The funny thing about most crossovers and SUVs these days is that comfort is generally a very relative term. Sure, you might have every bell and whistle imaginable in the new Escalade, and searing performance in the new BMW X5 M.
And while those crossovers might be extreme examples, others in the price bracket also qualify. Vehicles like the Ford Explorer and Dodge Durango, for example, are prime competition for the massive, three-row Nissan Pathfinder.
What is one thing that none of the above machines can actually deliver in a luxurious way? Road comfort. Actual refinement, silent cruising and serene cabins. None of the above crossovers can touch the Pathfinder’s smoothness and tranquility over the road.
The only one we’ve sampled that can is the Toyota Highlander, and even it rides with far more chop and bounce-castle handing than the Nissan.
But is ultra-smooth driving enough? Read on for the full review with standard headings: Exterior, Interior, Performance, Pricing and Summary to find out! Plus please enjoy the 170 new photos taken around the Angel Oaks of Seabrook, South Carolina.
Spoiler alert, though. The Pathfinder is not a one-trick pony. It is a supremely capable all-arounder that pulls hard, locks into four-wheel-drive mode when needed, tows well, fits a full family comfortably, and achieves very impressive fuel economy all the while.
Redesigned for the 2014 model-year, the Pathfinder is unchanged for 2015. It is a smooth and fairly attractive design that leads from its V-bar grille and its double-width of chrome lashings even extending like wings under the headlamps.
It is a bright and confident grin, with angular beauty that is modern and fresh, but not intimidating. A deeply raked-back grille angle helps reinforce the newness of the Pathfinder versus its predecessors and competition alike. The lower bumper becomes much softer-looking, with a flowing organic style capped by chrome-ringed foglamps and a second lashing of chrome in the lower bumper. It looks cool.
The profile and tail of the Pathfinder are a bit of a disconnect with the macho nose, but are pleasant enough overall. They speak to the Pathfinder’s new mission: do it all — smoothly.
Giant rear doors and a smooth glasshouse is nicely tinted a dark shade, contrasted sharply with the silver roof bars and subtle wheels on this SV trim level.
In back, the theme is more like the profile in its smoothness versus the chunky grille. Subtle and understated taillamps are not flashy and not LED-lit. But the rounded the roof and its sculpted rear spoiler do a great job of making the Pathfinder look sleeker than its cabin feels inside.
If the Murano is the stylish and sexy Nissan crossover (priced above the Pathfinder), with its modern leathers and five seats at maximum — then the Pathfinder is the real family truckster of the bunch.
What do we mean by this? The new Pathfinder is HUGE inside. It is simply gigantic in all three rows. A super low and flat floor is a big asset for all three rows, and the overall cabin feels more Tahoe-sized and wide than Highlander or Explorer-like.
The Pathfinder scores major points for its giant second row and easy access to the still-big third row. This SV trim level lacks some of the Bluetooth wireless headsets of the Platinum trim, but still majors of huge space and actual comfort. The second row reclines very, very nicely and overall the accommodation — with or without leather — is more spacious than the Acura MDX.
Up front, comfort and easy tech is the name of the game. Simple controls are all simple to use, and the touch-point materials like the door-tops and leather-wrapped steering wheel are actually really upscale.
This SV came with a slightly too-taupe interior for our tastes, but the cloth is an incredible new fiber that is high-tech and nearly as soft as suede.
The Pathfinder comes with two powertrain choices: the 3.5-liter V6 with front or 4WD or the Hybrid with the came choice. Many people have griped about the second-gen CVT transmission for its perceived weakness or lack of urgent upshifts for hard drivers.
Time with the Pathfinder proves that the new CVT actually brings a host of great benefits, and very, very few demerits whatsoever. First off, no car can move from 0-40-mph in typical suburban driving with such eery and uncanny smoothness. No shifts to ruffle things, and always in the right ‘gear.’
In 2WD mode, the helm is ultra light and the Pathfinder will coast for days with almost no friction in the driveline as you come off the throttle. In 4-High, the steering is much chunkier and heavier, while you can feel much more of a torque split to the back. It feels more SUV-authentic in 4-High mode, where it still delivers impressive EPA stats.
In 4-Low Lock mode, we did a bit of mud-plugging to test out the Pathfinder’s off-road credibility. A low-ish ride height is the biggest concern when in the muck. Traction is plentiful, and the Pathfinder will gently drift in gravel if provoked. It is an impressive feat.
Overall, versus big truck-like SUVs, the Pathfinder’s smoothy nature is most obvious in that it takes a millisecond to gather full torque and urge on hard throttle starts, where the 240-pound-feet of torque comes in — you guessed it — smoothly over the first 20 feet versus bucking the truck back on its hind legs when you floor it.