We can’t all be winners. The lucky among us learn this lesson early, after coach-pitch strikeouts or unscored but obviously one-sided soccer games. Others—the mildly gifted or the carefully insulated—come to the realization later in life, when it hurts more. It takes only one track-and-field meet to realize that there’s a lot of running that goes on after the tape is broken, but little glory is meted out for the beaten, broken ones who cross the line with the victors already on the podium. Nissan doesn’t have a winner in the Pathfinder, but it’s a midpack contender in a stacked field.
The Pathfinder’s 284-hp V-6 engine underwent a thorough revamping for 2017that pushes it a little further toward the front of the pack. Direct injection is new to the 3.5-liter powerplant, as are redesigned pistons, a higher compression ratio, and variable intake-valve timing. Together, the revisions produce an additional 24 horsepower and 19 lb-ft of torque than were available in the 2016 Pathfinder. (We’d hoped for a bigger power bump, but let’s not look gift horsepower in the mouth.) The revised engine was good for a 7.4-second run from zero to 60 mph. That’s just 0.1 second quicker than our test of a 2016 Pathfinder—and not quite the 0.2-second improvement Nissan predicted when we got our first drive of the new model in August.
The programming of the Pathfinder’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which drew our ire in the aforementioned review of the pre-refresh model, has improved. It still lingers near 5000 rpm under moderate-to-heavy acceleration but does so by imitating a traditional automatic, shifting from 6000 rpm back down to 4500, then repeating the cycle until the pedal is lifted.This avoids the inherent droning that lesser CVTs cause, while still making use of the Pathfinder’s high-end torque. CVTs supposedly improve fuel efficiency over traditional automatic transmissions, but the Pathfinder failed spectacularly on that score during our two-week test, recording just 16 mpg despite an EPA combined rating of 21 mpg. In fairness to the Pathfinder, about half of those miles were under unusually hard driving conditions. But with highway cruising and errands around town mixed in, the result is still surprisingly low.
Exterior revisions to the Pathfinder are less obvious, although Nissan claims that a reshaping of its nose has made the crossover look more “masculine.” On the inside, the Pathfinder, or at least the Platinum version we tested, has the same high level of feature content that impressed us last year. Our test car came standard with heated and cooled front seats, heated second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, and a panoramic sunroof. But even though the dashboard and door panel fittings look plush at first glance, closer inspection reveals them to be mostly cleverly molded hard-touch plastics with dashes of an unconvincing faux brazilwood. There’s better to be had in this segment and at this price—look to the Mazda CX-9to see the heights mainstream-brand crossovers can reach.
Our real problems with the Pathfinder start when the road gets twisty. The steering is feather light, reactions to inputs are slow, grip (measured on our skidpad at 0.77 g) is lacking, and when coaxed through corners the Pathfinder rolls like a sailboat on a sea of pudding. It feels every bit of its 4654-pound paunch, and sloppy motions make the Pathfinder feel outdated. Much as our long-term test of a 2013 model mostly impressed us with its road manners, it simply can’t keep up with the more recently introduced CX-9, Hyundai Santa Fe, and GMC Acadia.
Nissan makes a good case for the Pathfinder as a family hauler with some undeniably convenient features, such as a second-row bench seat that tilts forward to allow third-row access even with a child seat mounted. The 16 cubic feet of storage behind the third row isn’t remarkable, but with it stowed cargo space grows to nearly 50 cubic feet, among the best in its class. Those bright spots aren’t enough to make up for the Pathfinder’s dynamic flaws, especially since the real winners in this race can haul the stuff of family life and deliver a rewarding driving experience.