Pathfinder follow a familiar formula in the auto industry: Tweak the styling and add some features to keep the model fresh in shoppers' minds. The automaker went even further than the mid-cycle update norm by giving the SUV a significantly revised V-6 engine, along with other changes.

Even with these changes, however, it doesn't feel like Nissan did enough; apart from the Pathfinder's relatively spacious seating and cargo areas, the SUV feels a step behind the competition in other key areas.