On the Road Review: Nissan Pathfinder Platinum

Nissan hit a very big pothole several years ago and has struggled to get its wheels fixed ever since. After firing longtime CEO Carlos Ghosn and charging him with multiple crimes, which remain unresolved, certain business practices combined to shade dealer practices and consumer confidence. Several key products had also been neglected. Since 2019, Nissan has lost one-third of its U.S. market share.

However, it appears that the brand has regained some of its direction. A new Frontier midsize pickup has arrived, spiking sales in a segment the brand used to be a dominant player in. The compact class Rogue Crossover has been redone and is now the brand’s top seller here, while the even smaller Kicks is doing well with the entry-level buyers essential to this brand. The compact Sentra sedan and the revived Versa have stemmed the bleeding from the Altima’s rapid decline (formerly the brand’s top seller nationally as a top-three sedan in the U.S. industry) while the venerable “Z” sports car returns this spring, with an all-new twin-turbo two-seater to battle Toyota’s new Supra.

And now we have a new Pathfinder three-row crossover, replacing another vehicle design that was left in the fruit basket too long. And this Pathfinder is very good.

The latest Pathfinder flashes aggressive new styling, almost returning to the rugged stance of the former two-row Pathfinder of over a decade ago. While still a front-drive-based wagon, the new Pathfinder— with S, SV, SL, and Platinum trims — uses a new nine-speed automatic transmission instead of the old CVT, while the AWD system employs seven selectable drive modes to improve both on-road and off-road performance. Buyers can choose between middle bench or twin captain’s chairs for up to eight-passenger seating.

Almost exactly the same size as the acclaimed Kia Telluride as well as the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, the latest Pathfinder slides in between these popular crossovers on price. S trim starts at $34,560 for front drive, while our sampled Platinum with AWD started at $49,184. Given the state of pricing today — with virtually no discounts — listed pricing includes destination charges, as those are apparently non-negotiable as well.

First impressions were a big Whoa! The handsome dash layout is a happy place from which to drive, with excellent controls throughout, upgraded finishing and details including a very comfortably sized heated leather steering wheel with electric tilt and telescoping action, plus the expected cubbies, pockets and bins for family life in a three-row crossover. The electric shifter is a take-off from BMW’s design — forward for reverse, toward you for drive, push the small piton for Park — while a large console knob engages the traction modes you desire.

The same 3.5-liter 284-hp V-6 from last year delivers strong power. The new transmission is a marked change from the flaccid CVT, creating more conventional mechanical sounds, yet the same fuel economy ratings — 20/25 mpg with AWD. We saw a steady 24-25 mpg in very mixed driving.

A slightly larger chassis layout improves ride dynamics and is apparently tougher than several rivals, as the max tow rating is 1,000 pounds more than most in this segment: 6,000 pounds. The cabin is hushed, the handling is secure and predictable if not quite Z-rated, plus visibility, cargo room and rear cabin comfort will please the vast majority of shoppers.

Many electronic driving assist features are standard on all models, with several others bundled into Nissan’s ProPilot Assist package. Luxury pieces include panoramic sunroof, 13-speaker Bose audio system, heated and cooled front seats with heated rear seats, rear sunshades plus 20-inch chrome wheels. LED lighting abounds.

Nissan, Ford, Volkswagen and GM have recently announced plans to spend billions on new EV assembly plants and EV battery plants in western Tennessee and Kentucky. Nissan’s Smyrna, Tenn., plant, where this Pathfinder is birthed, has already seen several expansions and is one of the largest auto plants in the world.

Twelve years ago, Nissan was the first automaker to bring an affordable electric car to the masses — the Leaf. While Tesla has reaped mountains of glory from its EV products, and surpassed most pundits’ criticism, Nissan has continued to build that Leaf (starting around $33,000). Although sales have never reached expectations, Nissan has learned much from the experience and should be well positioned for the next decade’s transitory move into EVs.

This Pathfinder will certainly provide some of the economic good fortune to get there, as Nissan returns as a real player in the large crossover segment.

Next week: Subaru Forester Wilderness Edition

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.

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