2022 Nissan Pathfinder Review: Finally Competitive Again Thanks to Improved Everything

The fifth-generation 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is a breath of fresh air, with tons of space and a much-improved transmission. But will buyers come back?

byMar 2, 2022 12:50 PM
2022 Nissan Pathfinder Review: Finally Competitive Again Thanks to Improved Everything
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Nissan has taken some time in its post-Ghosn era to reflect on itself and address the, ahem, reputation problem that it's earned over the past few years. The all-new 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is an example of where Nissan sees its future headed, and if this is the path that Nissan has found itself on, I'm interested.

The Pathfinder has been re-introduced for 2022 as a slightly more rugged, tech-heavy family SUV with tons of room and a surprising allotment of upscale features. It leaves behind the bubbly stigma of the previous generation and arms itself with a better drivetrain to embody its go-anywhere spirit. Despite all of these big changes from the fourth-generation model, Nissan has truly redeemed the fifth-gen Pathfinder name enough to make its newest model competitive against its closest rivals.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder Specs

  • Base price (Platinum 4WD as tested): $34,905 ($51,395)
  • Powertrain: 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V6 | 9-speed automatic | four-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 284 @ 6,400 rpm
  • Torque: 259 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
  • Curb weight: 4,625 pounds
  • Seating capacity: 8 (7 as equipped)
  • Cargo volume: 16.6 cubic feet (80.5 with seats folded flat)
  • EPA fuel economy: 20 mpg city | 25 highway | 22 combined
  • Quick take: Nissan has given the Pathfinder the tools to get in touch with its roots again. Now in its fifth generation, the Pathfinder has a more rugged outward appearance with a spacious and tech-heavy cabin that makes it great for weekend trips where you need to haul all of your junk to a camping spot, or just for traversing bad roads with worse weather.
  • Score: 7/10

The Basics

Nissan has completely reworked the Pathfinder for 2022 in a much welcomed (and overdue) overhaul. Slotting in size-wise just below the almighty Armada, the Pathfinder offers family-sized room with rather premium appointments, essentially reviving an aging nameplate to actually make it competitive against other midsize SUVs. 

The SUV's new skin has been drastically modernized from the outgoing model. Gone is the mushy styling of the previous model, as Nissan worked to reshape the Pathfinder as a much more macho member of its SUV lineup. The automaker gave the Pathfinder sharper edges and a more chiseled jawline (complemented by LED headlamps and foglights), though it still does feel a little soft around the edges. The rear of the SUV is styled particularly well though, with wide lighting fixtures and overall well-balanced proportions. The new badging just ties everything together like a good tie clip does to a suit.

Inside of the Pathfinder is a plethora of premium appointments that really help to solidify the SUV as a luxury leader in its relatively modest segment. Love it or hate it, screens are here to stay, and Nissan thankfully gave just the perfect amount in this setup: a seven-inch digital gauge cluster and nine-inch touchscreen infotainment system, neither of which are overly obtrusive, plus a Head-Up Display.

Most materials are soft-touch, with a nice blend of stitching, geometric patterns, faux-brushed aluminum, and interior lighting to really make an impression. A quirky shifter sits atop the wide center console, offering a softball-sized gear selection mechanism and a dial to quickly adjust the vehicle's driving style. Even the flat-bottom steering wheel feels great, albeit out of place in an SUV. And yes, it's heated, just like the seats. Too bad it couldn't be cooled like them, too.

Now, remember that despite its new rugged(-ish) appearance, this is still very much a family vehicle. Plenty of interior space is to be had in the second row and just enough in the third to make it practical for small humans. The second row gets its own zone for climate control so it can be controlled without bothering the front seat passengers. And because Nissan loaned me the upper-trim Platinum Pathfinder, there are also USB ports (both A and C) and a standard 110-volt household outlet.

No matter which trim you choose, from the lowly "S" to the all-inclusive "Premium," the same 3.5-liter V6 shared with the Infiniti QX60 sits under the hood. That should sound familiar because it's the same powerplant from the outgoing model, which seems to be one of the few things Nissan didn't actually change. Nissan also pulled a new nine-speed transmission from its bag of tricks, which is a welcomed change we'll talk more about in just a moment.

Driving the Nissan Pathfinder

If you were to put on a blindfold and get behind the wheel of the outgoing Nissan Pathfinder and this new iteration (don't actually do this), it would be next to impossible to think that the two vehicles were related to one another. Despite the same engine living under the hood, nearly every driving characteristic has changed between the two models.

A hearty 284 horsepower sits on tap, ready to tackle whatever life can throw at it. The Pathfinder is peppy when driving around town, especially when its throttle response is adjusted in the selectable sport mode. It's also quite comfortable when on the highway thanks to its revised nine-speed automatic, though snapping down a gear to downshift could happen a bit more quickly and smoothly. Nissan made a good decision to ditch the CVT transmission found in the fourth-generation Pathfinder in favor of a nine-speed automatic sourced from ZF, and it's perhaps the single largest change that affects the way that the Pathfinder drives when compared to its previous generation. There's now plenty of life behind the pedal, which is appreciated by me and plenty of others who aren't exactly welcoming the CVT overlords with open arms.

This isn't a race car, though. And it certainly isn't the first thing I'd pick to take off-roading on a rocky trail. Instead, the new Pathfinder enjoys greener pastures.

But seeing as the test car came in the Platinum 4WD trim, I couldn't just pass up the opportunity to put those extra two drive wheels to the test. So I decided to take advantage of Pennsylvania's wintery landscape and see how it would tackle a more tame scenario. To my surprise, it actually handled both uneven terrain and snow-covered landscape quite well. I had to drive the Pathfinder over snow-covered and icy terrain to snap the photos you see above, which it was able to do without a problem in its Snow Mode, which yes, actually does something. Nissan says that switching to Snow Mode increases steering weight, locks 4WD from a standstill, and uses a higher gear ratio and less-sensitive throttle to control wheel spin. I'm happy to say that it worked quite well, so perhaps a little bit of the original Pathfinder's ancestral spirit still lives on.

Let's be real—if you're picking up a Pathfinder, most of your time is probably going to be typical daily driving stuff like commuting to the office, going to the grocery store, and maybe picking up the kids after school. And for that, you want to be comfortable. Nissan has massaged some magic into the SUV in order to smooth out all of its rough edges and make the driving experience rather enjoyable. For example, the Pathfinder's revised suspension is really good at soaking up bumps and road noise is essentially non-existent (especially when bumping the Bose sound system). Around-town steering is also light with just a little bit of heft introduced when taking long, sweeping turns, which the Nissan actually does quite well at speed with very minimal body roll. If I had to sum up the Pathfinder's overall normal driving experience in one word, it would simply be "neutral," but don't you dare confuse that will "dull."

The Highs and Lows

The Pathfinder is extremely roomy, and it makes great use out of the space that it has. The front cabin feels rather premium, especially with all of the modern appointments and screen real estate. The second row has more than enough room for two adults, and the hip dual-seat configuration makes it feel even more upscale than the option of a center bench, which you actually have to equip in the Platinum trim (versus being offered as standard in the SL and below). But the best compliment I can give the Pathfinder is just how easy Nissan made accessing the third-row via a single button press. I recently drove the Kia Carnival as well, and while I admire the minivan's luxury captain's chairs, the Pathfinder—a three-row SUV—made it way easier to climb into the third row than the dedicated people-hauler. 

A second button on the bottom of the seat can be used so you don't have to reach into the third row., Rob Stumpf

Folding down all the seats also gives an impressive amount of hauling room. I was able to fit three locking cabinets in the back of the Pathfinder with no problem, and I could pop open the tailgate with a quick kick under the rear bumper. And if you still need a little bit of extra dry storage, there's a rugged bin hiding under the rear carpet... just remember that before putting the heavy stuff on top.

Most of the gripes that I had with the Pathfinder were actually technology-based. For example, the infotainment system is brand new and already feels like it has an outdated user interface—which isn't really a problem if you're an avid Apple CarPlay or Android Auto user, but still rather disappointing to see in 2022. The parking sensors were overzealous, wireless charging was hit-or-miss, and activation of the lane-keeping system was inconsistent (but it did work well and center appropriately when it was active). For some reason, the Pathfinder seemed committed to giving me a heart attack whenever I used the auto brake hold: it inched forward ever so subtly multiple times when the hold was active and I wasn't touching any pedals or the steering wheel. It's a very slight bump in movement but is certainly enough to wake you up when you're not expecting to move.

Interior fit and finish is where the Pathfinder starts to fall short. This is most notable when you accidentally press on the wrong piece of trim with your finger or lean against the wrong panel with your leg and you start to hear all of the creaks and rattles hiding in the plastic. If you're feeling dismissive about this criticism, I'll say that it's not like these noises will just vanish after 70,000 miles. Here's a quick squeak test to show you exactly what I'm talking about. 

Another pain point that will almost certainly show with age is Nissan's obsessive use of piano black inside and out. I know it's something that gets brought up a lot in many reviews, but it's just such a terrible trend that can't depart fast enough. Most egregiously, the exterior has a similar glossy finish on the B- and C-pillars, and at just a hair over 4,000 miles, the loaner was already showing swirl marks 

Nissan Pathfinder Features, Options, and Competition

Buying the Platinum 4WD means shelling out an additional $14,680 on top of the price of a base front-wheel-drive Pathfinder S, or an extra 44 percent increase over sticker price. But the differences in luxuries are worth it.

Basic features like remote engine start, fog lights, and a power liftgate are all absent on the base model—as are a number of other power features, ambient lighting, and the first and second moonroofs. The Platinum trim means the driver assistance systems get a huge bump. The base model has merely blind spot warnings, whereas the Platinum also backs traffic sign recognition, 360-surround view camera (which I used quite a bit to navigate tight spaces due to questionable rear-quarter visibility), lane-keeping, and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go. You can see all of the intricate differences here to better make your decision.

When fully equipped, the Pathfinder becomes a pretty competitive three-row midsize SUV in a market of beige blocks and blobs. However, the reputation of both Nissan and the Pathfinder doesn't exactly push the Pathfinder to the top of an average shopping list, especially when options like the Kia Telluride and Toyota Highlander exist.

The Telluride has arguably better styling both inside and out (though I'd argue that I prefer the appearance of the Pathfinder to the Telluride's sibling, the Hyundai Palisade). It feels more macho, more modern, and squeezes out just a bit more power with a smoother-shifting transmission. Meanwhile, the Highlander also exists and caters to those looking for a bit sportier getup, though that means a less upscale interior for the Toyota. It also offers a hybrid, which neither the Pathfinder nor Telluride have batted an eye at. The Pathfinder adds a bit of a zinger on top of its ruggedness here, because—despite its dip in power—it adds an extra 1,000 pounds of towing capacity over the Highlander.

Sustainability

The Pathfinder mileage ratings actually fall closer to the top-end of SUV fuel economy for non-hybrid SUVs. It very much feels like Nissan missed an opportunity to lead with an electrified powerplant in the Pathfinder, though. With the exception of the Highlander hybrid, not many three-row midsize SUVs are set up with a hybrid drivetrain, which perfectly positioned Nissan to offer a more efficient setup in the new Pathfinder to really drive home a competitive product offering, especially as automakers are all rushing towards electrification.

via EPA

The Pathfinder also isn't named in Nissan's 2021 sustainability report outside of its inclusion of emergency braking. It does mention the Smyrna, Tennessee, assembly plant where the Pathfinder is built, noting that Nissan is working to reduce its use of volatile organic compounds emissions. Then again, one doesn't typically buy an SUV to save the environment, and the three-row Pathfinder is no exception to that.

Value and Verdict

I made it my goal while driving the Pathfinder to not look at the price until the end of my time with it. After a few days, I had a number in my head of "around $60,000" based on similar vehicles and the SUV's premium appointments. I visited a few friends during my time with the Nissan as well, and when I asked them how much they thought the Pathfinder cost, their minds jumped to the same number. Imagine my surprise when it came in at $48,090 before add-ons and destination fees. Considering how well outfitted the interior was, I'd actually consider the Pathfinder a pretty reasonable deal. It's a little more expensive than the Telluride (if you can find one) and a little cheaper than the Highlander. 

Despite its flaws, the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is a damn good truck (and I say that knowing full well it's a unibody). It proves that a daily driveable SUV can be fairly rugged while still packed with tech and interesting tidbits that make it enjoyable to drive. It's great on the highway, can haul the kids around, and is large enough to move all of your junk in a pinch. It really feels like Nissan is trying here. The Pathfinder isn't the same old boring box-on-wheels that you'd expect when thinking of the nameplate, and that's a feat in itself. But to make the truck really worth your money, it's almost a necessity to spend the extra money on a higher trim to really cash in on the improvements.

Got a tip or question for the author? Contact them directly: rob@thedrive.com