Back in the day when flannel and grunge were in and the web was new, the Nissan Pathfinder was the 4x4 that many a country boy lusted after. Today, the Pathfinder has grown alongside that original audience, but a new refresh reminds us of those roots.

The past couple of generations of the Nissan Pathfinder have made it more family-centric and "safe is fun" oriented vehicle. We may not see a return of oversized plaid flannel fashion, but we're seeing a return of the Pathfinder many loved in the 1990s. The 2017 Nissan Pathfinder sees a more truck-like aggression in its design and under-hood muscle, while also packing safety upgrades and better fuel economy.

In a sense, the 2017 Pathfinder encapsulates what Generation X has become. We want (organized) fun, (managed) excitement, (mostly realistic) versatility, and to be able to bring the kids along. Safely. With towing and fuel economy. And a healthy snack to go with our Starbucks.

When we got a first look at the new Nissan Pathfinder, we were happy to see these aesthetic and underpinning changes to the SUV-cum-crossover. Now that we've spent a week in it, with kids and accoutrements, we still like the machine. We've also noted that the Pathfinder does have a few limitations. It's a competitive world, after all, and the family-sized crossover-SUV market is the bread and butter of many carmakers.

New for 2017 are some big-time upgrades for the Pathfinder. The engine is more powerful and also more fuel efficient, the towing capacity is greater, the bodywork is more muscular and truck-ish, infotainment is improved, and safety options and equipment are upgraded. Even the drive quality is very different from the outgoing generation of this storied utility vehicle.

A newly-vamped 3.5-liter V6 begins these changes, producing 284 horsepower (212 kW) and 259 lb-ft (351 Nm) of torque, upping the ante over its predecessor by 24 hp (18 kW) and 19 lb-ft (26 Nm). Most of that upgrade comes thanks to improved air intake, better fuel injection, variable valve timing via electronic controls, and a new mirrored-bore coating for the cylinders to reduce friction. This runs through Nissan's continuously variable transmission (CVT), which has become a staple in the automaker's cars and crossovers with mostly positive results.

Fuel efficiency improves despite these power boosts, giving the 2017 Pathfinder a 23 mpg (10.2 l/100km) combined rating in its front-wheel drive configuration and 22 mpg (10.7 l/100km) combined in its all-wheel drive option. The real-world economy from our week in the 2017 AWD model resulted in figures very close to those estimated, coming in at 21 mpg (11.2 l/100km) overall. This means that, despite the changes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made in its fuel economy estimating procedure, the overall economy of the Pathfinder has improved.

Also improved is towing. The 2017 Nissan Pathfinder is now rated at a beefy 6,000 pounds (2,722 kg). That figure covers most family-sized boats, hitch-ready RVs, and wilderness toys. When equipped for towing, the Pathfinder has trailer sway and other controls built-in.

A lot of crossovers in the midsize category today are aiming for an over-smooth look that tries to be European about aerodynamics. That might work for some, but many of us really want our crossovers to look more like the SUVs they used to be. Nissan's focus groups with Pathfinder owners and potential buyers found that not only are they less likely to be the usual target market for midsize crossovers, but they're also less interested in car-like exteriors.

Additionally, those who own a Pathfinder are far more likely to be female than the normal crossover-SUV buyer and are more likely to have kids still at home. They're also big proponents of beefier design and more capable appearances.

This all translates to more well-defined approach angles at the front and rear of the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder and to burlier fenders and a larger grille. The flat hood, sharper edges, and more straight edges on the rear hatch finish that muscularity. Somehow this too resulted in better aerodynamics for the Pathfinder, with Nissan saying it moved from 0.34 Cd to a coefficient of just 0.326. That's noticeable inside, we found, as wind noise is reduced with the new model.

With all of this nostalgic backpedaling, though, the 2017 Pathfinder still gains interior updates. Ergonomics are now a major expectation in midsize and larger crossover-SUVs, and the Pathfinder is still a little lacking in this area, with limited seat adjustment and not many places to stash devices and associated gear.

The driver's seat is nicely adjustable and firmly comfortable, but those outside of the average height/weight categories may find it a bit difficult to get comfortable for the long term. The second row, though, is one of the best we've tried, with a lot of adjustment and fore-aft sliding options. The fact that a child safety seat can be left in place while the outboard second row seats are slid forward and tilted to gain access to the rear is a big plus for parents. The third row, however, is really only suitable for children and teenagers. As a 6 ft 3-in adult, I found it difficult to even get into those seats, let alone want to stay there for any length of time.

One welcome upgrade inside the 2017 Pathfinder, though, is the infotainment system. It's now the latest Nissan has to offer, with a bigger screen and better graphics. Even the base model has an 8-in touchscreen with Bluetooth and HD/satellite radio, while moving up in trims and package options adds more connectivity and navigation. We drove the range-topping Platinum trim, which has all the fixins, including NissanConnect services and some phone app integration for music streaming and the like. Nissan's new interface is one of the better ones on the market today, with an ease of use that competes well against top dogs like Chrysler's Uconnect and Ford's Sync 3.

Speaking of technology, the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder now sees a lot of safety tech included or available, which should make parents happy. Standard equipment includes a full suite of airbags all around the cabin, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert (in the SL and Platinum trims), and NissanConnect emergency services with collision notification, emergency calling, and so forth. The Platinum trim can have a forward collision warning system that's similar to that found on the Murano and in the Infiniti line, looking under the car ahead to the car ahead of that and even further to anticipate traffic changes.

These changes to the 2017 Pathfinder are all good things. On the road, the chassis upgrades to go with the engine changes mean better handling and a more confident feel on the whole. Off the road, the Pathfinder still lives up to its near-legendary past in terms of capability, doing well in the dirt off the pavement. Serious four-wheel enthusiasts will still need to find a Patrol-based machine to get their kicks, but for the occasional off-roader who just wants to get the family to the more remote lakeside, the Pathfinder will definitely do the job.

In the very competitive midsize crossover market, the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder holds its own with a bit of a niche and a lot of improvement to appeal to its target market. It's a little more rough and tumble, a lot more useful, and a little less "meh" than it was before. It sets its sights on the Gen X crowd and seems to be hitting the target dead center.

In the US, the Pathfinder is priced from US$30,290.

Product Page: Nissan Pathfinder

View gallery - 10 images