2022 Nissan Pathfinder First Drive Review: Smarter Design Goes Farther Off The Beaten Path

2022 Nissan Pathfinder First Drive Review: Smarter Design Goes Farther Off The Beaten Path
2022 Nissan Pathfinder
The redesigned Nissan Pathfinder has numerous improvements over the previous model. Nissan

For years the Nissan Pathfinder failed to live to its name—unless one considered a trip to the local Target an adventure. But with a full redesign, the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder now can haul family and gear much farther off the beaten path.

A day of highway driving, towing an Airstream trailer and light off-roading near Seeley Lake and the Blackfoot River in northwest Montana demonstrated that the new fifth-generation Pathfinder does everything better than outgoing model.

The redesign places the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder into the must-shop list for anyone considering a seven- or eight-seat people hauler that can easily navigate dirt roads and trails to remote camping, kayaking and fishing sites. It is now competitive with the Toyota Highlander, beats out the Honda Pilot and depending on what it actually sells for—as opposed to its sticker price—might represent a better value than the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade, the top choices in the segment.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder
The styling of the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is more rugged than the outgoing model. Nissan

Return to Rugged

Nissan launched the Pathfinder in 1986 as a body-on-frame SUV (how trucks are built). It was a rugged vehicle that competed with the Toyota 4Runner and other off-road vehicles. But over successive generations the SUV morphed into a soft people mover.

While no one would mistake the new Pathfinder for a hard core desert runner or rock crawler, Nissan packed enough capability into the four-wheel-drive version of this model to tackle fire roads, mud, ruts and washboard trails. It also will do well in snow and ice.

The new Pathfinder’s styling is more rugged and less jellybean than before. It’s about 1/2 inch wider, with an even bigger 1.2 inch increase in track width (the distance between the wheels on each axle). The SUV sits slightly higher, but is almost an inch shorter in length at 197.7 inches.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder
When equipped, the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is rated to tow up to 6,000 pounds. Nissan

New On-Road Personality

All Pathfinder variants are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces up to 284 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque. Nissan tightened and improved handling with a new smooth-shifting transmission, which significantly boosted towing capability. It’s also a welcome improvement over the continuously variable transmission in the previous model.

While shifting is audible when towing a trailer uphill on Montana Highway 200, the transmission didn’t shudder. The new transmission has a wider gear ratio that more quickly provides power but also improves fuel economy.

The Pathfinder also is quieter, thanks to acoustic laminated front glass, thicker second-row glass, increased door and floor isolation as well as a 60% bump in engine noise absorption. There’s the expected tech, including a standard 9-inch touchscreen with  Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, a 12.3-inch digital dashboard behind the wheel and a 10.8-inch head-up display. There also are six USB ports and an optional 120-volt outlet to keep devices charged.

The two-wheel-drive version is rated at 21 mpg in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway. In combined driving, it is estimated to achieve 23 mpg, which is the average for similarly configured midsize SUVs. The four-wheel-drive model is rated at 21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. Those purchasing the most expensive Platinum trim 4WD version will get slightly worse fuel economy because the weight of all the extra features reduce efficiency.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder
Nissan upped the new Pathfinder’s off-roading game compared with the soft, jellybean-shaped people hauler it replaced. Nissan

Off-Road Improvements

Nissan offers the Pathfinder with both two- and four-wheel drive. Buyers should consider opting for four-wheel drive to squeeze the most versatility out of the SUV. It offers seven driving modes: Standard, Sport, Eco, Snow, Sand, Mud/Rut and Tow.

The powertrain gives the SUV a hefty 6,000-pound maximum towing capacity when equipped with the Premium Package for the SL and SV trims. It comes standard on Platinum trims. An average-sized trailer weighs about 5,200 pounds before food, beer and gear. But depending on which trim level they get, owners will have to spend either $2,170 or $2,900 on special packages to get the trailering features to have the top towing capacity. Otherwise the Pathfinder has a modest 3,500-pound towing limit. But for many buyers the option makes sense and will help resale value. Additionally it adds other goodies to the vehicle, including a moonroof and power liftgate.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder
The interior of the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is roomy and comfortable. Nissan

Thoughtful Interior Amenities

Nissan will offer the Pathfinder in four trim levels: S, SV, SL and Platinum. Two packages, SV Premium and SL Premium are available and add a panoramic moonroof, a power liftgate, second-row captain’s chairs and a removable center console in the second row. The Premium package for the SL adds 20-inch wheels, Bose premium audio heated rear seats and wireless device charging.

It has some tech niceties, including a locking system that allows someone other than the driver to open the door if the approaching key fob holder has an armful of groceries or children.

There’s another parent-friendly feature that will save necks and backs. Second-row seats flip forward enough to allow access to the third row, even when loaded with an empty car seat. When configured with a bench, three car seats can fit the second row. Also, a small under-floor cargo compartment behind the third row is both waterproof and deep enough to hold soccer balls. The hatch that covers it also stays propped up for easy loading and organization.

At its core, the Pathfinder is still a people mover designed for urban and suburban environments. It can be configured with a bench for eight-passenger carrying capacity or as a seven-seater with two captain’s chairs in the second row. It offers 16 beverage holders, or two per occupant for the eight-passenger model. That’s a lot, but still not as many as Subaru‘s Ascent, which leads the three-row segment in cupholder count with 19.

Nissan improved comfort by upgrading the cabin with an addition 10 cubic-feet of interior space. And it gets top marks for flexibility. The Pathfinder has a 60/40 split folding third-row seating, which allows for flexible loading, but the 16.6 cubic-feet of cargo space behind the rear bench is low for the segment. With all of the seats down cargo towage expands to 80.5 cubic-feet. The 4-foot width of the rear hatch does make it easier to haul plywood sheets, furniture and other large cargo.

2022 Nissan
The 2022 Pathfinder offers an advanced version of Nissan’s ProPilot, which uses a new radar and links up with navigation data for more predictive assistance on the road. Nissan

Safety Tech

Nissan made it’s Safety Shield suite of advanced advanced driver-assistance system standard across the line. It includes forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot warning and lane departure warning.

Another useful standard feature honks the horn when filling each tire to the recommended air pressure target is included on all Pathfinder models.

Adaptive cruise control is an option on the SL trim and above. Nissan’s ProPilot assist, which combines adaptive cruise control and lane centering is standard on every trim but the base S. The version of ProPilot also links with navigation data for a more predictive driving experience, including proactive slowing when the speed limit is reduced.

There’s a pretty big price range across the trim levels. The base Pathfinder starts at $33,410 for the two-wheel-drive S. That climbs to $48,090 for a four-wheel-drive model in the top Platinum trim.

The Pathfinder goes on sale this summer. A product planner for Nissan said some dealers will receiving shipments as early as the end of June.