Payne: Nissan Pathfinder finds its groove as 3-row family value

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 10, 2021

The three-row SUV space is a Fleming’s steakhouse on wheels with all kinds of delicious red meat on the menu. There’s the regal off-roadin’ Jeep Grand Cherokee L. The rockin’ twin-turbo V-6 Ford Explorer. The gorgeous why-would-you-spend-20-grand-more-for-an Audi-Q7 Mazda CX-9.

But the midsize ute that has wowed everyone is the Kia Telluride. A filet mignon platter with a Big Mac price. With looks, tech and value, it undercuts segment stalwarts by $5,000.

Challenge accepted. Here comes segment stalwart Nissan Pathfinder with its own value steak meal.

6'5" Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne could sit behind himself sitting behind himself in the third row of the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder.

Pathfinder has been a segment regular going on five generations now. The original Pathfinder even predates Explorer. But sales have tailed off in recent years as the competition intensified and the Nissan grew long in the tooth. Interestingly, the all-new 2022 Pathfinder eschews Nissan’s usual visual sizzle for meat and potatoes.

Walking up to the big ute in Holly, Michigan, for a test drive, I found Pathfinder surprisingly simple. No floating roof. No plunging full-fascia V-motion grille. No whoop-de-do front fender swoops. No hybrid drivetrain. Like the all-new compact Rogue SUV also introduced this year, Pathfinder’s design is simple. Muscular. Timeless.

Pathfinder saves the sizzle for the stuff that really matters to families shopping in the midsize space: seats, towing capacity and room room room.

The interior of the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is both stylish and practical, with sub-console storage for purses and and other items owners might want to hide.

At 6’5” tall, I could sit behind myself in the third row sitting behind myself in the second row. Heck, even Nissan’s 6’10” product planner, Andrew Molnar, could fold himself into the third seat without having to take his head off. Ah, the advantages of not succumbing to the SUV “swept coupe-roof” trend.

Of course, most families don’t have kids the size of Kevin Durant. so the third-row seat space is a delight. Get the volume SV or SL trims and you can option a panoramic sunroof to bathe them in sunlight, too. Most important is third-row seat access — particularly when mom has popped out two more young ’uns (twins?) since their first two children were born.

That’s right rug rats, mom and dad want to put the child seats in the second row for easy access. Which means you’re headed to the third row if you’re age 6-plus. No problem.

Nissan engineers must be consulting 6-year-olds because they have made the second-to-third-row transition a wonder. Let’s pause briefly to give props to Honda here since they were the first to engineer one-button third-row seat access in their own Pilot three-rower.

From the third-row seat of the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder, passengers can exit using a single button.

Pathfinder goes further.

First off, the rear doors open wide — almost 90 degrees — for easy access. Then press a single button on the second-row seat, with child seats in place, and — WHUMP! — the entire seat jumps forward, opening an easy path to the third row. This jujitsu maneuver is unworkable on other brands (the clever Grand Cherokee L excepted) since the child seats prevent the seats from collapsing forward.

Exiting the rear coach seats is just as easy, thanks to another single button in the back of the second-row seats. Take a bow, engineers.

Aft of the third row is plenty of cargo space, including a bonus sub-trunk for additional room. The second-row captain’s chair operation also features a removable center console. Get the standard bench seat and you can string three child seats across the middle row (triplets?).

The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder offers clever storage solutions like a sub-cargo storage space.

The front seats are similarly spacious with best-in-class room. Console storage is enormous thanks, in part, to Nissan’s compact “chicklet” shifter (also found in Rogue). Like the rear cargo area, there’s a sub-cubby with space for little-used items — or purses that you want to keep out of public view.

There’s even storage above the glove box.

Anchored by a tablet-sized screen, the interior is horizontally laid out with easy-to-use knobs and menus. The screen is a bit slow to respond to commands, but it’s hard to be mad since Nissan makes wireless Apple CarPlay standard. Mrs. Payne adores this — and it’s a feature coming into mainstream vehicles as quickly as luxury barges (why are we paying $20,000 more for luxe again?). I only lament that wireless Android Auto is not also available since, um, that’s my phone.

Driver's eye view of the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder - digital displays, wireless Apple CarPlay, lots of knobs for easy screen/climate control.

True to its badge, the Nissan will competently negotiate off-road paths (AWD gives you plenty of modes to choose from). But for all its girth, the Pathfinder was surprisingly easy to drive over Hell, Michigan’s writhing asphalt roads. Credit engineers again for crafting the Pathfinder’s doors out of aluminum so the big, tech-laden beast gained no weight over the outgoing model.

Credit, too, the good ol’ V-6 engine under the hood (Telluride is similarly powered). Yeah, I know, Wall Street investors go into a swoon whenever auto companies mention batteries these days, but range-limited EVs are impractical for trip-minded families and hybrids present packaging problems.

Meat-and-potatoes Pathfinder is all about space, and the 284-horse V-6 allows excellent towing capability of 6,000 pounds — the weight of your average RV when mom and dad want to haul the family to Yellowstone for a well-deserved camping trip after being cooped up at home with COVID for the last 10 years (really? Just 15 months? Seemed longer).

Ol' reliable. The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder uses the same 284-horse V-6 as the last generation SUV.

The snarl of a V-6 merging onto the highway is also my kind of music.

Music is the universal language, and so is value. My $45,000 SL tester came loaded with auto emergency rear braking (a must with big vessels like this), blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist. And it came in at the same price as a comparably equipped Kia Telluride, a rare feat for anyone in this class.

The Nissan won’t turn your head like the lovely Telluride (though it does offer a unique combination of 35 two-tone color combos). But it will give you EZ seats, wireless CarPlay, Wi-Fi hotspot, Type C USB ports, rear-auto braking and other nifty features that Kia won’t.

I’m a sucker for high-horsepower, apex-carving three-row SUVs like the Dodge Durango Hellcat. But in my kid-hauling days, I saved my corner-carving for sports cars. Three-row utes are for practical ease of use, and keeping the kiddies happy on long family trips.

The Sentra compact last year set a new course for Nissan with stylish, tech-tastic vehicles punching well above their sticker price. It carved a path for Pathfinder, which has found its sweet spot: customers packing lots of rug rats, lots of gear — but just 45 grand in their budget.

The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is big, handsome and modern. The three-row SUV forgoes the styling flash of other family models to be a model of family practicality.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

Vehicle type: Front engine, front- and all-wheel-drive, seven- or eight-passenger SUV

Price: $34,560, including $1,150 destination fee ($45,540 AWD, SL trim as tested)

Powerplant: 3.5-liter V-6

Power: 284 horsepower, 259 pound-feet torque (V-6)

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.7 seconds (Car and Driver); Towing, 6,000 lbs.

Weight: 4,506 pounds (SL as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA est. mpg 21 city/26 highway/23 combined

Report card

Highs: Family-friendly three-row seats; storage everywhere

Lows: Not as comely as some competitors; Android Auto requires cable (wireless Apple CarPlay only)

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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