Explorer. Pathfinder. TrailBlazer. Scout. All these automotive model names, past and present, infer they can blaze their own trails. Back in the real world, those that have survived — including the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder — have grown quite civilized, offering the silky-smooth performance, luxury and refinement Americans want for the 99.99% of the driving they do on reasonably well-maintained pavement.
Of the midsize sport-utility vehicles we’ve driven, the Pathfinder — Nissan’s biggest SUV — is one of our favorites. Were we to navigate one into the wild, our desires might turn to the likes of the Jeep Wrangler or Range Rover. But for comfort and manageability on pavement, utility, people-moving prowess, ability to handle bad weather, and convenient placement of controls, the three-row Pathfinder ranks among the best.
The Pathfinder we tested was a top-of-the-line Platinum version with four-wheel drive. With options, its sticker price was $47,840 — not out of line for a dressed-up, near-luxury SUV. The base Pathfinder S, with front-wheel drive, starts at about $31,000.
Every Pathfinder comes with a 284-horsepower V-6 engine and a fairly unobtrusive continuously variable transmission. This package delivers 19 mpg city, 26 highway, with all-wheel drive. Fuel economy increases to 20/27 with front-wheel drive.
Entry-level Pathfinder models come well-equipped, but not quite so lavishly as our Platinum version. Among the features included at every trim level are satellite radio, rear-view camera, remote keyless entry, push-button start, tri-zone climate control, cruise control, and power windows and locks. The Platinum designation raises the Pathfinder to near-luxury standards, with leather upholstery, power heated and cooled front seats and heated second-row seats, heated steering wheel, power tilt-telescoping steering wheel, remote start, motioned-activated power liftgate, intelligent cruise control, blind-spot warning signal, rear cross-traffic alert, trailer-hitch receiver, power panoramic sunroof and roof rails.
The workings of the audio system, optional rear-seat entertainment system (for $1,700), and telematic features reflect what may be best about the Pathfinder — simplicity. One need not pore over manuals or experiment with the controls to operate these systems. Nissan did not over-engineer the car’s electronics. The same can be said of the car’s other controls, which are uniformly intuitive and often redundant.
Pathfinder sales typically range from about 80,000 to 88,000 per year. They’re lagging in the first two months of 2018 by almost 5,000 units sold, compared with 2017 sales figures. The Pathfinder competes not only with the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe and a number of other midsize SUVs, but with a number of Nissan models. Indeed, the big dog in Nissan’s SUV and CUV kennel is the compact Rogue — outpacing Pathfinder sales by 5-1.
The 2017 Pathfinder was rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and earned an overall vehicle score of five stars (out of a possible five) in U.S. government crash tests.
2018 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4WD
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 284 horsepower, 259 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: continuously variable automatic
Ground clearance: 7 in.
Weight: 4,662 lb.
Suspension: four-wheel independent
Wheels: 20×7.5-in. machined finish alloy
Tires: 235/55R20 all-season
Seating capacity: 7
Luggage capacity: 16.2 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 78.9 cu. ft.
Maximum towing capacity: 6,000 lb.
Fuel capacity: 19.5 gal.
Fuel economy: 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.