2017 Nissan Pathfinder Driving Impressions

Nissan says that 57 percent of the parts are new in the 3.5-liter V6, totally believable, with direct injection instead of port injection, electronic variable valve timing, new air intake system, and a mirror-bore coating process for the cylinder walls to reduce friction. Compression climbs from 10.3:1 to 11:1. It takes these kinds of changes to increase horsepower by about 10 percent, to 284, and torque nearly the same, to 259 pound-feet.

The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is unchanged, and we have mixed feelings on it. Nissan’s D-Step shift logic enables the CVT to mimic the distinct shifts of an automatic, which is good, as it removes most of the high revving of a CVT. But it’s sometimes slow to respond. When it’s been running casually at low revs for a while, and you suddenly need power, the CVT won’t quickly allow the engine to give it to you.

Which is a shame, because we like the new engine and want to feel it more. Nissan says it’s about .2 seconds quicker from zero to sixty, and we guess that time to be around 6.5 seconds, pretty quick for an SUV of this weight.

The suspension has been stiffened, with the front shocks 11 percent stiffer and the rears 7 percent stiffer. The front struts get rebound springs, and the rear rebound springs are 25 percent stiffer.

The changes work. The ride is still comfortable, and the handling is more controlled, as the new suspension reduces body lean a bit. The hydraulic-electric power steering is fairly quick and well-weighted, and it has decent on-center feel. There’s 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. Meanwhile, the system moves power from side to side, as needed.

The Pathfinder has less ground clearance than a Subaru Outback (whose CVT is the best), but it handles ruts with stability, while the locking center differential provides more traction offroad than most rivals.

It’s easy to forget the Pathfinder is a big SUV. It’s lighter than some rivals, and feels it. Pitch the Pathfinder back and forth on choppy roads, and it will respond with better control than some rivals. However the low-rolling-resistance tires on some models (intended to improve fuel economy), both 18-inch and 20-inch, don’t have the grip that the chassis can handle. And the firmer suspension adds road feel, in particular over bumps, which might not be universally enjoyed, but it’s never harsh.

Nissan concentrated on reducing vibrations and road noise, and the result makes Pathfinder better than some others in the class. The CVT still drones a bit.

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