- Clever folding second row
- Spacious interior
- Composed, quiet ride
- Far from a sportscar
- Interior materials drab
- Base model missing Bluetooth
The 2015 Nissan Pathfinder reels off its crossover basics with ease, but doesn't get too adventurous in handling or off-roading.
The 2015 Nissan Pathfinder has undergone a few big transitions in its career as a people hauler. It gave up on its truck-based SUV roots to become a more refined crossover utility vehicle, and now it's a massive three-row ute that's among the biggest in its segment.
It's one of the most useful vehicles in the segment, with seating for seven, and greater interior space than the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, or Ford Explorer. The result is a competitive package with carefully chosen groups of options based on what buyers actually order in the segment.
Those options have been somewhat reshuffled for 2015, but more substantial changes this year include the end of the Hybrid model and a change to the software controls for the Pathfinder's continuously variable transmission (CVT). Nissan calls it "D-Step" logic, and it gives the feel of shifting through a traditional transmission in a series of steps. It removes a lot of the dissonant high-revving behavior of a CVT, while still letting the transmission vary itself in very small increments for maximum fuel economy.
The Pathfinder looks well-proportioned, thanks to its newly-found curves that hide its enormous bulk and height. It requires standing side-by-side with it to truly appreciate its immensity, and even then, it wouldn't be a stretch to call it 'rakish,' even as a tall wagon. It's otherwise a familiar design–and one that we've seen on the rest of recent Nissan lineup–with its bold, chromed grilled, sculpted fenders, and curves that definitely draw the family line between today's Nissan's and the current lineup of Infinitis.
Inside the Pathfinder, there's some influence from the Infiniti luxury division, but the cabin still feels conservative due to a limited selection of just two colors and otherwise unremarkable fabrics and plastic surfaces. Behind the wheel, though, drivers will likely forget they're driving a seven-seat crossover utility vehicle. The Pathfinder has clearly been designed to prioritize elbow room and comfort for passengers. While it has the cross-section of its competitors, more or less, it's considerably longer than the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, or Toyota Highlander--about the length of a Mazda CX-9. The bulk of the added metal goes into the cabin, which gives the Pathfinder not only two usable rows of seating, but a more accessible and useful third row than any of its competition.
The bench seat in the second row slides back and forth, giving more legroom if the third row is empty. It also has a complex sliding-and-folding mechanism for access to the back row that lets parents leave their child seats locked in place even while the seat partially collapses--truly a parent-friendly feature. That third row has short, flat, van-like cushions that sit surprisingly low. That's good for headroom for growing teens, but it's still marginal for an adult. That nonetheless actually makes it roomier than most third rows, which are really kids-only accommodations.
Handling and cornering are more sedan-like than reminiscent of an SUV, and its heft is never apparent at the wheel. The Pathfinder is lighter than the full-size crossovers from General Motors, including the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave, and its hydraulic-electric steering is particularly well tuned for comfortable driving. However many passengers you have, the Pathfinder will give them a pleasant, smooth, refined ride. Nissan spent a lot of time tracking down and muffling road noise and coarseness through the suspension, and it shows, even at highway speeds.
Today's reinvented Pathfinder offers front-wheel drive as standard, and happily sacrifices some of its previous towing and rough-terrain abilities for family-friendly comfort features that center it squarely in the mid-size utility vehicle segment. The powertrain consists of a 260-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine and a continuously variable transmission (CVT. That duo offers a wider range of engine-to-transmission ratios than the earlier Nissan units—and a sturdy chain instead of a belt—giving both strong, smooth acceleration and lower revs when cruising. It's all in the name of fuel economy, although we note that there's quite a delay for quick bursts of power for passing.
Nissan has carefully crafted its options packages to reflect what families actually order. With the available Nissan Navigation System, you also get traffic information, Bluetooth streaming audio, and voice recognition. A tri-zone entertainment system that lets you play separate programming for each of the two seven-inch rear screens (DVD, gaming input, or photos), all while front-seat occupants can listen to their own programming.
The top-of-the-line Pathfinder Platinum, at a bottom-line price of about $42,000 for the all-wheel-drive model, will give you get the tow package, cooled front seats, the Bose audio system, navigation, and an Around View Monitor, all with a higher-resolution eight-inch WVGA display. Only the high-tech convenience features—like adaptive cruise control, or a blind-spot system—that are starting to jump from luxury brands down to the mainstream are missing from the Pathfinder.