2015 Nissan Pathfinder Review

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John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
August 19, 2015

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.

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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.

8

2015 Nissan Pathfinder

Styling

The Pathfinder's ditched its straight-edged SUV roots for a handsome set of curves.

Two years into its current generation, the 2015 Nissan Pathfinder has grown into its new, curvaceous shell, and its three-row interior benefits from its new family-friendly intentions, too.

Inside, the 2015 Pathfinder leans toward functional, rather than over-designed. The hard, smooth, textured plastic surfaces of the interior will no doubt clean easily and prove durable. But a glossier dashboard top surface meets semi-matte, soft-touch door panel material in a way that just doesn't feel quite right--and catches the driver's eye time and again. While buyers can choose from several paint colors, there are just two interior tones: the inevitable Charcoal, and then the lighter Almond.

The exterior stance is swept back, with a fairly long hood and a steeply raked windshield. Its metamorphosis into a family-focused crossover with seven seats already seems entirely natural. But it will be sold in more than 70 countries, and it's obviously a Nissan product when you stack it up against the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot it competes with in the U.S. The side accents, upswept third window, and chrome-trimmed grille all echo the themes found in passenger cars, the smaller, higher-volume Nissan crossovers--including the newer Rogue--and even the truly large Armada SUV.

Those contour lines appear to "flow" up around the fenders in the front, then dip below the window line, and flare again to arch up over the wheel wells at the rear. The aggressive creases on the hood and over the front wheel wells actually start at the thick chrome bars on either side of the grille, giving the Pathfinder a bolder look than the same effect on some of Nissan's smaller sedans. It gives the Pathfinder "pop," as the fashion shows say. The only missing element would be either high-intensity discharge headlamps or LED running lights.

7

2015 Nissan Pathfinder

Performance

Handling is average for the class, and so is acceleration in the Nissan Pathfinder.

The 2015 Nissan Pathfinder fits in perfectly amongst the large, family-friendly crossovers in the segment. It has seating for seven, drives more like a car than a truck, and can–when it needs to–venture slightly off-pavement from time to time. New for this year, the standard continuously-variable transmission (CVT) receives Nissan's new D-Step shift logic, which allows it to emulate gear changes, rather than revving endlessly as the vehicle increases in speed.

The Pathfinder drives more like a softly sprung sedan than a large utility vehicle--and it's easy to forget how much metal is following behind you. It's lighter than some competitors, so there's less sense of heft behind the wheel. We did notice some torque steer in front-wheel-drive models, but not in the all-wheel-drive versions, which send most of the power to the front wheels until it's needed in back for traction or stability. The driver can select a 2WD mode for front-wheel drive only, maximizing fuel efficiency, or a 4WD Lock mode to distribute power equally front and rear (the system still modulates power delivery side to side).

The response of the Pathfinder's hydraulic-electric power steering is quick, it's well-weighted, and it has decent on-center feel. Throw the Pathfinder quickly back and forth on choppy roads, and you'll get better control than some more inept competitors (the last generation of Toyota Highlander stands out there). The one drawback is that the low-rolling-resistance tires fitted to most models don't offer nearly as much grip as you'd expect from the well-controlled body. The problem occurs with both the standard 18-inch and optional 20-inch wheels.

The optional tow package gives the V-6 Pathfinder towing capability up to 5,000 pounds, with different programming for the CVT when the loads on the transmission are heavier. Most family buyers will never test the limits of the Pathfinder's all-wheel drive; while the crossover has less ground clearance than, say, a Subaru Outback, it handles rutted surfaces with assurance. 

The powertrain in all Pathfinders is the familiar Nissan 3.5-liter V-6, which appears in products from the 370Z sports car (which receives a bored-out version) to the Maxima sedan. In this use, it's rated at 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque, with updates to reduce friction and provide maximum power on regular gasoline. It's paired to Nissan's familiar Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). It has a wider range between the lowest and highest ratios, which improves acceleration and lowers engine speed during highway cruising. But responsiveness can suffer, and the Pathfinder sometimes has quite a delay as the engine speed spools up to deliver more power if it's been loafing along at low revs.

9

2015 Nissan Pathfinder

Comfort & Quality

The second-row seat could use better bolstering, but the Nissan Pathfinder is vast inside, with room for seven and cargo.

The 2015 Nissan Pathfinder makes no bones about its family-friendly intentions, having forsaken its old, rugged personality for something more comfortable on the pavement. Now, it's a big, spacious, flexible crossover, and it has three rows with seating for seven passengers.

Travelers with find the Pathfinder's ride smooth and refined, even on long trips. Nissan worked hard on eliminating secondary vibrations and reducing noise, so minor road coarseness is far less intrusive than in some competitors--and the same goes for wind noise as well. Despite the CVT, the engine drone is tolerable under most circumstances (though still not quite as pleasant as Subaru's CVT, still our favorite among all makers).

For family miscellany, the Pathfinder comes equipped with various bins, map pockets on the backs of the front seats, and a pair of large trays in the center console. The three bottle holders in each rear door panel may be a new record, along with cupholders on each side of the third row, and four altogether up front: two in the console, plus one in each door.

Cargo space totals 79.8 cubic feet with both the second and third rows folded forward. But with all seats up, there's only 16 cubic feet--not that much, and barely enough for a family grocery run.

The front seats are comfortable, offer good back support, and the driver has a wide adjustment range. There's little side bolstering, but they proved comfortable on long highway trips. The Pathfinder isn't a vehicle that really rewards a driver who tosses it around hilly roads, either, so the front seats are fine.

The second-row seats proved slightly disappointing. There's plenty of space, and the ability to slide 5.5 inches back and forth is a real bonus. But full-size adults may squirm and fidget trying to get comfortable. The back seat is short, flat, and somewhat van-like, and sits quite low to the floor. That demands a leaning-back, legs-splayed seating position that doesn't bode well for comfort on long road trips. Headroom is more than adequate, so the less-than-perfect back seat is likely due to its ability to fold surprisingly far forward for third-row access.

The most impressive feature--for families, anyhow--will be that the second row can be slid and folded forward enough to permit third-row access while a "Latch and Glide" child seat remains installed in the middle row. (Yes, you have to take the child out first.)

The third row is also low to the floor, and like most such installations, really suited for kids, without enormous amounts of headroom. The third-row seat back does adjust for rake, though, and overall the Pathfinder does as good a job of any three-row in trading off the incompatible goals of space, comfort, and access for all seating positions.

8

2015 Nissan Pathfinder

Safety

Blind-spot monitors and surround-view cameras are great, but the Pathfinder lacks a complete set of crash-test scores.

The 2015 Nissan Pathfinder comes with a long list of safety features, though it hasn't yet been tested by the agencies that evaluate vehicle safety. That said, past years show good, but not excellent crash-test ratings. For the new year, top-end SL and Platinum trims now receive blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts.

The predictable list of safety features for a new passenger vehicle shows up on the Pathfinder, including six standard airbags, with the side-curtain airbags offering a rollover sensor and covering outboard positions in all three rows. Then there's stability control, a traction control system, four-wheel disc anti-lock brakes, and Brake Assist. A useful feature unique to Nissans is the standard Easy Fill Tire Alert, which sounds the horn when you've inflated the tires to the recommended pressure.

A rearview camera and rear sonar parking sensors are standard are most versions of the Pathfinder, but the multi-view camera system--which displays a 360-degree view of the car's surroundings--is only included on the top Platinum trim level. (It's an option on the SL trim.) That system can make a big difference, whether you're backing out of a crowded driveway or navigating a narrow alley.

The missing features on the Pathfinder--neither standard nor optional--include active-safety systems like lane-departure warning. They're far from standard on all competitors, but they're increasingly common.

While results from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rate the Pathfinder 'good' in all categories, imperfect federal test results and the lack of active safety features keep the Pathfinder from doing better than an '8' on our scale at this time.

Nissan's seven-seat mid-size crossover is rated at five out of five stars overall by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), including excellent five-star ratings for side impact and all its subcategories. But it earns four-star ratings for frontal impact and rollover. The overall rating is one star higher than the Pathfinder earned in 2013, the first model year of its latest design.

8

2015 Nissan Pathfinder

Features

An underwhelming media interface dulls the Pathfinder's competitive set of tech features.

The 2015 Nissan Pathfinder receives a handful of new updates, most of which come in the form of the repackaging of options. SL and Platinum trims now receive blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection. SL models also receive surround-view cameras with both Premium and Tech packages–the latter of which includes navigation. A new Family Entertainment package is also available, which includes two headrest-mounted screens to keep the kids occupied.

Options include an entertainment system that lets you play separate programming in three zones: DVDs, games, or photos displayed separately on each of the two 7-inch rear screens and for the front passenger compartment. There's also a cargo package, kick plates illuminated from the back, and other minor appearance and trim accessories.

Unfortunately, the integration of some of the infotainment systems just isn't as good as in Ford's (sometimes problematic) MyFord Touch system. The Pathfinder's center dashboard displays, either the standard screen or the high-res navigation screen, appear to be touchscreens--but they're not, relying instead on a rotary controller and various buttons below the display.

Nor are safety systems like adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure warning systems offered at any trim level. Nonetheless, if you ignore those omissions, the Pathfinder's four trim levels let buyers pick and chose among Nissan's much-touted “premium features for all passengers"--and the high-end models are loaded with most features available in the segment.

Nissan offers the 2015 Pathfinder crossover in four different trim levels--S, SV, SL, and Platinum--each of which offers the buyer a choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive (a $1,600 upgrade).

The base Pathfinder S comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, a six-speaker sound system with six-disc changer, tri-zone climate control system, and an Advanced Drive Assist trip-computer display.

Move up one level to the SV, and Nissan adds a 7-inch color monitor with RearView monitor and Rear Sonar, intelligent key entry and start, roof rails, and--importantly--Bluetooth pairing for hands-free connectivity to mobile devices.

A hint of luxury starts to appear at the SL level, including leather upholstery for all seats, and heaters for the front and middle rows, a power liftgate, and remote engine start. The SL Premium package, for $2,650 extra, adds Bose 13-speaker premium audio, a dual panorama moonroof, and trailer-tow prep--which can be specified separately on other models for $400. Or the new-for-2015 SL Tech package includes a higher-resolution 8-inch in-dash display. Nissan's navigation system wraps in XM NavTraffic and NavWeather functions, a Zagat Restaurant Guide, voice recognition, and Bluetooth streaming audio.

Top of the heap is the Pathfinder Platinum. That gives you the trailer-towing package standard, cooling for the front seats, navigation, the Bose audio system, and the Around View Monitor, along with the navigation system, Bluetooth, and voice recognition as standard.

7

2015 Nissan Pathfinder

Fuel Economy

The CVT nets the Pathfinder good gas mileage.

The Pathfinder offers just one powertrain. It pairs a 3.5-liter V-6 with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). CVTs don't have fixed gears, but the Pathfinder has Nissan's "D-Step" logic, which gives it the feel of shifting through a traditional transmission in a series of steps. It is a CVT's ability to vary the gearing ratios almost infinitely that allows it to run efficiently more often and get the most out of fuel economy.

The Pathfinder is rated at 23 mpg combined (20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway) with front-wheel drive, but specifying all-wheel drive knocks that down to 22 mpg combined (19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway). Nissan says that's a best-in-class figure for three-row V-6 mid-size crossovers.

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August 13, 2017
2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4WD 4-Door SL

The worst CVT

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I was a big fan of Nissan. I owned 1998 Quest, 2005 Quest and 2011 Murano is 90K now. Bought the Pathfinder brand new, airbag recalled, rear differential replaced till CVT shaking/shuddering on 30K, no... + More »
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May 28, 2016
2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4WD 4-Door SL

Great family hauler with good power to tow.

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Comfortable family hauler that can tow 5000 pounds. Good acceleration but could use improvement in the handling department. Great around camera system. Excellent 3rd row seat even for adults.
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March 19, 2016
2015 Nissan Pathfinder 2WD 4-Door SL

ST L Pathfinder 2015 is Excellent car

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ST L Pathfinder 2015 is Excellent car. I had Toyota Kluger (Altitude) but sold for some reason. Then i purchase Nissan pathfinder ST-L 2015 in February 2016. When i compare Kluger 2013 with Pathfinder 2015, I... + More »
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December 27, 2015
2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4WD 4-Door SL

A pleasure to drive with smooth cvt and great mileage

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We compared the others in this class and picked the Pathfinder. It comes with the things we need. 5000 lb hitch and wiring from the factory. Remote start, heated front and rear seats and hill descent button... + More »
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July 28, 2015
For 2015 Nissan Pathfinder

Do your homework before you purchase this suv

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My husband and I were very happy with our brand new 2013 Nissan Pathfinder when we first bought it, but right before its first oil change we noticed that it started to shutter at a low speed. We brought it to... + More »
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July 24, 2015
2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4WD 4-Door SV

Awesome Car

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Awesome car for the family get a ways. Very comfortable to drive and safety features are awesome.
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April 28, 2015
2015 Nissan Pathfinder 4WD 4-Door Platinum

Great 4WD 3 Row Seat Vehicle

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This is one awesome SUV! I like everything about it but the gas mileage! It is very comfortable to drive, performance is great, plenty of room, and the features of all around cameras are great. I would buy... + More »
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