Test Drive: Pathfinder is big, rugged, well-mannered

2017 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4X4
2017 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4X4

It’ll be worth watching the sales trajectories of the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder and GMC Acadia – midsize crossover SUVs headed in divergent directions. The updated Pathfinder is heavier and more powerful than its predecessor, while General Motors has downsized the Acadia. Which formula will appeal most to the American motorist?

We recently test-drove a front-wheel-drive Acadia that was lighter, more fuel-efficient and more nimble than its predecessor. It weighed about 700 pounds less than the all-wheel-drive Pathfinder we tested last week, while providing similar maximum square footage for cargo. Surprisingly, the muscular Pathfinder – sporting 284 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque – is only a little thirstier; each has a highway fuel-economy estimate of 26 mpg. The Acadia is rated at 21 mpg around town, compared with the Pathfinder’s 19.

In addition to upgrading the Pathfinder’s 3.5-liter V-6 from 260 to 284 horsepower, Nissan improved the infotainment system. Our Platinum edition test car featured navigation, voice recognition, satellite radio, two USB ports, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, streaming audio with Bluetooth, and NissanConnect telematics. The system responds quickly and reliably enough to appeal to young, tech-savvy people, while older folks like its relentless redundancy. For example, radio-station changes can be made via the steering-wheel control, the 8-inch touch-screen or an old-school dial located under the screen.

Our top-of-the-line Pathfinder had a sticker price of $44,685 – competitive in the near-luxury crossover sector. Its only optional equipment was a set of floor mats, listed at $225. Standard equipment on this trim level includes selectable rear-wheel, all-wheel and 4×4 drive settings; blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert; intelligent cruise control; heated and cooled front seats; heated second-row seats; heated steering wheel; remote start; motion-activated liftgate; rear parking assist; panoramic power sunroof; and towing package. The Pathfinder can tow trailers weighing up to 6,000 pounds.

Unlike the Nissan Murano we drove a couple months ago, the Pathfinder was not equipped with “NASA-inspired Zero Gravity” seats. The front buckets were on the firm side, as was the Pathfinder’s ride on 20-inch tires. 18-inch tires probably would soften the ride a bit without compromising handling, but they wouldn’t look as cool at curbside.

The second-row seats are softer, and knee room is ample. Side support, however, is lacking, and headroom is tight for tall passengers. Opting out of the panoramic sunroof likely would increase vertical space.

The seven-passenger Pathfinder is a big, rugged vehicle, but its road manners are practically indistinguishable from Nissan’s smaller crossovers. The ride is quiet, and the car corners competently. And power delivery via Nissan’s continuously variable transmission, arguably the best of its type that we’ve ever operated, is seamless and seemingly without limit. The Pathfinder is about 1 second faster, going from 0-60 in 7.6 seconds, than the base Acadia.

The similar 2015 Pathfinder was rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The 2017 model received an overall 5-star rating in government crash tests.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

2017 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum 4X4

Price: $44,685

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 284 horsepower, 259 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: continuously variable

Drive: selectable 2WD, AWD and 4×4

Ground clearance: 7 in.

Weight: 4,660 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 20×7.5-in. machined finish alloy

Tires: P235/55R20 all-season

Towing capacity: 6,000 lb.

Seating capacity: 7

Luggage capacity: 16 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 79.8 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 19.5 gal.

Fuel economy: 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway

Fuel type: Regular unleaded