2022 Nissan Pathfinder First Drive - Step, Not Leap, in the Right Direction

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
2022 nissan pathfinder first drive step not leap in the right direction

The last-generation Nissan Pathfinder became the forgotten three-row crossover, in part because it went from a rugged-looking rig to a soft-roading crossover. Nissan is apparently quite well aware of why the Pathfinder moved to the back of mind for a lot of shoppers, and the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is meant to, if not be actually rugged, to project a rugged image.

So, for 2022, you get what the brand calls “bold, rugged design”. And it is bolder than before, with a bit more masculinity to its style, but it’s still blandly conservative enough to fit fine in the PTA line. As if Nissan’s designers felt they could only go so far in terms of being “rugged.”

So, it’s not super brash. That’s fine, as it’s not ugly, either, though it’s not as eye-catching as the design folks certainly hoped. It’s less anonymous than what came before, but it’s still going to blend into traffic in the same way that most of its rivals do.

To be clear, it does look better than what came before, and looks good enough that you won’t kick it out of your driveway, but it doesn’t make the statement that Kia/Hyundai did with the Telluride/ Palisade.

That’s true even with shorter front overhangs than before, large grille, arching fenders, and a wide stance. The Pathfinder is a bit wider than before, a tick higher, and a tad shorter.

Of course, “rugged” is used to describe more than just looks – it can also apply to off-road behavior. We’ll get to that.

(Full disclosure: Nissan paid for me to spend two nights in a Detroit-area hotel and offered snacks and coffee at its event. No flight, as Detroit is within driving distance. The company also offered a backpack that I didn’t take.)

Moving away from styling and into the mechanicals, we see the Pathfinder uses a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 284 horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque. Gone is the continuously-variable automatic transmission, in its place is a well-behaved nine-speed automatic. Yes, with real gears and everything.

All-wheel drive is available (front-drive is standard), and there’s a maximum available towing capacity of 6,000 pounds. The suspension is updated, with more front-roll stiffness and a rear multi-link setup that also sees an increase in roll stiffness, though 14 percent as opposed to 28 percent upfront.

The three-row can seat up to eight and offers available captain’s chairs for the second row. Second-row seats – both captain and bench – have a one-touch operation to allow for easy access to the third row. It can be used from either side, and it worked as advertised. Though my test vehicle didn’t have a forward-facing car seat in place, the system can work in that scenario.

Speaking of the third row, it was unsurprisingly cramped for a tall, overweight man like me, with the rear scraping headroom, but it seemed just fine for children.

On-road, the Pathy fits just right in with the rest of the three-row crowd. It’s not the most engaging dynamically, but it’s less of a snore than before. The steering feel from the new dual-pinion electric power unit feels just dialed-in enough to keep your attention, and the gentle curves I encountered in Southeast Michigan mostly didn’t trouble it, though when push came to shove, you were reminded you were piloting a family-oriented crossover, thanks to body roll and some hesitant responses. Putting it in Sport mode tightens the steering feel up but otherwise makes seemingly little difference – despite also promising to change the tuning of the vehicle dynamic control (VDC) system, the torque distribution of the AWD system, and throttle response.

Like many a three-row, it’s just fine for commuting duty, with moves that will neither please nor embarrass you. Those who insist on true sportiness – which isn’t really the mission of anything in this class – will likely shop elsewhere, but for those who just want something that offers at least some feel while driving, this Nissan is right there with the rest of the class.

It’s arguably more engaging than the Toyota Highlander, though not quite as dynamically well-sorted as the Telluride and Palisade and certain Ford Explorer trims. Acceleration is far from swift, but it gets the job done for the stoplight-to-stoplight world.

One thing I would recommend – if you don’t have passengers in the third row, drop the headrests/seats. Rear visibility is compromised when the headrests are up. The cargo area behind the third-row is also a bit narrow with the seats up, though there is more storage space underfloor.

I didn’t notice many obvious flaws, save a bit of wind noise at higher speeds. With the exception of the wind noise, the cabin is quiet and comfy, though the seats started feeling a bit firm near the end of a long stint at the wheel. Design-wise, it’s a mixed bag. Pros include plenty of storage space, especially for small items, while cons include HVAC controls that are slightly cluttered and a tacked-on infotainment screen.

Nissan’s ProPilot driver-assist system seemed to read the highway lines better than in previous uses of the system. On the other hand, the lane-intervention system was so obnoxious, especially on curvy roads in which you might want to adjust your line a bit, that I had to turn it off.

In a bid to show us the Pathfinder’s ability to actually be, and not just look, “rugged” (there’s that word again), Nissan took us off-road at the same park near Holly, Michigan that I used to sample Ford’s Bronco Sport. As per usual, no automaker will put a vehicle on a trail it can’t handle, and that was the case here – the off-roading was a lot less gnarly than what we did with the Bronco. Still, it was slightly challenging, and the Pathfinder did just fine.

That doesn’t mean it’s an off-roader – it most certainly is not. But if the trailhead you use to launch your kayak is a bit tricky, the Pathfinder should be capable. It’s not ready for the Rubicon, or your local OHV park, but it can get you to the campsite, assuming the trail doesn’t require a true off-road rig. Three of the seven drive modes one can choose from are for rough terrain: Snow, sand, and mud/rut. All drive modes alter steering weight, throttle response, the tuning of the VDC, and how the AWD system doles out torque.

Nissan promises a towing capacity of up to 6,000 pounds, and I did a quick run with a trailer attached and found the Pathy capable, though the weight at the back did slow down the acceleration a bit. Trailer-sway control is standard.

Fuel economy is listed at 21 mpg city/26 mpg highway/23 mpg combined for front-drive models. Non-Platinum AWD models are listed at 21/27/23 and the Platinum with AWD is 20/25/22.

There are four trim levels – S, SV, SL, and Platinum. Standard features include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Nissan’s SafetyShield 360 (see below). Step up to SV for ProPilot Assist, connected services, and heated front seats, among other options. SL adds ProPilot Assist with Navi Link (uses the nav-system data to enhance the system), 360-degree camera, and wireless CarPlay. Platinum gets you a 12.3-digital gauge cluster, 10.8-inch head-up display, and wireless cell-phone charging, among other features.

Pricing is as follows: $33,410 for the S FWD, $35,310 for the S AWD, $36,200 for SV FWD, $38,100 for SV AWD, $39,590 for SL FWD, $41,490 for SL AWD, and $46,190 Platinum FWD and $48,090 Platinum AWD.

An SV Premium Package ($2,170) adds a panoramic moonroof, power liftgate, 6,000-pound capacity receiver hitch, second-row captain’s chairs, and a second-row removable center console. A SL Premium Package ($2,900) includes all that and adds heated rear seats, wireless charging pad, and Bose audio.

For reference, my pre-production test unit was an SV AWD with the SV Premium Package and it cost $41,420 with the $1,150 destination and handling fee.

Thirty-five factory accessories are also available.

As for Nissan Safety Shield 360, it includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, high-beam assist and rear automatic braking, intelligent forward collision warning, intelligent driver alertness, and rear-door alert. Blind-spot intervention, intelligent lane intervention, and traffic-sign recognition are available.

Like the previous Pathfinder, I found this one a bit unremarkable. Unlike the previous Pathfinder, that’s not a bad thing.

This one just blends in well. It’s not going to challenge the Telluride or Palisade for class supremacy, and it’s not the sportiest choice, but it will give Toyota Highlander intenders something to think about before signing any paperwork.

Most importantly, at least from Nissan’s perspective, this new Pathfinder will at least be back in the conversation. There’s still work to be done, but considering this crossover won’t be as easily forgotten, the brand is going in the right direction.

What’s New for 2022

The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is completely redesigned. It’s wider, shorter, and higher, and has more-aggressive styling than before. It trades a CVT for traditional nine-speed automatic transmission.

Who Should Buy It

Three-row crossover buyers who don’t want to chase the popular Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade, don’t want to overspend on a Ford Explorer, and think the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot don’t look “rugged” enough.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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2 of 27 comments
  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Jun 16, 2021

    Complete with alloy wheels that look like they have been subjected to 5 years of brake dust without ever seeing a hose. Why this dull dark grey and black rim nonsense is popular defies logic. It instantly makes it look old and dirty or something that came out of a trailer park! Kudos for ditching the CVT

  • Legacygt Legacygt on Jun 16, 2021

    Glad that they ditched the CVT but there otherwise isn't much good to speak of here. Barely catching up to the pack with an all new model is not enough. Maybe they're going to compete on price. To comment on something that isn't mentioned here and isn't too important: this has to have the worst looking factor roof rails/crossbars on the market. I don't know if they're somehow functionally superior or stronger than what the competition offers but they look terrible. They also look relatively weak.

  • Wjtinfwb How does the ICE mid-engine C8 platform work for... anything else? A sedan? SUV? With a mid engine configuration? A mid-engine SUV will have to be Suburban sized to offer the utility of a CRV. GM should dust off the Omega platform designed for the Cadillac CT6 for an SUV/Sedan offering with exceptional handling, Rear or AWD capability and acceptable space utilization. They also need to focus on interior fit & finish, trim choices and high quality final engineering and assembly. What GM doesn't need is another half-baked product with a storied and prestigious badge on the decklid and a premium price on the Monroney. No more Cimarron's, Allante's or X-cars needed to tarnish the reputation of Corvette.
  • InCogKneeToe BUILD It and they will come.By Build It, I mean a Vehicle that the Customer Wants and it works for them. It could be called Chevette for all that that matters. The Mach E's success isn't because it totes the Mustang on it.Just build what people want, the next Caravan/Taurus/Beetle/Maverick (truck).
  • YellowDuck Wait...how do you make a mid-engine crossover? Or even a 4-door coupe? Me not get.
  • 28-Cars-Later Thanks Corey. The head stud job on NOrthSTAR-T was $3K *years ago* as it involves an engine pull so rear wheel arch rust in and of itself isn't a show stopper. I'll be sure to check out the trunk as it may start to add up on deferred maintenance. Supposedly this was garaged so the underneath the rockers etc. should be decent but if those are shot its not gonna work.
  • Mark 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, G4NG engine with connecting rod bearing issues. Engine needs to be replaced, but Hyundai is denying warranty claim. I have all maintenance records from mile zero. It has been in Hyundai Service department 5 time in 4 months. They added the knock sensor and software update to let you know the engine is about to blow up. They kicked the can down the road doing patch work until the car was past the 120k extended extended warranty. I have that documentation too. So how can I join the class action law suit or find a Lawyer that handles these types of issues?