The Nissan Pathfinder was once known for being one of the most rugged and trail-ready SUVs in the market, with various models in the 1980s and 1990s were known for their body-on-frame construction and billy goat character. But in recent years, the Pathfinder transitioned to a uni-body frame, and focused more on providing on-pavement comfort. Nissan is aiming to resolve that with the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek. But does the Rock Creek treatment make this a better Pathfinder while also restoring some of its past off-road luster?
Second Attempt At Rock Creek Makes Pathfinder More Rugged
When we last saw the Pathfinder Rock Creek a few years ago, it was purely a styling package that made the Pathfinder look the part but did little to improve functionality or capability. This time around, Nissan took the task of making Rock Creek more seriously and has certainly upped the ante in a few key areas. The exterior styling of the Rock Creek has been tweaked for trail use, with the modified front fascia being designed for enhanced ground clearance. The chunky plastic cladding on the sides helps prevent scratches, and the rear end has also been reworked for extra clearance.
Chunky Toyo Open Country all-terrain tires help fill the wheel wells better while also improving off-road capability. We also liked the 18-inch beadlock wheels; they look sharp, and they are certainly an improvement over the last version’s wheels. The Rock Creek also comes with a functional roof rack (an upgrade over the last version’s faux rack and Nissan claims that its strong enough to haul a wide range of gear and bicycles if properly secured. Oh, and to make sure that Nissan knows you’re looking at a Rock Creek, the brand has splashed generous mounts of badging on the fenders and larger badging at the rear of the SUV.
The interior is largely carried over from lesser Pathfinders, but the Rock Creek is positioned in the middle of the model lineup, so buyers will still get some nice standard equipment. Black leatherette and cloth-infused seats are a Rock Creek exclusive, while orange contrast stitching is splashed throughout the cabin, and Rock Creek logos are embroidered into the headrests and the center armrests. The second row has captains chairs with a removable center console, a setup we usually see in Pathfinder SV and Platinum models. There’s plenty of head and legroom up front, and the second row even has healthy amounts of space for passengers and cargo when they are folded down
A 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system is standard, and it even comes bundled with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. However, the Rock Creek misses out on a heads-up display and a fully digital instrument cluster (those are reserved for the Platinum). Audiophiles will be pleased to hear that the 13-speaker Bose premium audio system gets carried over for those that crave high-quality tunes when trail busting.
Rock Creek Performance Is A Double-Edged Sword
One of the biggest differences that we noticed during our time with the Rock Creek was the performance upgrades that Nissan baked info 2023. All Rock Creek models are powered by the 3.5 liter V6 seen in the rest of the Pathfinder family, but the power goes up slightly from 284 hp to 295 hp when the SUV is given premium fuel to drink due to altered fuel mapping. All-wheel drive is standard, and a nine-speed automatic is also along for the ride too.
We had a chance to hit some light trails during the brief time we had with our example, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that our tester did a good job handling everything we threw at it, including some muddy sections that we encountered outside of town. The suspension delivers good articulation, and the tires do a good job providing plentiful amounts of low-end grip. Rock Creek models also come with exclusive views in the surround-view camera system, allowing owners to have additional views of the trail, including obstacles. Seven drive modes are also available, allowing the SUV to adapt to changing road conditions on the fly.
However, as we mentioned, this impressive amount of off-road confidence is a double-edged sword and comes at the cost of on-pavement livability. The all-terrain tires produce a constant drone when driven at freeway speeds, and the bigger tires also impair handling, with our tester feeling more truck-like than the last Pathfinder we had a chance to review. These trade-offs are what you expect from an off-road focused vehicle, but these quirks might turn off some Pathfinder buyers that might like the Rock Creek’s credentials but require something that can be a long-term value, especially in day-to-day commuting and being a good steed for family travel.
Our tester was a late-stage prototype, but Nissan reps did assure us that full-production models will go on sale later this year. Pricing is slated to begin around $45,000, with our lightly optioned example having an as-tested price of $45,520, which puts the Rock Creek in the race with rivals like the Kia Telluride X-Pro as well as the Ford Explorer Timberline.
With a renewed focus on adventure and finally having the gear to back up its trail-focused ambitions, the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek is the perfect vehicle for value-focused overlanders or even buyers that prefer to add an extra pinch of edge to their Pathfinder ownership experience.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.