Okay, it’s no dune buggy, but churning through the soft, deep sand of an empty California beachfront property, Nissan’s 2017 Pathfinder proved that despite now sporting unibody construction, a CVT automatic and a whole electronics outlet’s worth of technology, it still has some vestigial remnants of the adventure-ready unstoppability that made the first-generation Pathfinder such a success in the mid-1980s. Certainly my leather-upholstered, woodgrain-trimmed Platinum test car was willing to go much further into the sandy wilds than I was, given the lack of any tow vehicles standing by to rescue me if I got stuck.
Certainly my leather-upholstered, woodgrain-trimmed Platinum test car was willing to go much further into the sandy wilds than I was…There’s no lack of competition standing by for the Pathfinder, however: In the mid-size three-row crossover segment the Pathfinder slugs it out with an imposing list of heavy-hitters. Nissan’s family adventure vehicle sells well in Canada, sitting in fourth spot for the first half of 2016 behind the Kia Sorento, Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer. In the U.S., where the numbers are bigger and the stakes are higher, the battle is tougher: There the Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Traverse, and GMC Acadia also finished close ahead of the Smyrna, Tennessee-built Pathfinder, and so did Hyundai’s Santa Fe, too, although its U.S. numbers muddy the picture by combining two-row and three-row versions.
In a such a competitive environment you can’t afford to rest on your laurels, and so four years after the current fourth-generation Pathfinder hit the market it’s been given a thorough mid-cycle makeover. To introduce the refreshed vehicle Nissan invited journalists to Carmel, California, which is how I ended up on a beach in Moss Landing, buried up to the rims in fine California sand.
Styling-wise, Nissan has aimed for a more rugged, SUV-like appearance, replacing the 2016 Pathfinder’s smooth, sleek front end with a new more deeply sculpted front fascia, a new grille, new hood, and new headlights with signature LED daytime running lights. At the back there’s a new rear bumper and taillights, and at the corners there are new 18- and 20-inch wheel designs. The changes are subtle if seen in isolation, but if you park the old and new vehicles side-by-side there’s no mistaking one for the other, with the 2017 Pathfinder looking decidedly more aggressive, yet actually achieving a better aerodynamic drag coefficient.
Under the hood, the 2017 Pathfinder gets a new version of Nissan’s 3.5L V6 engine, featuring direct fuel injection, electromagnetic valve timing control (e-VTC) and a tuned air intake system. The new engine produces 284 hp at 6,400 rpm and 259 lb-ft of twist at 4,800 rpm, up from 260 hp and 240 lb–ft of torque for the previous engine. The additional power knocks a couple tenths of a second off the 0–100 km/h time and produces stronger acceleration when passing or exiting corners. Certainly my test vehicle pulled powerfully on highway on-ramps. Preliminary fuel consumption ratings are 11.6 / 8.5 L/100 km (city/highway) for front-wheel drive models, a slight improvement over the 2016 Pathfinder’s 11.9 / 8.6 rating.