First drive: 2017 Nissan Pathfinder brings on the brawn

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Most of the changes to the 2017 Pathfinder's exterior are to the front fascia, hood, wheels, and rear fascia(Credit: Aaron Turpen / NewAtlas)

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We recently went to California to check out the 2017 Pathfinder, and gave it a quick spin. The real surprise, though, was in the new design for this SUV turned crossover and who wanted those changes. In Nissan's "Year of the Truck" campaign, its most recognizable CUV plays a surprising part.

To begin, Nissan laid out the Pathfinder's demographics. About half of all buyers are women (47 percent), the majority have kids (62 percent), and nearly all are under age 55 (77 percent). These are contrary to the midsize crossover segment, whose buyers are primarily male (60 percent), only half with kids (55 percent), and just over half are under age 55 (59 percent).

Given these demographics, it would seem contradictory that those buying the Pathfinder would request that it be "beefier" and have a more "truck-like" look. Yet that's exactly what Nissan says its focus groups wanted.

So that, in the 2017 Pathfinder, is what's delivered in this mid-cycle refresh for the crossover. Most of the changes to the exterior are to the front fascia, hood, wheels, and rear fascia. The soft lines of the 2016 model Pathfinder have been made more rugged.

The front grille now carries a more pronounced version of Nissan's "V-motion" design, with lines beneath and to the sides to create blank space to accent the look and make the grille appear larger. The bumper receives more sharp edges to toughen it up, and more square edges to the lighting finishes that. The bumper also sees a slight lift to give it a more angled approach.

Above all of that fascia change is a flatter hood, creating the appearance of a larger engine compartment and somewhat stronger fender lines. This is followed at the rear of the 2017 Pathfinder where larger lighting, a more pronounced and boxy look for the rear fender, and less accent to the hatch create a more SUV-like look for the crossover.

Nissan says that despite all of this blockiness and the more pronounced front end, the Pathfinder's coefficient of drag (Cd) has dropped to 0.326 from 2016's 0.34. That improves efficiency, which is further enhanced by the 2017 Pathfinder's updated engine.

The new 3.5-liter V6 has a more efficient air intake system, uses direct injection gasoline (DIG) for more efficient fuel use, and has electronically-controlled variable timing control for the valves. A new mirrored bore coating for the cylinders reduces friction to improve efficiency as well. This results in a V6 that outputs 284 horsepower (212 kW) and 259 pound-feet (351 Nm) of torque. That's 24 more horses and 19 more pounds than the outgoing V6 in the Pathfinder. This means better acceleration and "re-acceleration" (acceleration out of a curve). We noted this in our drive of the crossover, finding the better re-acceleration meant more confidence. It also means better towing, with the new Pathfinder being rated at 6,000 lb (2,721 kg) maximum when equipped, which bests most others in the midsize crossover segment.

Fuel efficiency in the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder remains the same, despite changes in the way the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests for the 2017 model year. The Pathfinder in its front-wheel drive configuration has received an EPA rating of 20 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway, and 23 mpg combined (11.7, 8.7, 10.2 l/100km). That makes the Pathfinder amongst the best in its class for MPG ratings.

To go with the improved fuel economy, Nissan also aimed to improve the driving dynamics of the Pathfinder. We noticed the improved road feel that is both more forgiving of undulations and tighter in steering and cornering. The 2017 Pathfinder is not necessarily a sporty crossover like some in the segment, but it's definitely more fun to drive than many.

Off the road, the Pathfinder is a more capable crossover than many might be as well, thanks in part to a new four-wheel drive system available on AWD-equipped models. Called "4X4-I," the system is not true 4WD, in that there is no locking low gear, but it is easier to use with a simple three-mode selector that swaps between two-wheel drive (front-wheel drive), auto-selection of AWD by the computer, and a driver-selected lock mode to lock the rear differential to send all torque to the rear during take-off from 0 mph. The latter is good for pulling boats out of a lake, towing, and other situations where maximum pull is required to get the rig moving.

During our short offroad stint in the Pathfinder, we found it to be good at medium-duty offroading, but noted that some features such as hill descent control, while very functional when the crossover is loaded with passengers, may not be as useful when towing. Outside of that, the Pathfinder has a remarkably solid feel when out on a dirt path and seems at home raising dust along the way.

We also noted that the interior of the 2017 Pathfinder has seen a few upgrades. These are minimal compared to the exterior and drivetrain changes, but still significant given that many buyers for this vehicle are planning to haul family around. Most noted was the addition of the second row's slide and tilt feature, to allow easier access to the third row. Nissan pulled from its Infiniti line to add the ability to slide and tilt the second row outboard seats for access to the third row without requiring removal of a child safety seat installed in that second row. Parents will undoubtedly find this feature extremely helpful.

Another addition is a motion-activated rear liftgate, which opens when a foot is waved beneath, and then closes again with the same motion – provided the keyfob for the vehicle is within a short range. This makes loading and unloading items easier.

In infotainment, the Nissan Pathfinder sees a new upgrade for the touchscreen offered in most models. This has the usual icon-based menus which Nissan introduced with the last major infotainment upgrade, but improves on that with smartphone-like gestures such as pinch and zoom. A new mic has been added for improved voice recognition and Bluetooth talking as well. The full suite of NissanConnect services are now available in some models of the Pathfinder too, giving access to Nissan's mobile app and web-based items such as map searching that can then be mirrored to the vehicle's navigation.

Finally, Nissan added most of its safety suite to the Pathfinder as standard equipment or available options. New for 2017 comes forward emergency braking, forward collision warning, and moving object decection with the AroundView camera system. These augment the already-available blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alerts, and adaptive cruise control.

The 2017 Nissan Pathfinder will be available in four model trims (S, SV, SL, and Platinum) with several upgrade options and packages availble for each. The 2017 Pathfinder enters showrooms in North America in September with a starting price under US$30,000. Nisan promises more pricing information closer to the sale date for the crossover.

Product Page: 2017 Nissan Pathfinder

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