Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whateverThe Autance's
writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder.
This is the third three-row SUV I've had the pleasure of reviewing, following the sporty Mazda CX-9 and the ultra-sexy Audi Q7. Just call me a cool soccer mom...even though I'm not even a mom. (Yet?) But when I got into the Nissan Pathfinder for the first time, I felt a bit of a connection. Nissan, as a carmaker, is pretty close to my heart; I've been driving a Sentra, my first car, for the last 12 years. My Sentra has proven to be, over time, probably the best first car I could've had—just enough space, minimal power (thus removing any temptation to drive recklessly), and a comfortable interior with innovative-for-2007 technology. (When I was 16, my friends were all blown away that I didn't have to insert a key to start the car and that I could talk on the phone through the car's Bluetooth.)
Nostalgia aside, the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder is a very different vehicle than my old Sentra, and it serves a completely different purpose—so it deserves to be judges on its own merits.
The Pathfinder, at first glance, looks like the most basic seven-seater crossover on the road. (The fact that it's been around with few changes since 2012 doesn't help.) To see if this seemingly-ordinary SUV had any fun quirks about it, I took the Pathfinder on a journey to upstate New York to put some miles under its wheels.
- The Pathfinder isn't extraordinarly engaging to drive, but it works well for what it is. The V6 in the Pathfinder provides decent power, but the CVT is a detriment to the otherwise-great engine,sucking away any potential fun. Still, my passengers and I never felt concerned about cutting someone off while merging onto the highway.
- Another item ranking high on the "good, if not great" list: the interior. The seats are comfortable, the buttons are easily accessible; and the steering wheel moves to make room for you when sliding in and out of the driver's seat, which is a nice, luxurious touch.
- It's easy to maximize space inside for multiple passengers behind the driver—the seats fold down flat with ease. The second row moves smoothly forwards and backwards, to maximize leg room between the rows, and those seats recline as well. Plus, you'll never be confused as to which lever to pull to move the seats; at the base of the seats in the second row, there's a lever with "CARGO ROOM" printed on it in massive letters.
- The technology that the aging Pathfinder does have works well, such as the blind spot warning system. Rather than having warning lights on the side view mirrors, they're inside the car, right at the base of the A-pillars. It's perfect for a driver with good peripheral vision. No head-whipping-back-and-forth necessary.
- Typically, when there is a small graphic of your car between two lines on the instrument panel, it's there to indicate that the car has lane keep assist; the picture represents your car sticking between the lanes on the highway. But while my Pathfinder had an image like that on the IP...there was no lane keep assist. Rather, the image is designed to alert you to any open doors....which seems a little pointless to look at when you're driving.
- I'm a big fan of sunroofs, specifically the panoramic variety. Before setting foot in the Nissan Pathfinder, I thought, this car is pretty large, and it's the top-of-the-line Platinum trim, so it must have a panoramic sunroof. Nope. Instead, there's a small sunroof in the front for the driver and front seat passenger, which can be exposed to the light manually via sliding the cover back, and then has a button for tilt. In the back, there is a second sunroof that stretches from the second to third rows, fully button operated from the front seats. A small quibble, maybe, but I couldn't get past how ugly that foot-long section of headliner between those two sunroofs was.
- The steering wheel is a weak point of the interior. It's disproportionally small for such a large vehicle, feeling very thin in your hands. It's awkwardly shaped as well, with a lot of open space above the center. On top of that, the control buttons on the sides are very small and close together. It works fine enough, but overall, it seems like a recycled wheel from a much smaller vehicle.
- The controls and gauges seem outdated—and haven't aged well. There's a huge, old-fashioned button for the trip-odometer above the gauges, right in the driver's view. The gear indicator letters next to the shift knob look as though they date back to the first generation of the Pathfinder in 1987. And, believe it or not, it still has a CD changer. Does anybody even use CDs anymore?
- I could go on with the laundry list of the details that date this Pathfinder, but I noticed the one I found funniest before I even saw this SUV: This Pathfinder, 12 years newer than my Sentra, uses an all-but-identical key.
The 2018 Nissan Pathfinder, Ranked:
Hauling people: 5
Hauling stuff: 5
Curb appeal: 3
“Wow” factor: 2
The Bottom Line:
The Pathfinder is, in simple English, a "good car." It is your run-of-the-mill crossover, one that does everything you'd expect a crossover to do: it's safe, it's roomy, it's all right to look at. It will keep everyone comfortable, carry your things, and accelerate without issue onto a highway. You can easily park it on the street (if you have a spot large enough) with the help of the back, front, and over-view cameras. It's difficult to say anything extremely positive or negative about it, because everything is just...fine.
So why would somebody buy the Nissan Pathfinder over the herd of other SUVs out there? Maybe because they're already comfortable with Nissan, a brand loyalty, and believe that they will be happy with it. Problem is, one of the Pathfinder's competitors, the Mazda CX-9, is a truly fabulous crossover of roughly the same size and price; the power is plentiful, the tech is abundant, and it looks better overall. With sedans becoming more and more niche and crossovers and SUVs far more commonplace, the segment is overflowing with options. Sure, you could get a Pathfinder and feel plenty happy...but you could also feel even happier in something else.
The 2018 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum, By the Numbers:
Base Price (Price as Tested): $44,010 ($47,840)
Powertrain: 3.5-liter V6, 284 hp, 259 lb-ft; continuously-variable transmission; all-wheel-drive
Fuel Economy: 19 city, 26 highway
0-60 MPH: 7.4 seconds (Car and Driver testing)
Number of Cupholders: 14