It's a truck! A crossover! A truck! No, it's the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder

By Paul Borden

(October 11, 2017) A few years back I had a friend who said the reason she had bought her Pathfinder was because she had decided that if she was going to buy an SUV, she wanted a real, truck-based SUV with body-on-frame construction, not one of the new unibody crossovers that were just coming onto the market.

Like she was going to go rock crawling or drive it up a mountain or something. Right.

I don’t remember what year that was, but considering the time frame here (sometime in the early 2000s), she may not have gotten what she wanted.

Unless she had bought an older, used model from the Pathfinder’s first generation (1987-95), she just may have gotten the crossover SUV she was trying to shun. That’s because for its second generation (1996-2004), Nissan switched the Pathfinder to a unibody platform.

Or maybe my memory is such that this actually came up later than I recall and she got a third generation (2005-12) Pathfinder, which was back to body-on-frame.

Does Nissan have trouble making decisions? Well, yes and no.

Frankly, though, unless she really was going to take an off-roading adventure, my friend probably was better off in the crossover version of the Pathfinder. It has all the hauling capability of the truck-based model while providing the kind of smooth ride and handling that I suspect she is used to.

Nissan moved the Pathfinder back into the crossover genre in 2017 for its fourth generation. Following that makeover, it has added several new features for 2018 some of which are standard —  Automatic Emergency Braking and a Rear Door Alert system that lets you know if you have left a package, pet,  bottom of milk, or child in the backseat after you have turned off the ignition and left the vehicle.

The Rear Door Alert system is one of the best innovations I have seen recently. It works simply enough. If you have opened the rear door prior to driving to put a package, pet, bottle of milk, or child in the backseat but haven’t opened the rear door at the end of your trip, it alerts you to the fact that you might have forgotten something (like a package, pet, bottle of milk, or child) if you leave the vehicle without opening that door.

After making its debut on the 2018 Pathfinder, it will be made available later on other Nissan models. The system can be turned on or off, though that would seem to defeat its purpose.

That the system is standard may be what the Pathfinder needs to set it apart in what is a very crowded midsize SUV segment with offerings like the Honda Pilot, the Toyota Highlander, and new Volkswagen Atlas, not to mention Nissan’s own Murano, all competing for buyers’ attention.

The Pathfinder also offers three-row seating for up to seven passengers with a decent amount of space behind the back row for storage. It’s kind of a pet peeve with me that engineers would design an interior to hold that many people and then not give them any room for their stuff.

If you need more cargo capacity than the 16 cubic feet behind the third row, you can fold that back row and capacity is boosted to nearly 48 cubic feet. For really big hauls, nearly 80 cubic feet is available with the second row folded as well.

Nissan offers the Pathfinders in four models starting with the base S followed by SV, SL, and Platinum trims.

All come with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that got a power boost for 2017 up to 284 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque. The only transmission offered with either standard 2-wheel or optional  4-wheel drive is a CVT (continuously variable transmission) that functions as an automatic.

I’m not a big fan of a CVT, but Nissan, generally recognized as the first mainstream company to go with the technology in a big way, has refined it to the point where I can live it.

CVTs are supposed to provide better fuel economy, and that is reflected in numbers for the Pathfinder of 20 miles-per-gallon city, 27 highway with FWD and 19/26 with AWD. clocked the 2017 Pathfinder going from zero to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds. Towing capacity is cited at a hefty 6,000 pounds.

I found the ride comfortable and quiet with little to no wind noise, and features like the navigation system — optional on SV models and standard on SL and Platinum editions — are fairly easy to operate. NissanConnect, which features automatic collision notification, emergency call and stolen vehicle locator, and other customizable alerts, also is standard on SL and Platinum models, optional on SVs.

Consumer Reports recently included the Pathfinder on its list of 10 vehicles as the worst for visibility, citing its small back windows and the head restraints on the back rows as major factors. But, as with lots of things the magazine dives into when it comes to automotive vehicles, I find the criticism overwrought.

The Intelligent Around View system (standard on the SL and Platinum models) helps alleviate visibility issues when parking, and setting the mirrors right eases the issue when at speed.

The 2018 Pathfinder S with FWD starts at $31,765 including the $975 destination and delivery charge and the top-of-the-line Platinum with AWD checks in at $44,985. That’s well within line of its competitors as well.

What I liked about the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder Limited: The list of standard equipment on the lower trims is fairly extensive. It’s nice to see that Nissan didn’t keep the Rear Door Alert system just to the more expensive models.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder Limited: I am not a big fan of CVTs, but that’s what you often have to live with with Nissan vehicles.

Would I buy the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder Limited? I’d give it a good look, but with so much competition, I’m not sure where I would wind up. If I didn’t need a third row of seating, which I personally don’t, I’d likely go for the Murano.