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The 2017 Nissan Pathfinder: Rugged, Efficient, and Fun to Drive
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The 2017 Nissan Pathfinder: Rugged, Efficient, and Fun to Drive

Back when the internet was new and flannel and grunge were trendy, the Nissan Pathfinder was the four-by-four dream car for a lot of country boys. At the moment, the Pathfinder has grown together with the initial audience, but a newly-launched refresh harks back to those roots.

The last few generations of the Pathfinder have transformed it into a more family-oriented and fun vehicle. We might not witness a return of the outsized plaid flannel style, but we are seeing a reappearance of the well-loved Pathfinder of the the 90’s. The 2017 Nissan Pathfinder features a more truck-styled aggression in its design and below-the-hood muscle, while at the same time squeezing in better fuel efficiency and safety upgrades.

In a way, the 2017 Pathfinder sums up the current nature of Generation X. We desire organized fun, controlled excitement, practical versatility, and the ability to bring the children along, safely, and without blowing our fuel budget. It should also come with good towing capacity. In addition, we also need to bring along a nutritious snack to complement our Starbucks.

When we had our first glimpse of the new Pathfinder, we were delighted to note the improvement in elegance and the underlying structure of the SUV/crossover. After spending one week in it, with children and various accessories, we still love the car. We have also observed that the Pathfinder has one or two limitations. After all, it is a competitive world and the family-rated SUV/crossover market is the lifeblood for many car manufacturers.

2017 sees many critical upgrades for the Nissan Pathfinder. The engine is more fuel-efficient and powerful, it has a greater towing capacity, the bodywork is more robust and resembles that of a truck, infotainment is enhanced, and equipment and safety options are updated. Even the quality of driving is quite different from the former generation of this illustrious utility vehicle.

The changes begin with a revamped V6 3.5 liter engine which generates 284 hp (212 kW) and a torque of 259 pounds per foot (351 Newton-meters). This is an increase of 24 horsepower and 19 pounds per foot (26 Nm) when compared to its predecessor. The majority of the upgrade is due to better fuel injection, enhanced air intake, variable valve timing through electronic controls and a newly-designed bore coating that reduces friction in the cylinders. This continues to the Nissan’s CVT (continuously variable transmission) which has become standard in the auto manufacturers crossovers and cars, with generally good results.

In spite of these power boosts, the fuel economy of the 2017 Pathfinder has improved, ensuring that the car attains 23 miles per gallon (10.2 liters per 100 kilometers) when using the front-wheel drive configuration and 22 miles per gallon (10.7 liters per 100 kilometers) when using the all-wheel drive option. The actual economy figures from our one week test in the 2017 AWD model produced figures that were very close to the estimates, giving 21 miles per gallon overall (11.2 liters per 100 kilometers). This indicates that despite the changes in the procedure of estimating fuel economy introduced by EPA Environmental Protection Agency, the overall fuel-efficiency of the Nissan Pathfinder has improved.

Towing has also improved. The 2017 Pathfinder is currently rated at a massive 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms). This figure is sufficient for hitch-ready RVs, family-sized boats and wilderness equipment. When fitted for towing, the Pathfinder has built-in controls such as trailer sway among others.

Many midsized crossovers today are searching for an extra smooth look that comes with eurocentric aerodynamics. That may work for some people but most of us like our crossovers to resemble the SUVs of old. The focus groups of Nissan that consisted of potential buyers and owners of Pathfinders discovered that they are not likely to be the normal midsize crossovers target market. In addition, they are not so much attracted to car-like exteriors.

Furthermore, those who own a Nissan Pathfinder are much more likely to be women than the usual crossover/SUV buyer and are more likely to have children still at home. They are also big fans of more robust design and more capable looks.

All this boils down to more clearly defined approach angles in the front and the rear of the 2017 Pathfinder and to a bigger grille and sturdier fenders. The sharper edges, flattened hood and straighter edges finish off the masculine look. In a way, this also resulted in improved aerodynamics for the Pathfinder, and Nissan says it changed from a drag coefficient (Cd) of 0.34 to 0.326 Cd. That is evident inside, we noticed, since the new model has less wind noise.

Even with all this nostalgic backtracking, the interior of the 2017 Pathfinder still gets updated. Ergonomics are now a key expectation in the midrange and bigger crossover /SUVs, and the Pathfinder still falls short in this area. Its seat adjustment is limited and there are not a lot of spaces to store devices and related gear.

The driver’s seat is pleasantly adjustable and solidly comfy but those who are not of average weight and height might find it hard to stay comfortable for the long haul. But the second row is the best we have tested, with lots of adjustments and front and back sliding options. A big plus for parents is that the safety seat can be left intact while the outboard seats in the second row are slid in a forward direction and tilted to make the rear accessible. Being 6 feet 3 inches tall, I found it hard to even slip into those seats, leave alone staying there for any period of time.

One refreshing upgrade in the Pathfinders interior is the infotainment system. It has now the latest system among all of Nissan models with better graphics and a larger screen. Even the base model is equipped with an eight-inch touchscreen with HD/satellite radio and Bluetooth. As one moves upwards in terms of package options and trims, more navigation and connectivity is added. We tested the top of the range Platinum trim with all the fittings such as NissanConnect services and a form of phone application integration for streaming music and so on. Nissan’s newly-designed interface is currently one of the best anywhere, with simplicity of use that rivals that of big names like Ford's Sync 3 and Chrysler's Uconnect.

In regard to technology, the 2017 Pathfinder now comes with many safety technologies incorporated or available, and this should make parents feel relieved. The standard equipment comprises of a complete suite of airbags throughout the cabin, cross-traffic alert (in the Platinum and SL trims), blind-spot monitoring, and NissanConnect emergency services with emergency calling, collision notification, and so on. The Platinum trim may come with a forward-collision warning system that resembles the one found on the Infiniti line and the Murano. It monitors up to three cars ahead so as to anticipate changes in traffic.

All these changes to the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder are great things. When driving on the road, the chassis upgrades that are accompanied by engine modifications ensure improved handling and a more confident feel overall. Off-road, the Pathfinder still lives up to its storied past and it performs very well in the dirt away from the pavement. Serious enthusiasts of four-wheel drive cars will still have to look for a Patrol-based car to get their thrills, but for the casual off-roader who is only interested in getting the family to an isolated lakeside, the Pathfinder is perfectly capable of doing the job.

In the ultra-competitive midrange crossover market, the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder acquits itself well with some niche and lots of enhancements to attract its target market. It is a bit more rugged, much more useful, and a bit less uninspiring than it was before. It targets the Gen X lot, and this approach seems to be right on the money.

The pricing of the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder starts at $30,290 in the US.

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