Thirty years ago, Nissan barged into the burgeoning SUV market of the Ford Bronco and Toyota 4Runner with the all-new Pathfinder. Through the years, this two-door off-road SUV morphed into an ever-larger and more family oriented machine. After decades of trying to make the truck-based SUV more family friendly, Nissan finally made the jump to create a true crossover. In 2012 the fourth-generation car was unveiled. Built on a unibody platform shared with the Murano, this three-row machine was designed to be the ultimate all-purpose family machine from Nissan. For 2015, the Nissan Pathfinder comes with even more safety and technology features that promise to push this class-leading machine further into the lead. I took delivery of a 2015 SV model with 4WD, and spent an entire week trying to figure out if it lives up to the hype and the reputation.
On the outside, the new 2015 Nissan Pathfinder doesn’t look too special. It is a modest shape with handsome features, but when compared to other products in the Nissan stable like the stunning new Murano, it just appears boring. There are few interesting touches if you look closely. I personally like the creasing on the front end around the bumper and fog lights, and the long character line that arches up over the rear wheels gives the Pathfinder a more muscular stance. Despite the relatively bland slate of the Pathfinder, the Arctic Blue Metallic paint on this tester looks amazing, and it adds some much needed flair to the exterior.
Of course, a crossover like this lives and dies based on its interior. Thankfully for Nissan, this is where the Pathfinder really shines. Apart from its class-leading passenger space, the Pathfinder is the only model to offer a reclining third row seat. That can make a huge difference in comfort for anyone over 5-feet tall in that back seat. Beyond the space and reclining seats, the Pathfinder is loaded with little touches that make it more comfortable for everyday use.
Parents with small children will absolutely love Nissan’s fancy Latch and Glide second row seats. This system lets the middle row of seats tilt and slide forward so that you can get easy access to the third row even if you have a child seat in the second row. For those active people that need more cargo space than people space, all those seats will fold flat to create one massive cargo hold that is nearly big enough to swallow a small kayak.
From the front seat, the interior is a nice place to be with soft materials everywhere. The door panels, seats and arm rests are all plush and covered in soft cloth. The dash is a large, flat slate of nothing really, but it is made of a rubbery material that is nicer to touch than plastic. The steering wheel is wrapped in leather, and the trim on the doors and console is a glossy black that looks more luxurious than the SUV’s price would suggest. The controls on the center stack are the same knobs Nissan has been using for a few years now, and while the plastic-topped round knobs and buttons are beginning to look quite dated, I love their simplicity and ease of use.
Another functional, but dated looking piece of tech sits on top of that center cluster. The 7-inch color screen in the Pathfinder is just the right size, but it’s a low resolution screen that just looks out of place when compared to the high-resolution screens fitted in most of the competition.
Under the hood of the new Pathfinder you will find Nissan’s familiar 3.5-liter V6, producing 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. With a 4200-plus pound curb weight, that is only adequate power, but the cars CVT transmission does a good job of masking the heft by keeping the engine in its power band. The CVT and motor work so well together that the Pathfinder can even find room to tow an extra 5,000 pounds. That standard 5k pound tow rating is a segment best, as well.
In actuality, the 2015 Pathfinder is a pretty solid thing to drive. The Nissan Murano is one of my favorite drives in the class, and the Pathfinder carries on the tradition. The engine feels torquey enough that the car never feels over-stressed, and it will happily get out of its own way if you squeeze on the throttle. Steering is expectedly numb, and it lacks weight, but it is direct and it makes the car easy to navigate. Braking is better than expected, with a solid pedal feel, but the brakes will give up pretty quickly after a few sequential hard stops.
While the Pathfinder is far from a backroad bomber, it does retain some of its classic-off-rad heritage. In the center console there is a small knob that gives the driver control over the 4WD system. You can lock it into 2WD, set it for automatic, or lock it into 4WD mode. When the pathfinder is locked into 4WD it made short work of anything I needed to do out on my farm. Some of the steeper hills on my property have made lesser AWD systems fail, but the Pathfinder charged up anything I asked it to, quickly and easily. It make not be built on a truck platform anymore, but the 4WD works like it still is. I didn’t have a chance to experience with any mud or gravel aside from my driveway, but in a dry field with steep inclines, the Pathfinder was a champ.
All that space and ability comes with a price at the gas pump. The Pathfinder is one rated as one of the most fuel-efficient cars in its class with a highway of 26 mpg, but I had a hard time managing to achieve the Pathfinder’s 22 mpg combined rating. After a full week I was sitting at just over 21 MPG, and that was with a highway/city skew that was much closer to 70/30. It’s not bad fuel economy, but it is less than I was hoping for.
At the very least, the Pathfinder will save your wallet some stress at the dealership. This mid-range SV 4×4 model rang up at just $35,570 with all options and destination. Not a bad deal for this much room and equipment.
Overall I was pleased with the Pathfinder, but not blown away. The interior space and material choices are definite high-points, but I would like a little more horsepower for a machine this big. I also would love to see some more modern looking switchgear and a higher resolution screen for the dash. Otherwise, there is much to love and very little to fault with the 2015 Nissan Pathfinder.