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2022 Nissan Pathfinder first drive review: Explore a bit more

The Pathfinder enters its fifth generation with thoughtful changes for both adventure seekers and regular ol' families.

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The O.G. Nissan Pathfinder was a rugged, boxy thing that was more about finding new paths than it was about taking ones that already exist. Over time, and as market forces dictated, the Pathfinder softened its approach until its fourth generation was perhaps a bit too squishy. But now, the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is here, and it's done some soul searching to take back a bit of its history.

The outgoing model did absolutely nothing for me, but the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder has already earned my admiration. I love that Nissan squared the ever-loving hell out of the Pathfinder's body to help point out that more attention is being paid to its beefier forebears for inspiration. The rear end is a little much, what with its large slab of a liftgate and the 5-foot-wide PATHFINDER badges, but the front end is spot on. It picks up the newer aggression from other redesigned Nissans, and it carries it to good effect. The sides are sharper, and the forward-slanted C-pillar pays homage to the first-gen Pathfinder. Throw in one of the optional two-tone paints and this is a pretty solid stew Nissan's got goin' here.

The 2022 Pathfinder's interior is also vastly superior to its predecessor, but that wasn't exactly a Herculean task. My Platinum-trim tester's two-tone innards are pretty dang good, with lots of soft-touch materials in the right places and a layout that's far less cluttered than before. It feels quite roomy, even in the newly widened third row, which now sits three abreast and isn't too bad for my 6-foot frame. The only real miss here is the shifter, which looks OK but feels a bit cheap and plasticky in its movement.

The Pathfinder's materials are less important than how well its interior functions for a family. Storage space is pretty darn decent. Not only is there a huge cubby underneath the shifter, opening up the center armrest reveals another sizable space for purses and then some. In the second row, the optional captain's chairs flank a clever center console that can be removed with a single hand. All the way out back is a cargo area big enough for four golf bags or a 120-quart cooler; fold down the seats and the whole shebang is wide enough to carry a sheet of plywood. Solid.

Up front, my tester has three separate display areas: a 9-inch touchscreen on the dashboard, a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and a 10.8-inch head-up display. The 9-incher runs the NissanConnect infotainment system, which isn't the flashiest getup on the block, but it's functional and comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with wireless CarPlay available on higher trims. The digital cluster offers crisp graphics and two styles from which to choose, while the HUD keeps it simple with only the most relevant information like speed and turn-by-turn directions. The only bummer here is that you have to pay to play; the 9-inch touchscreen requires a $40,000 window sticker, while the other two only come on the $47,000-and-up Platinum. As for charging, the Pathfinder's cabin holds up to six USB ports -- one Type-A and one Type-C for each of the first two rows, and a pair of As for the way-backs.

The Pathfinder's on-road experience isn't perfect, but it's still leagues ahead of the previous generation.

Nissan

The Pathfinder's safety systems are a bit more democratized. Every trim gets automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, automatic high beams and reverse automatic braking. Move up just a single trim level and the Pathfinder picks up Nissan's ProPilot Assist, which combines adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist to hold the vehicle in its lane and keep pace with traffic. It's been tuned to act more smoothly, and I definitely feel these updates in my limited highway evaluation time. Step up one more trim and you get a surround-view monitor, too, which is always nice to have on larger crossovers.

How does the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder feel to drive? It's fine. Its 284-horsepower, 259-pound-foot, 3.5-liter V6 is a carryover from the previous generation, and since the 2022's weight loss is under 50 pounds, the Pathfinder doesn't feel any more or less quick than before. But there's one important addition that does improve the driving experience: a nine-speed automatic transmission. The old continuously variable transmission is gone with the wind, in part to help boost the SUV's towing capability to an impressive 6,000 pounds (when equipped with an optional trailer-prep package). There are a few low-speed situations where it takes a tick or two to find the right gear, but I still prefer its operation to the CVT. It might not have the perk of a turbocharged engine, but it'll do what it needs to do without issue.

On the highway, the Pathfinder is a smooth operator, its static dampers doing a solid job of dealing with road gnarliness, although some of the louder pavement noises and various bumps do eventually make their way to the cabin. The whole shebang is a ton quieter than before, though, thanks to a wider use of sound-deadening glass. The all-wheel-drive system is improved, too, thanks to a new direct coupling between the front and rear that eliminates the need for the front wheels to slip before the rears generate grip. Fuel economy depends on trim and drivetrain layout, but at its most efficient, it should return about 27 mpg highway.

You won't be conquering all of Moab in the Pathfinder, but its off-road capability will definitely meet the needs of most customers.

Nissan

Since the 2022 Pathfinder is all about returning to its more rugged roots, it only makes sense that the bite matches the bark. And it does, to a degree. You won't be following your dentist in his Defender 110 as he recreates Hannibal's march across the Alps, but the majority of basic off-roading -- tall hills, muddy ruts, sandy crap -- is dealt with in short order. That's due in part to a vehicle mode switch that adjusts the traction control and throttle response to match the terrain underfoot. It's about on par with what the Subaru Outback Wilderness can muster, although the Nissan's ride height is a little lower at 7.1 inches to the Wilderness' 9.5.

The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder goes on sale this summer. When it launches, it'll start at $34,560 for a base Pathfinder S with front-wheel drive, topping out at $47,340 for a FWD Platinum. Across all trims, AWD is an extra $1,900. With pricing accessible to many different groups, and with a solid complement of standard tech and traditional creature comforts, the fifth-generation Pathfinder looks set up for success.