First drive: 2022 Nissan Pathfinder SUV carves a straightforward path

The redesigned 2022 Nissan Pathfinder doesn’t pretend to be a performance SUV or aspire to be an electric tech dynamo. Instead, it excels at what it’s meant to be: a roomy three-row SUV with enough seating flexibility and towing capability to stand out in a crowded class. 

The base 8-seat 2022 Nissan Pathfinder with front-wheel drive costs $34,560, including the $1,150 destination fee. The starting price is about the same as the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot, but the Pathfinder comes better equipped. Only the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade top the Pathfinder in overall value when it comes to price and feature set. 

I tested the SL trim on the winding, wooded roads around Hell, Mich., towed a 5,200-pound trailer, and went off-roading at Holly Oaks ORV Park. The fifth-generation Pathfinder does everything well without standing out in any particular category.  

Same could be said of its attractive design. Nissan leaned on the original Pathfinder from 1987 with three slots that bridge the high-shouldered hood and steep grille. Standard LED headlights and daytime running lights point down a beltline that runs above round black-clad wheel arches. “Pathfinder” stamps the rocker panels in black cladding or available chrome that looks especially attractive covered in dirt, and it’s repeated on the billboard-like “Pathfinder” across the liftgate. There are five two-tone color options featuring a black roof that matches the tasteful and harmonious lower cladding. The design echoes enough truck-like cues to say, without mockery, “Let’s take the truck.”

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

Dimensionally, the 2022 Pathfinder doesn’t change much on the outside but the interior is far roomier and more flexible. It comes standard with eight seats or, for the first time, the Pathfinder can be had with captain’s chairs in a seven-seat configuration with a removable center console. Not only do the rear doors open wider, but all three seats in the second-row bench fit child safety seats that stay in place when you need to access the third row. Push a button on the seat top, and it tumbles forward. So simple, so good. The buttons won’t work if extra weight is detected in the seat, so a jealous sibling can’t eject their sleeping sibling. 

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

The third row fits two adults thanks to five additional inches of hip room versus the previous Pathfinder. Toe room can be tight with the second row all the way back, and head room was tight for one 6-foot-6 passenger, but it’s an impressive use of space, as it is everywhere else inside. Cargo volume behind the third row improves from 16 to 16.6 cubic feet, enough to stack four sets of golf clubs, according to Nissan, and a storage bucket hidden below the floor can stow the removable console. Vertical walls enable 4x8 sheets of plywood to lay flat with the second and third rows folded flat. 

Overall volume increases from 154 to 164.6 cubic feet, thanks to clever packaging that includes 16 cupholders and a storage console below the electronic gear shifter. 

The new gear shifter connects to a 9-speed automatic that replaces a continuously variable automatic transmission. There’s more low-end torque for towing, and more responsiveness overall off the line. 

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

Nissan hooked up a 5,200-pound trailer, short of the Pathfinder’s stated max of 6,000 lb, and I set off with plenty of confidence. I had no problem maneuvering the trailer, thanks to available all-wheel drive and the available surround-view camera system I would recommend for frequent towing.

But towing laid bare one of the transmission’s shortcomings that I also experienced unladen. Like a CVT, the higher gears of the 9-speed are tuned for efficiency. So when cruising while towing, or cruising at about 45 mph with no load, the transmission sticks to 9th gear. When I needed more immediate power from the 284-hp 3.5-liter V-6 to pass another car, I had to lay on the accelerator for several seconds or rapid click the paddle shifters to jump down to fourth, where there was ample power. 

In Tow mode I could understand its hesitancy, but in the other available modes, including Sport, it took some planning. It’s no deal breaker, because the upside outweighs the down. And it’s no CVT. 

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

Otherwise, the 9-speed shifts so smoothly and quietly that it’s almost imperceptible. Without a hybrid option, the broad spread of the transmission maximizes efficiency without requiring too much shifting around. It gets a respectable 23 mpg combined in either front- or all-wheel drive, except in the heavier Platinum trims.  

Nissan sealed the cabin off from road and engine noise so the only intrusion comes from the panoramic sunroof. The quiet was remarkable, even when the V-6 barks under a heavy foot. The Pathfinder carries its 4,500-pound average weight well, and the front strut and multi-link rear suspension absorb road imperfections well and limit body roll. 

For the adventurous, the Pathfinder’s all-wheel drive system ($1,900 more) handled off-road terrain with ease. Nissan calls it “Intelligent 4WD” due to its direct coupling that predicts front wheel slip, but without a locker or two-speed transfer case, we disagree. Still, in Mud/Rut or Tow mode, the system sends up to 50% of the 259 lb-ft of torque to the rear axle, then a limited slip differential routes the available torque to the rear wheel with more grip.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

On a muddy ascent, the rear wheels dug in right as I began to wonder if I would slip back. It nudged it forward, clambered over ruts, and I reached the peak, before letting hill descent control take over on the other side. It limits speeds to 6 mph, and lets the driver focus on the trail without needing to ride the brake. It has genuine off-road capability to hit the trailhead via an old mining road or to go deep into the hunting, fishing, or camping grounds, but we wouldn’t follow a Wrangler too deep off-road. 

In the other modes, the system tweaks throttle response and steering weight, and defaults to front-wheel drive unless it detects wheel slip. The selector in the console has firm detents so you’re not spinning the dial randomly or overshooting what you want (like in some Ford SUVs). 

For everyday use, the 2022 Pathfinder comes well equipped with standard safety features such as front and rear automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitors, lane-departure warnings, and automatic high beams. The available ProPilot Assist driver assistance only allowed for about 15 seconds of hands-free driving in my test run. In stop-and-go traffic, Nissan says the enhanced ProPilot system can stop for up to 30 seconds then resume without driver intervention. 

Other key convenience features include keyless entry on all four doors, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, a 7.0-inch digital vehicle info display that splits the analog gauges, satellite radio, cloth seats, and 18-inch alloy wheels. That’s a pretty good haul, but I liked the SL trim for about $6,000 more with its larger 9.0-inch touchscreen, wireless Apple CarPlay, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, and surround-view camera system.

There aren’t many compromises with the redesigned 2022 Pathfinder, and the one compromise—the 9-speed automatic—makes sense. It could be argued this is Nissan’s most important vehicle, and though it doesn’t blaze any new paths, it does a good job of satisfying what the three-row SUV shopper wants right now.

Nissan paid for a hotel overnight to enable us to bring you this firsthand report.

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