2022 Nissan Pathfinder First Test Review: So, Is the New One Any Good?08/30/2021
Don’t be fooled by these images. Although the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder traversed a dirt road during our photoshoot, this redesigned, fifth-generation model is not a return to its rugged roots. Nor is it intended to be. The Pathfinder remains a roadgoing three-row SUV purpose-built to carry people or things. For that, it has space and equipment to get the job done. And in our testing, it posted numbers that equal or better many of its rivals. But impressive performance aside, the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder has flaws that cannot be ignored.
A Mix of Old and New
As before, the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 284 horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque. This time, however, the continuously variable automatic transmission is replaced by a nine-speed planetary-gear transmission. Like the last Pathfinder, front-wheel drive remains standard, while the new optional all-wheel-drive system equipped on our test SUV can send a greater percentage of torque to the rear axle than before.
This Pathfinder’s 7.0-second 0-60-mph time is a 0.4-second improvement over its CVT-equipped predecessor and makes it one of the quickest vehicles in the segment. Outside of the Ford Explorer ST and the Dodge Durango SRT, there are few competitors that beat it by more than half a second to 60 mph. The Pathfinder also brakes from that speed in commendable fashion. A 114-foot 60-0-mph stopping distance is short and strong for three-row SUVs.
Impressive as the acceleration-testing result is, the method used to achieve it—full-throttle/full-brake pedal-overlap launching—doesn’t reflect real-world driving. In normal use, the engine’s peaky power is an issue. Maximum torque doesn’t arrive until 4,800 rpm, below which the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder feels labored unless you dip deep into the accelerator, and it can be a chore to coax the SUV up to freeway speeds. Not helping is the fact that, at 4,725 pounds, it’s nearly 300 pounds heavier than the last fourth-gen Pathfinder we weighed. We question how it would feel towing at its 6,000-pound maximum. This VQ-series engine, like the ones used in Nissan’s Z sports car, at least sounds good at high revs.
Save the CVT?
The new Pathfinder’s top-end power delivery wouldn’t be such an issue if the Nissan’s new transmission were tuned to make the most of it. While there’s decent off-the-line response in first gear, the ratios beyond feel spaced too broadly. Upshifts often drop the engine into a power hole, resulting in soggy waves of acceleration. When slowing to a stop, we noticed reluctance to downshift from second to first. We’d pull away stuck in second before the transmission realized it was a gear too high, then it dropped down a gear abruptly before upshifting again a moment later.
Savvy drivers might try using the shift paddles to outthink the gearbox, but not touching them for a few seconds defaults the transmission back to its automatic programming, at which point it obsessively grabs the highest possible gear in the interest of fuel economy. Sport mode produced no discernible difference beyond the selection of an even lower gear on occasional downshifts.
Passing frustrates, too, as the transmission hesitates to sort through its four overdrive gears before it finds a ratio that delivers reasonable acceleration. Tighter, shorter gear ratios or a numerically higher final drive would let the engine perform better, at some cost to fuel economy. Instead, the new transmission and older engine feel like a mismatched pairing, and you’re often compromising their efficiency anyway as you work the gas pedal to find acceptable acceleration.
In our skidpad test, the Pathfinder averaged 0.83 g, and it rounded our figure-eight course in 27.4 seconds at an average of 0.62 g. Both are middling results among three-row SUVs. However, through real-world corners and freeway on-ramps the Pathfinder displays stability, rounding them with good balance and confident body control at all speeds. The steering responsiveness is fine off-center, but the rack’s relaxed ratio necessitates lots of arm movement for simple maneuvers. The turning radius feels enormous, and the body being slightly larger than before mitigates any sense of agility.
None of these traits is eased by the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder’s overall ride performance. The ride is actually fairly smooth in terms of taming impacts, but even on fresh pavement this SUV telegraphs every ripple and undulation to its passengers via head toss. Given how unsporty the latest Pathfinder’s mission is, its suspension tune seems needlessly stiff, even if it does deliver that admirable body control in sweeping corners. It’s possible this behavior might improve on the 18-inch wheels and taller tire sidewalls of lesser models.
We didn’t do more off-road driving than for these photos, and the dusty, textured road was no challenge for the vehicle’s AWD system, as you’d expect. But one incident has us eager to further investigate the Pathfinder’s performance in the dirty stuff. It occurred when we needed to turn around during the shoot, and chose to do so at a small, short off-camber pitch marked by a few shallow ruts. We approached it on a well-worn line, yet the Pathfinder struggled, seemingly with its electronics to blame: When traversing a rut would reduce one tire’s contact patch, the traction control would cut power, making the slow forward progress we were attempting all but impossible. Finally we just gassed it enough to shove past what it refused to crawl over. For a vehicle that boasts Sand, Mud/Rut, and Snow driving modes—which we tried before simply matting the throttle—the Pathfinder’s difficulty climbing that little hill was puzzling. However, the descent-control system worked as intended.
Features and Foibles
Family-oriented features remain the Pathfinder’s forte. The wide rear doors provide ample space to climb through or reach into. On top trims like our Platinum test vehicle, they have deployable sunshades. The roomy second-row captain’s chairs have one-touch buttons that lift and slide the seats forward even with a child seat mounted, allowing super-simple access to the third row. Rearmost legroom is tight with the adjustable middle row fully aft, there’s enough width back there to allow three smaller passengers to sit side by side and sliding the second-row forward provides enough room to accommodate adults for a shirt trip.
Cargo capacity trails most segment competitors numerically speaking, but that doesn’t represent the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder’s practicality. The load area can fit items that are 48 inches across all the way up to the second-row seat backs. There’s also a large reconfigurable bin beneath the floor. Cupholders and cubbies abound.
In our test Nissan, Apple CarPlay crashed regularly, requiring us to disconnect and reconnect our devices or restart the Pathfinder entirely. The 9.0-inch display it runs on is clear and responsive but looks small on the expansive dashboard and in contrast to competitors’ equivalents; the 12.3-inch digital-gauge display exclusive to the Platinum trim is nice, though, and can show diverse information. Lastly, The audio system laid annoying crackles over our music, which was being played via the same USB-enabled Apple CarPlay connection we’ve used without issue in countless vehicles. It’s possible there is some sort of compatibility issue, but it’s not a problem we’ve experienced even in other Nissans.
Adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist are standard on all but base trim Pathfinders. Although the former’s software braked effectively for traffic ahead, the powertrain let it down when working to close a gap to the next vehicle. Lane-keep assist typically held lanes confidently but occasionally jerked the steering wheel for no apparent reason. Reverse automatic braking is standard on all Pathfinder models, and it distinguished itself by falsely activating in places where no other vehicle we’ve tested has done so, such as backing into this author’s foliage-lined driveway at home.
Not Ready for Prime Time
Nissan has surprised us with its recent efforts, a number of which are vast improvements over their predecessors. As of now, the 2022 Pathfinder is not among those. This unit came to us with paperwork stating it was a preproduction model that may not represent final calibrations. (For Nissan’s sake, ideally this also applies to the A-pillar trim in a different preproduction example we drove Michigan; the piece shook loose a number of times in regular driving.) Our time with this particular one, though, made the need for further tuning clear. The lack of refinement would be problematic even at the Nissan’s approximately $34,560 starting price, and isn’t acceptable at an as-tested price of more than $50,000. It also diminishes the Nissan’s solid figures at the test track.
Even if three-row crossover utility is a higher priority than driving enjoyment, not much about the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder sets it apart. Many competitors are just as—if not more—spacious, upscale, and packed with features. And if shuttling passengers is your sole goal, allow us to also suggest a vehicle from a segment that Nissan no longer competes in—one with sliding doors.
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