2016 Nissan Pathfinder

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Kirk Bell Kirk Bell Senior Editor
June 27, 2016

Buying tip

The Infiniti QX60 is the Pathfinder's upscale twin, and buyers looking for more luxury may prefer it.

features & specs

2WD 4-Door Platinum
2WD 4-Door S
2WD 4-Door SL
MPG
20 city / 27 hwy
MPG
20 city / 27 hwy
MPG
20 city / 27 hwy
MSRP
$41,610
MSRP
$29,830
MSRP
$36,410

The 2016 Nissan Pathfinder lacks sporty or off-road intentions, instead offering space for seven in a composed, quiet environment.

The 2016 Nissan Pathfinder is a large three-row crossover SUV. It's a very useful vehicle, with seating for seven. It's not quite the Pathfinder you might expect, if you haven't driven one in a few years.

The Pathfinder has undergone a few big transitions in its career as a people hauler. In its latest edition, it's given up on its truck-based SUV roots to become a more refined crossover utility vehicle.

Today's 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—providing both strong, smooth acceleration and lower revs when cruising. It's all in the name of fuel economy, though we note that there's quite a delay when quick bursts of power are needed for passing. The CVT has Nissan's "D-Step" logic, which gives it the feel of shifting through a traditional automatic 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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Handling and cornering are more sedan-like than reminiscent of an SUV, and this seven-seater's 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.

The Pathfinder looks well-proportioned, thanks to crossover 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, similar to other recent Nissans, featuring a bold, chromed grilled, sculpted fenders, and curves that straddle the family line between today's Nissan's and Infinitis.

Inside the Pathfinder there's some influence from the Infiniti luxury division as well, but the cabin still feels conservative due to a limited selection of just two colors and otherwise unremarkable fabrics and plastic surfaces. 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 longer than the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, about the length of a Ford Explorer and Mazda CX-9, and shorter than a Chevrolet Traverse. The considerable size gives the Pathfinder not only two usable rows of seating, but a very accessible and useful third row.

The bench seat in the second row slides back and forth, allowing for 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. Nonetheless, that actually makes it roomier than most third rows, which are really kids-only accommodations.

Nissan has carefully crafted its options packages to reflect what families order. With the available navigation system, you also get traffic information, Bluetooth streaming audio, and voice recognition. A tri-zone entertainment system is offered that lets you play separate programming for each of the two 7.0-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 $44,000 for the all-wheel-drive model, will net the tow package, cooled front seats, a Bose audio system, navigation, and a surround-view camera, all with a higher-resolution 8.0-inch 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.

The 2016 Nissan Pathfinder is EPA rated at 20 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined with front-wheel drive. Specifying all-wheel drive knocks that down to 19/26/22 mpg. The EPA has separately rated the Pathfinder Platinum when equipped with all-wheel drive at 19/26/21 mpg.

8

2016 Nissan Pathfinder

Styling

The Pathfinder wears the soft curves of a family-oriented crossover instead of the more aggressive lines of truck-type SUV.

Three years into its current generation, the 2016 Nissan Pathfinder has grown into its curvaceous shell, and its three-row interior benefits from its family-friendly intentions, too.

The exterior stance is swept back, with a fairly long hood and a steeply raked windshield. 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 elements would be either high-intensity discharge headlamps or LED running lights.

Inside, the 2016 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 it 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 the lighter Almond.

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7

2016 Nissan Pathfinder

Performance

Engine performance is fine with the V-6 and lacking with the Hybrid, but both drive like large sedans.

The 2016 Nissan Pathfinder fits in perfectly among 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.

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 the Pathfinder, it's rated at 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. It's paired to Nissan's familiar continuously variable transmission (CVT) with Nissan's "D-Step" shift logic, which allows it to emulate gear changes rather than revving endlessly under heavy throttle. The CVT and engine aren't always responsive. Sometimes, when it's been loafing along at low revs, there is quite a delay as the engine speed spools up to deliver more power.

Travelers will 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. 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).

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 front-wheel drive only, maximizing fuel efficiency, or a locked all-wheel-drive mode to distribute power equally front and rear (the system still modulates power delivery side to side).

The hydraulic-electric power steering is quick and 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 competitors. 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 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. 

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9

2016 Nissan Pathfinder

Comfort & Quality

The Pathfinder accommodates seven passengers and their cargo, though the second row could be more comfortable.

The 2016 Nissan Pathfinder makes no bones about its family-friendly intentions, having forsaken its old, rugged personality for something more comfortable on the pavement. It's a big, spacious, flexible crossover, and it has three rows with seating for seven passengers.

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 on hilly roads, either, so the front seats are fine.

The second-row seats are slightly disappointing. There's plenty of space, but full-size adults may squirm and fidget trying to get comfortable. The seats are short, flat, and sit 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. Head room is more than adequate, so the less-than-perfect second-row seat is likely due to its ability to fold surprisingly far forward for third-row access.

The most impressive feature—for families, anyhow—is the fact that the second row can slide fore and aft 5.5 inches, permitting easy 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 children, without enormous amounts of head room. The third-row seat back does adjust for rake, though, and overall the Pathfinder does a good job of trading off the incompatible goals of space, comfort, and access for all seating positions.

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 maxes out at 79.8 cubic feet with both the second and third rows folded forward. While that's a lot of room and competitive with most rivals, the Chevrolet Traverse has a massive 116.3 cubic feet of space. With all the seats up, the Pathfinder has only 16 cubic feet, which is barely enough for a family grocery run. Again, the Traverse beats it with 24.4 cubic feet.

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.

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8

2016 Nissan Pathfinder

Safety

Good crash test scores inspire confidence, but the Pathfinder lacks some of today's active safety systems.

While results from the 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 on our scale.

Nissan's seven-seat mid-size crossover is rated at five out of five stars overall by the 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.

The 2016 Nissan Pathfinder comes with a long list of safety features. The list includes six 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 on most versions of the Pathfinder, but a surround-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 SL and Platinum also get blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts.

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

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8

2016 Nissan Pathfinder

Features

While the Pathfinder is generally well equipped, it has an underwhelming media interface and lacks some modern tech features.

Nissan offers the 2016 Pathfinder in four different trim levels—S, SV, SL, and Platinum—each of which is available with front- or all-wheel drive.

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 7.0-inch screen with rearview monitor and rear parking sensors, keyless ignition, 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, heated first- and second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, a power liftgate, and remote engine start. The SL also comes with blind-spot monitors and rear cross-path detection. An SL Technology package adds Bose 13-speaker premium audio, a higher-resolution 8.0-inch display, navigation, an surround-view camera system, Bluetooth streaming audio, and trailer-tow prep, which can be specified separately on other models. Nissan's navigation system wraps in XM NavTraffic and NavWeather functions, a Zagat Restaurant Guide, voice recognition, and Bluetooth streaming audio. A Premium Package comes with the Tech Package equipment plus a dual panorama sunroof.

The top of the heap is the Pathfinder Platinum. That gives you the trailer-towing package standard, front-seat ventilation, navigation, Bose audio system, surround-view camera system, the navigation system, Bluetooth audio streaming, and voice recognition.

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 7.0-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, safety systems like adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning aren't 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 of the features available in the segment.

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6

2016 Nissan Pathfinder

Fuel Economy

Only V-6 power is offered, but the CVT helps make the Pathfinder fairly efficient.

The 2016 Nissan Pathfinder is EPA rated at 20 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined with front-wheel drive. Specifying all-wheel drive knocks that down to 19/26/22 mpg. The EPA has separately rated the Pathfinder Platinum when equipped with all-wheel drive at 19/26/21 mpg.

The Pathfinder offers just one powertrain. It pairs a 3.5-liter V-6 with a continuously variable 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 automatic 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.

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September 11, 2016
2016 Nissan Pathfinder 2WD 4-Door SV

Worst car I've ever owned

  • Overall Rating
  • Styling
  • Performance
  • Comfort & Quality
  • Safety
  • Features
  • Fuel Economy
  • Reliability
So I got the 2016 Pathfinder back in April because my car was toltaled in an accident and wanted something a little bigger. Haven't had the Pathfinder 5 months yet and i get the tire pressure warning. Ok, i... + More »
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Styling 8
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 9
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Features 8
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