Review: The Redesigned 2022 Nissan Pathfinder SUV Is Newly 'Rugged' But Can It Compete In A Crowded SUV Landscape?
The Nissan Pathfinder has plotted an up-and-down course over the past 20 years, morphing from off-road-capable SUV, to three-row tow rig, to front-wheel drive crossover in quick succession. After this trio of personality shifts, a full redesign for the 2022 model year has arrived that seems to pull key characteristics from each of the Pathfinder's past lives to try and keep up in one of the most cut-throat slices of the automotive industry.
The new Pathfinder maintains the smooth, unibody platform of the previous model, but grafts on chunkier looks that reflect a renewed focus on all-terrain toughness and trailering competence. Being all things to all buyers is a difficult path to walk, and as with most sport-utility vehicles that make the attempt, there are compromises inherent in Nissan's reset approach to its strong-selling model. One thing's for certain: unlike its most recent ancestor, it's a lot harder to overlook the 2022 Pathfinder, regardless of whether it's parked at the trail head or sitting in the pick-up line at the local grade school.
Welcome Back, Pathfinder
Let's get this out of the way—the 2020 Nissan Pathfinder (there was no MY21) was no looker. Featuring anonymous, rounded curves that bulged and swooped in occasionally awkward, but mostly inoffensive ways, it was a design that was easy to forget in the sea of same-same SUVs sitting around its price point.
That all changes for 2022, with the Pathfinder adopting the previously-mentioned butch visage that makes the most of its mid-size proportions. Wheel arcs become arches, flabby fenders are now chiseled, and the downward-dog pose of its windshield and short front deck have been straightened and buffed to cut a more commanding profile. From almost every angle this is a more attractive vehicle, and one that is much better positioned to pull eyes away from leading lights like the Hyundai Palisade and the Kia Telluride.
Similarly, the interior of the Nissan Pathfinder presents itself better, especially in my Platinum trim level tester. Leather wraps itself around almost every surface your hands might come into contact, with the door panels, center console, and even the dashboard respectably detailed in terms of stitching and design.
The gauge cluster directly in front of the driver is easy to configure and provides legitimately useful information about the vehicle, while the octagonal infotainment screen pairs a series of hard buttons across the bottom to quickly access phone, radio, and navigation functionality. It's a good thing they're there, too, because I found that on-screen menu items often required multiple finger-presses before they would load up whatever settings or features I was hunting for.
Big And Comfy
Beyond its handsome looks, the Nissan Pathfinder's cabin also offers a pleasant blend of utility and comfort. It's not just the SUV's exterior that's gotten swole, as hitting the gym has also bulked up the vehicle's cabin. With the Pathfinder pushing out in nearly every dimension, those riding at the very back have a bit more room to stretch out, but it's the middle row that impresses the most, especially for larger adults. An eight-passenger configuration is available if you feel the need to fill the Nissan to the brim, but the version I drove featured a pair of plush captain's chairs in the second position.
My Pathfinder Platinum also featured an accessory cargo box grafted to the rear carpet, which proved useful for hauling groceries, but required a reach-over when loading a bigger box I needed to ship back to Amazon. Fortunately, it can be removed completely when it comes time to take advantage of the 80.5 cubic feet of total hauling space available under its roof with both rows of seating folded forward, a small two cube improvement compared to the older model.
Not Exactly A Rock-Crawler
Under the hood the 2022 Pathfinder carries over the 2020 edition's V6 engine, which delivers 284 hp and 259 lb-ft of torque from its 3.5L of displacement. Bigger news is the decision to scrap the continuously-variable automatic gearbox that past Nissan owners were subjected to in favor of a new 9-speed auto unit.
This is important for several reasons. For an SUV the size of the Pathfinder it helps reduce heat while towing (the vehicle's capacity remains at a stout 6,000 lbs with the towing package installed), and it also smoothes out acceleration and reduces drone from the engine being pegged to a steady RPM with the pedal down. I was impressed by the SUV's passing power and found that the 9-speed autobox stayed mostly out of the way while driving (although the automatic engine start/stop system was much rougher than that found in several competitors). Handling resembles the mid-pack of the mid-size family crowd, with the Pathfinder soft in the corners and supple over rough roads, providing an altogether peaceful and disconnected commuting experience.
The Platinum trim I drove also came with 'four-wheel drive' (front-wheel drive is standard). I place that in air-quotes because it's truly an all-wheel drive system that relies on a number of electronically-controlled terrain-specific modes to give it an edge when leaving the pavement behind. Nissan positions the Pathfinder as offering a link to its more focused trail platform, but you won't find any special shock absorbers, skid plates, or rock rails on this machine. Instead, you can dial in the drivetrain to deal with snow, mud and ruts, and sand, shifting torque from the front to the rear to deal with wheel slip as it's detected.
As a serious off-roader, the Pathfinder misses the mark, and won't make the lists of anyone who regularly heads into the back country. As a larger three-row hauler that can handle a muddy field or icy gravel road, however, the Nissan does the job. I piloted the SUV through a wet, slippery winter storm for over an hour with no traction or stability issues, and with the right tires it's a decent winter companion.
More importantly, the Nissan Pathfinder has regained some of its mojo—at least when it comes to visual personality and cabin design. Useful, a styling stand-out, and affordable (starting MSRP of $33,680, with my Platinum check in at just under $49,000), the SUV might not embody the 'Return to Rugged' tagline it has leaned on in its advertising, but it's certainly worth a much longer look than the previous generation.