Nissan is in the midst of a massive product rollout, with the last of 10 all-new or completely redesigned products set to reach showrooms by next winter. The list is a diverse one, with classic sedans like Sentra, and even a new battery-electric vehicle, the Ariya. But the emphasis, in line with the times, is on SUVs.
The latest to get a makeover is the Pathfinder. And 35 years after its original debut, the next-generation utility vehicle is returning to its roots. No, that doesn’t mean a switch back to body-on-frame design. The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder retains its crossover-style unibody layout. But it adopts a more rugged look and gains a bit more off-road capability.
That’s something we at TheDetroitBureau.com had a chance to check out during two recent events, one navigating the new Pathfinder through backcountry Montana, another across the challenging trails set up at the Holly Oaks Off-Road Park, an hour’s drive north of Detroit. What we discovered was an SUV both more pleasant to drive on-road and more capable off-road.
There are other reasons to like the 2022 Pathfinder. For one thing, it ditches the buzzy CVT that was a frequent source of complaints about the outgoing SUV — and it makes the carryover 3.5-liter V-6 a lot more pleasant to drive.
Add an upgraded infotainment system and more high-tech safety equipment and Nissan is betting the Pathfinder makeover will not only hold its position in a crowded segment but gain some new momentum.
The primary influence for the 2022 remake was the original, 1986 Pathfinder, according to senior designer Ken Lee. This is no retro model, but those familiar with the old SUV will likely catch the way the new Pathfinder picks up on classic details like the chamfered grille and triangular rear windows.
Again, this is no retro-mobile. There are plenty of modern touches, as well, including the LED lamps and the now-familiar Nissan boomerang running light design, though here they’re “blockier” than on other recent Nissan entries.
The wheels have been pulled further out to the corners on the new Pathfinder, with a bit more sculpting to the body sides. There’s also a new, floating C-pillar which works well with the 2022 model’s available two-tone roof.
The goal may have been to give the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder a more rugged and aggressive appearance, but Lee was quick to stress that today’s buyers expect far more comfort and features than did SUV fans 35 years ago.
That translates into an increased use of soft-touch materials on all surfaces a passenger might come into contact with. And there are upscale options like semi-aniline leather, with seven different interior “environments” on the check list. The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder adopts a flat-bottom steering wheel and a floating touchscreen, with metallic accented shapes bookending the instrument panel.
The SUV comes in a standard, eight-passenger layout but a seven-passenger model with second-row captain’s chairs is available. So are a 10-way power driver’s seat and a tri-zone climate control.
Buyers can opt for a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, rather than the standard analog gauges, as well as a 9-inch color touchscreen placed high on the instrument panel. Pathfinder also gets an optional, 10.8-inch head-up display for the first time.
At a less high-tech level, Nissan wanted to make sure you and your passengers stay hydrated, whether out on the trail or while taking a cross-country excursion. So, it’s packed in 16 beverage holders. The use of a new e-shifter, meanwhile, opened up a large space in the center console for additional storage. All told the 2022 Pathfinder has 19.5 liters of cargo space, substantially more than the outgoing SUV. And the tailgate is now wide enough to slide in 4-foot-wide sheets of plywood or drywall and let them lie flat.
Power comes from a 284-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a new 9-speed automatic transmission replacing the unloved CVT used on the outgoing model. With 259 pound-feet of torque, the package is capable of pulling what Nissan claims is a best-in-class 6,000 pound trailer load.
The 2022 Pathfinder will be available in both two- and four-wheel-drive. And drivers will have the ability to control a variety of vehicle functions — including steering boost, throttle response and shifts — thanks to a seven-position Drive and Terrain Mode Selector.
The newly updated 4WD system draws more input from various sensors around the vehicle, Nissan claims, something that allows it be proactive, rather than reactive, anticipating potential traction problems and shifting torque to where it likely will be needed.
The 2022 model adds fuel-saving Idle Stop/Start functionality. As a result, the front-drive Pathfinder manages 21 mpg in the city, 26 on the highway and 23 combined. Surprisingly, the 4WD package actually boosts the highway rating to 27 mpg. The asterisk is the Platinum trim which cuts mileage back to 20/25/22.
Those who want even better mileage might be disappointed, however, to discover that Nissan dropped the hybrid drivetrain offered on the old Pathfinder.
Safety and Technology
The new Pathfinder offers up to three screens, as earlier noted. They’re large, well-positioned and easy to read. The Nissan Connect infotainment system can be paired with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, the latter also available in wireless form. The new SUV offers wireless smartphone charging. And there’s an optional, 13-speaker Bose Premium sound system.
The new Pathfinder gets a variety of safety-related features, such as the Around View Monitor that provides a birdseye view of the SUV’s surroundings, as well as optional ProPILOT Assist, a system that is claimed to make driving easier on long trips — though it officially still requires the driver to maintain hands on the wheel. Among other things, it links to Pathfinder’s optional navigation system and active cruise control and can automatically slow the vehicle during sharp curves or at freeway exits.
The Nissan Safety Shield 360 system adds other smart systems, including Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Blind-Spot Monitor and Lane-Departure Warning.
For those who actually will take the new Pathfinder off-roading, there’s also Hill Descent Control which works much like cruise control, albeit at very low speed. It allows you to focus on steering, rather than having to bounce your foot back and forth between throttle and brake.
The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder clearly boosts its off-road credibility. It handled pretty much everything I could throw at it during my run at the Holly Oaks Off-Road Park, colleague Larry Printz reporting very much the same observations during his time behind the wheel in Montana. That said, we didn’t take the Pathfinder to extremes like we might have with the original SUV. Among other things, it’s simply not outfitted for true trail crawlers, the 2022 model lacking such necessities as skid plates and locking differentials.
On-road, however, the new Nissan retains the comfort of the outgoing model and, if anything, appears a bit more nimble, especially when cornering, thanks to its nicely compliant suspension.
We’d both like a bit more power, especially when making high-speed passes. Though I didn’t have a chance to tow, my sense is that acceleration would fall into the sluggish category with a big load.
Travelers are certain to appreciate the upgrades Nissan has made to Pathfinder’s interior, and that’s especially true with the new infotainment system that seems faster and more intuitive to operate.
We’ll be watching to see what happens during the lifecycle of the new Pathfinder to see if Nissan might lift a page from the playbooks of competitors like Ford and Toyota, coming up with even more serious off-road trim versions of the new SUV.
The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder starts at $33,410 for the base S model with front-wheel-drive. The four-wheel-drive package starts at $35,310. (Add another $1,430 for delivery fees.) The top-line Platinum trim starts at $46,190 — climbing to $48,090 with 4WD.
The Pathfinder continues going up against some well-entrenched competitors, including the Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer. The base model Nissan carries a bit of a price premium compared to that Detroit SUV which starts at $32,675 for the 2021 edition. But it comes in well under the base $35,085 for the Toyota. But the content level of the Nissan appears to be richer than on those two competitors.
The question is whether it’s worth the price.
The original Nissan Pathfinder was a serious, go-anywhere SUV. In recent iteration it became just another family-hauler alternative to a minivan. While the 2022 remake isn’t a complete return to original form, it moves enough in that direction. It should satisfy those who need some moderate off-road capabilities, along with plenty of towing capacity, while still delivering a good on-road driving experience and plenty of space for passengers and cargo.