You never really appreciate a good HVAC system until it's 111 degrees Fahrenheit outside and you're stuck in notorious Los Angeles stop-and-go traffic.
I'd been behind the wheel of the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder for a few hours, driving from Venice Beach in Los Angeles eastward to what's known as the Inland Empire. The further I got from the ocean, the higher the summer temperatures climbed and the more cars crowded onto the freeway.
For 5 hours the Pathfinder kept its engine temperature at precisely a tick below the gauge's midpoint while blasting out immense amounts of cold air. I arrived at my destination cool as a cucumber and ready to tackle whatever the rest of the day could throw my way.
While the Pathfinder started out in 1987 as a rugged SUV, literally built to find paths. 30 years later it's more likely to be seen searching for parking spaces at Applebee's. It's Nissan's smaller three-row crossover, sitting below the gargantuan Armada in terms of space. Front-wheel-drive is standard but all-wheel-drive is optional for $1,690 across S, SV, SL and Platinum trim levels.
A new 8-inch color touchscreen with pinch and zoom capability is standard across all trim lines, but you'll have to step up to the mid-line SL Pathfinder if you want features such as Blind Spot Warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. New this year is the Around View Monitor 360-degree camera system with Moving Object Detection, which alerts the driver to moving objects when pulling forwards, backwards or remaining stationary. It's a great help in parking lots when that big pickup truck parked next to you is blocking your view.
It isn't until you move up to the Platinum trim that Intelligent Forward Emergency Braking and Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC) arrive on the scene. ICC keeps you at a pre-determined distance from a lead car and can bring you all the way to a stop, but that's where the fun ends. The system disengages upon standstill and requires a tap on the gas from the driver to get going again. Many systems won't work at all below 20 miles per hour, so the Pathfinder is 50% better right off the bat. But living in traffic-filled San Francisco, I wish the tech would stay engaged during pauses and start up again on its own.
The NissanConnect infotainment system is well thought out, but doesn't offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The Maxima and Murano both offer the former, so presumably it will come to the Pathfinder soon. Let's hope Nissan gets Android Auto on board as well.
While navigation was easy to use, I had a few problems when trying to use my phone as an audio source. When I first plugged in my phone, the system automatically wanted to draw from my music playlist. My music is terrible and I'd rather listen to a podcast, but the system wouldn't let me switch to my podcast app. Instead, I had to unplug the phone, start one up and plug the phone back in while it was playing.
When a phone call came in, NissanConnect didn't automatically turn off the podcast and switch to the call when I answered it. I had to fumble with my phone to turn off the podcast, yelling to the caller, "Hang on! I have to pause this," treating them to a quick snippet of Reply All as I did so.
Nissan did better with the upgraded engine and transmission. The revised 3.5-liter V6 puts out more power and torque than last year, up to 284 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of twist versus 260 and 240 respectively. This powerplant offers strong acceleration and is well mated to the third-generation Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
A word here about that CVT: It's good. Like, really good. It's programmed with what Nissan calls D-Step Logic Control, which has the step-like feeling of a traditional automatic gearbox. Sure those simulated shifts are Fakey McFakerstein, but it means the transmission loses the annoying drone and buzz of previous years. It pretty much had me fooled into thinking I was driving a conventional automatic and is probably the best CVT I've ever driven.
Most CVTs deliver better fuel economy and my time in the Pathfinder is proof of that. Although EPA fuel ratings for my all-wheel drive tester are 19 miles per gallon in the city, 26 miles per gallon on the highway and 21 miles per gallon combined, I averaged 23.1 miles per gallon over my week and a half with the car, including a trip down to Los Angeles at well above the speed limit. You can expect slightly better numbers in the two-wheel drive model.
The Pathfinder has improved its on-road manners for 2017 thanks to increased spring rates in the front and rear. The 20-inch tires on my top-of-the-line Platinum made for a bit of a rougher ride, but the 4,500-plus pound Pathfinder carves a decent corner. On my super-secret proving ground in the hills of Oakland, California, the Pathfinder stayed composed over undulating pavement and tackled the twisties at speeds that belied its larger footprint. It's not quite as fun as the Mazda CX9, but it's no slouch either.
The steering has been revised with a quicker ratio, but I found it reluctant to return to center on slow-speed turns. While it was fine on the back roads, the weight of the steering pulsed while navigating long sweepers, like freeway interchanges. I could literally feel the steering wheel moving in my hands even though my turn was set in place.
Nissan claims the Pathfinder is four-wheel drive, although with no transfer case, low gear or locking differentials on the front and rear axels, it's really more of a road-focused all-wheel-drive platform. I didn't get the chance to take my all-wheel drive Pathfinder on any dirt roads, but my colleague Wayne Cunningham had some time on a short off-road course in Monterey, California. He says, "The Pathfinder crawled up reasonably steep dirt tracks, and over a section of low, alternating moguls. The all-wheel-drive system put power to the wheels in contact with the ground, helping traction.
Under descent control, the Pathfinder automatically applied braking to individual wheels, keeping slip to a minimum. Unlike other descent control systems, which often exhibit torturous grinding noises, the Pathfinder's braking was relatively quiet."
The Pathfinder defaults to front-wheel drive but the driver can select Auto to let the car decide when to send power to the rear. And you can lock in all-wheel drive for full-time four-wheel fun.
If you're looking to tow, the Pathfinder has a higher-than-average rating of 6,000 pounds, enough to tow a 23-foot Airstream trailer or an African forest elephant (but if I were you I'd pick the trailer).
Cargo space is average for the class, with 16 cubic feet of space behind the third-row seats, 47.8 cubes behind the second row and 79.8 cubes when all rows are folded flat. That's enough for 333 12-packs of Diet Dr Pepper, with six cans left over to fill the total of 10 cup holders scattered throughout the Pathfinder.
You can access that storage with a mere wave of your foot under the center of the liftgate, at least on the SL and Platinum trims. The Motion-Activated liftgate is an awesome addition to the Pathfinder, making it easy to open the rear door even with an armful of groceries.
Seating in the second row is spacious and comfortable and they slide forward for easy access to the third-row of seats, even with a car seat attached. However, that third-row is pretty dinky and best left to really small kids (or those that act like them).
The exterior also got a bit of a pick-me-up this year, but you'd be hard pressed to tell unless you put the 2016 and 2017 models side-by-side. Nissan redesigned the grille to follow its Vmotion design language, and subtly tweaked the front and rear fascias as well as the hood. LED daytime running lights are now standard across all trims, but the headlights are only available as LEDs in the Platinum trim.
If you want a bit of mystery, try the Midnight Edition on the Platinum trim. It adds about $2,300 to the bottom line but ups the stealth factor with black wheels, mirror caps, spoiler and splash guards.
The 2017 Nissan Pathfinder starts at $30,290 in front-wheel drive, $31,980 for all-wheel drive. I really like adaptive cruise control, so I'd spec it out in Platinum with all-wheel drive for $44,685 including destination. The only packages available on the Platinum are the Family Entertainment Package for $1,700 and the aforementioned Midnight Edition. I'd leave those on the table but would spring $360 for a 100 square-foot hatch tent, installed as a dealer accessory.
The Pathfinder is in a fairly crowded segment and it falls solidly mid-pack. The Mazda CX-9 is the most engaging in the class and those looking for more power under the hood should look to the Dodge Durango and its available 5.7-liter V8, not to mention the upcoming SRT version. Other solid choices are the luxury GMC Acadia Denali and the Toyota Highlander with its myriad of standard driver's aids and the Hyundai Santa Fe, which has an excellent adaptive cruise control system.
While the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder excels in driving dynamics, power delivery and CVT optimization, it falls a bit short on tech. Updating NissanConnect and offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto would boost my opinion considerably, as would adding adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning at lower trim lines, or at least as options.