While preparing to write this story, I looked up big events from 1986, and man, a lot of consequential stuff happened during that year.
To wit: the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up in mid-air, a Soviet nuclear reactor melted down in Chernobyl, Halley’s Comet passed by Earth for just the second time in the 20th century, the Phantom of the Opera debuted in London’s West End and The Oprah Winfrey Show made its debut.
And those are just some of the top-line items I came across. And yes, I was alive in 1986 – a spry 14-year-old excited to start high school.
While not as monumental as a nuclear meltdown, or an exploded space shuttle (will never forget watching that tragedy unfold on a TV in my eighth-grade science class), or the beginning of Oprah’s superstardom, Nissan’s launch of the first-gen Pathfinder was a significant automotive milestone. More than 186,000 units have been sold in Canada alone.
Thirty-five years on, despite declining sales brought on by the pandemic and an aging fourth-gen model, the Pathfinder remains a core model in Nissan’s lineup and the all-new 2022 version marks the beginning of its fifth generation.
To reset, the Pathfinder is a three-row seven or eight-passenger mid-size, gas-only SUV that is assembled in Nissan’s sprawling Smyrna, Tennessee plant. The 2022 model is powered by a carryover 3.5-litre V6 engine with output that is unchanged from the fourth-gen (284 hp / 259 lb-ft.), but it is no longer mated to a CVT. Nissan has replaced it in the new car with an all-new nine-speed automatic which offers ‘direct response and better performance’ in several driving conditions, including from a standing start, during acceleration, and off-road. It also delivers better fuel efficiency and driving comfort, according to Nissan. As was the case before, one powertrain is used across the model range (S, SV, SL, Platinum), and 4WD is standard for all models sold in Canada, as is Nissan’s suite of safety kit, Safety Shield 360.
Dimensionally, the new Pathfinder is built on the same Alliance D platform as its predecessor and rides on an identical wheelbase, but the new car is 15.2 mm wider, 7 mm taller and has a 30.5 mm wider track but is shorter overall (- 21.7) than the outgoing model.
For the first drive event, which was staged last week in and around Kingston, Ontario, Nissan Canada gathered a colourful group of range-topping Platinum production units for a group of auto journalists to sample. Seeing a row of shiny Pathfinders assembled at the rear of our hotel, I was struck not only by the pretty colour combinations on display, which included several two-tone options, but the car’s more rugged appearance.
Unlike the rather anonymous styling of its predecessor, the 2022 Pathfinder sports a much bolder look. Its silhouette is boxier, with squarish proportions that Nissan says is meant to exude a more rugged, muscular feel. The design team was inspired by the first-gen Pathfinder and incorporated some if its design cues into the 2022, such as a diagonal C-pillar, fender blisters and a functional three-slot grille that carries forward Nissan’s familiar V-Motion shape.
LED lighting is standard on all corners, which one would expect on a new car these days, but the design touches that stood out for me, apart from the Easter eggs mentioned, were the big 20-inch wheels (standard on Platinum, optional on SL) along with Nissan’s new logo and Pathfinder word marks stamped into side rocker panels and stretched prominently along the liftgate. These are bold touches that give the Pathfinder a more premium feel, in my view.
As for the interior, I’d say the improvements fall primarily into two buckets: tech and utility/comfort.
On the tech front, it’s hard not to focus on the vast amount of screen area that’s being deployed here. If one opts for Platinum, like my Scarlet Ember / Super Black tester, the three available screens encompass 32.1 inches. The breakdown is as follows: nine-inch multimedia touchscreen, 12.3-inch configurable instrument cluster, and 10.8-inch head-up display (available with SL Premium package and Platinum grades). Other tech highlights include standard Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay, Intelligent Around View Monitor, up to six USB ports distributed evenly among each row, Wi-Fi and a 120-volt power outlet in the second row.
On the utility/comfort side, Nissan has filled the Pathfinder with useful touches. Generally, these are what one might call ‘quality of life’ features that are designed to make the Pathfinder more user-friendly. Among these are wide-opening doors, rear-door Intelligent Key access which can unlock any door with one touch, three-across car seat capacity in the second row, and standard EZ FLEX one-touch release fold/slide second-row seating with push-button activation (driver and passenger-side).
The Pathfinder also has 16 beverage holders, a bench / Captain’s chair option for second-row seating, Semi-aniline quilted leather seating, heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seats, and Tri-Zone automatic climate controls, among other features.
Regarding space, the Pathfinder is voluminous. Whether it’s up front with a bridge centre console that has 13.4 litres of storage below the shifter, the storage shelf above the glove box, or its 470 litres of cargo space with third row seating upright, the Pathfinder has loads of storage. Put it this way, if you need to lug a 113-litre cooler, four golf bags or six suitcases, this car has you covered.
And if you start flattening those second and third row seats, the space gets huge with 2,279 litres of cargo volume available that can carry a 4-foot (1,220 mm) sheet of plywood flat on the cargo floor. And if you need to tow, the Pathfinder stands ready with a 6,000-pound maximum towing capacity.
Fine, you may be asking, but how does this thing drive?
Quite well. During my day of driving, in which time I put about 300 km on the odometer, I found the Pathfinder to be a pleasing mid-size hauler. The 3.5 V6 isn’t a neck-snapper, but acceleration is good for a vehicle of this type, and there’s plenty of power in reserve for the cut and thrust of everyday driving.
I really like the switch to a conventional automatic transmission, where the gearing is more responsive and easier to modulate depending on one’s driving style. Road feel, generally, is quite good. More responsive thanks to suspension stiffening, and quieter in-cabin thanks to liberal use of sound insulation and acoustic front and side glass.
Off-roading was brief, but this Pathfinder is much more capable than its predecessor. Nissan’s new seven-position drive and terrain mode selector provides more options for terrain management, with the system adjusting throttle response, VDC (vehicle dynamic control) tuning, steering effort and 4WD torque split. The latter is a front-biased system, but up to 50 percent of maximum torque can be sent to the rear axle.
I sampled several settings, including standard, sport and mud / rut and found the system did a good job of matching the Pathfinder’s driving dynamics to the terrain. The hill descent control was on point, too.
Apart from the improved driving dynamics and sharp styling, the Pathfinder’s interior is a real standout for me. Not only do trim materials and finishes look and feel great to the touch, but everything is blessedly easy to use and well laid out. The digital instrument cluster, which is like the one in the all-new 2021 Rogue, is beautifully rendered and easy to configure. Same goes for the nine-inch multimedia display.
Generally, I think Nissan has really nailed it here. In the product presentation, Nissan reps made clear the new Pathfinder had to deliver for families, the vehicle’s target demo. They said they wanted it to be more rugged and capable, but it needed to be more comfortable, with more utility, connectivity and flexible storage options.
And they have done exactly that, while at the same time paying tribute to the Pathfinder that started it all way back in 1986. Well done.