by Gabe Beita Kiser
Is Nissan benchmarking its upscale rivals to make its regular SUVs better?

Though life in a dense city dominated by millennials rarely calls for mid-size SUV utility, the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder happened to land in our press rotation during a particularly busy week. Our previous go about with the Pathfinder was a short and sweet first drive down the winding hills of Carmel Valley, California, but after a week of mucking about on city streets, it was easy to realize Nissan picked the worst roads for first impressions. In short, it should have stuck with the suburbs.

While it does feature a selectable four-wheel drive system, every other piece of hardware tells us a much different story about where the Pathfinder is most comfortable. Memories of the old Pathfinder, a rugged-looking four-wheel drive rescue vehicle that was an adult Tonka truck first and a grocery-getter second, should be banished, replaced by bulbous lines carved out of plastic and thin sheetmetal doing a solid impression of a minivan. A bit of market research proved to Nissan that customers weren’t in love with the looks during the first redesign, so Pathfinder designers brought out the chisel and gave the front and rear end a bit more attitude by sharpening up the character lines.

With little stylistic bark, there’s no need for a supersize V8 to provide bite, so Nissan stuck a 3.5-liter V6 under the hood to push power to the front wheels, or all four if the driver wills it, channeling its 284 horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque through a CVT transmission. Before you scoff at the fact that modern transmissions are dead to you, let’s take a moment to talk about how far Nissan has come in this realm because though it weighs 2.5 tons, the Pathfinder rarely feels as if its taxing its V6 thanks to clever torque manipulation. This makes it so green light getaways don’t involve the drawn-out droning noise from the engine. Seasoned drivers will be able to spot the CVT’s fake gear changes in an instant.

But the unassuming? They’ll never suspect a thing. In fact, the entire driving experience fades into the background with Lexus-like smoothness both around town and on the freeway. Our top of the line Platinum spec brings the total up $11,805 over the $31,980 price of a base four-wheel drive model for a total of $43,785 (all excluding the $900 destination fee), but the package blurs the line between run-of-the-mill SUV and premium luxury experience by cocooning occupants with sumptuous leather, a heated steering wheel as well as toasted first and second row seats with the front captain’s chairs featuring bum coolers, Nissan’s updated but still somehow dated infotainment and navigation system, subscription services like satellite radio, and NissanConnect.

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