Mountain Wheels: Nissan Pathfinder emphasizes size and versatility |

Mountain Wheels: Nissan Pathfinder emphasizes size and versatility

Totally redesigned just two years ago, the 2015 Nissan Pathfinder once again offers exceptional levels of versatility, fuel efficiency and full-size comfort for seven passengers. Pathfinder is available in 2-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive configurations, with all models powered by a fuel-efficient 260-horsepower 3.5-liter DOHC V6.
Nissan | Nissan

2015 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4x4

MSRP: $43,100; as tested, $44,865

Powertrain: 260-HP 3.5-liter V-6 engine, CVT automatic transmission

EPA figures: 22 mpg combined (19 city, 26 highway)

The Infinity level of refinement has indeed reached the Nissan Pathfinder, and if you’ve been away from it long enough to have missed the vehicle’s now 2-year-old, near-complete makeover, as I’ve been, you’re going to find one very different, very accomplished SUV.

The Pathfinder’s updates have produced a formidable if somewhat bulky mid-sized SUV with a real third row, an ample serving of approachable luxury and a more streetwise orientation — the vehicle’s long-ago days as a rugged weekend rock-hopper are long ago, and this vehicle’s definitely set up for more urbanized sport-utility applications.

It’s also the first full-size Nissan product I’ve encountered with a continuously variable transmission that made itself a little too obvious during full-throttle acceleration. Most drivers won’t mind, and they’ll feel that it’s a good fit with the 260-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, especially if it helps the car reach the 26 mpg highway figure the window sticker suggests.

I had both the Pathfinder and a new Mazda CX-9 at exactly the same time — both were a metallic brown color that Nissan calls Midnight Jade in its application — and it was indeed an interesting experiment in largesse and utility.

The 4,642-pound, unibody Pathfinder builds its prowess on its sheer size.

Both feature broad second-row seating that slides to provide actual access to a not-impossibly-small third row; Nissan’s setup is called EZ Flex and includes a latch-and-slide feature that allows the seats to be slid without dropping the backs — meaning child-safety seats can stay buckled in place. Both second and third rows recline, and the sliding feature means oodles of leg room for everyone involved.

If all of that strikes you as being more minivan inspired than rocky-trail-oriented, you’re right, though Pathfinder’s name still lives, lightly, in the spinning 4×4 selector knob — a hill-descent control button on the top implies some hills will or at least could be descended. An optional roof-rail system added to my Platinum-level test vehicle did provide just a tad of Xterraesque ruggedness, as well, as did some extended splash-guard mud flaps on the front and rear wheel wells.

Otherwise, the 4,642-pound, unibody Pathfinder builds its prowess on its sheer size, though that also means it doesn’t have a lot of issues towing up to 5,000 pounds of trailer, as well, with a wiring harness and hitch receiver standard on the Platinum model.

Braking, on the other hand, helps reveal all of the vehicle’s size, which I noticed on occasion, needing a little more effort to stop than I would have expected.

That said, you’ve got a ton of cargo space inside, 79.8 cubic feet with the second and third rows dropped, or 16 cubic feet in the very back if you’ve got a full house.

The design, especially the metric ton of chrome slathered on the nose, does seem a little soft compared with a more angular entry like the CX-9.

Pathfinder’s certainly round but strong up front, with those freaking gigantic headlamps and oversize fog lamps, plus even more chrome on the radiator inlet and even on the bottoms of the doors. At the back, the curious curve to the c-pillar and the very aggressive spoiler atop the rear glass do give the Pathfinder a somewhat unusual balance.

Indoors, the Infiniti-light treatment is in full effect, from the woody panels on the doors, console and center stack to the mix of genuine leather and nearly leathery looking plastic throughout — door tops, the dash and passenger-side airbag panel are all soft-touch, and the real stuff on the seats gets stitching to class it up.

Nissan’s navigation system is still awkward compared with others, with maps that suddenly drop important information as you scale out (like, roads, for instance), and the spinning Mason-jar-lid-style controller is still not entirely ideal. A mid-instrument color screen, would, I assume, display imminent threats coming as part of the cross-traffic and I-am-shoulder-checking-impaired safety warning systems. I’d still love a digital speedometer in all of that.

Other mixed pleasures included remote start and a remote-activated power liftgate; an (optional) aluminum sill plate on top of the rear bumper adds some more shiny appeal.

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