DENVER — When Nissan killed off the wonderfully capable Xterra off-road SUV, many a Coloradan cried out in grief.
The Xterra was Nissan’s answer to the Toyota 4Runner: an off-road capable adventure vehicle that looked good on the road or the trail. With a unique style and more than a few quirks, it appealed to a particular segment of outdoorsy types who go outdoors with their hiking, dogs, and all the rest.
Sadly, the Xterra was discontinued after the 2015 model year, and Nissan didn’t have anything with which to replace it. This brings us to the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder, which continues Nissan’s rich tradition of not having a vehicle to replace the Xterra.
Instead, the Pathfinder is a family-friendly, three-row unibody crossover with a sharp exterior design and a comfortable interior. Though Nissan goes out of its way to talk about how rugged and adventurous the Pathfinder is — it has an available “intelligent” 4×4 mode, though it’s only FWD by default — it’s more mall-crawler than off-roader for all but the most determined buyers.
That’s okay because the point of a three-row family SUV is to haul parents, kids, grandparents, a golden retriever, and whatever else you need to take from point A to point B and back again. It’s also a wildly popular and competitive segment, with options like the Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, and, my favorites of the lot, the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride.
The Pathfinder holds its own, even if it won’t top the sales charts. I find myself strangely impressed by the exterior, which has a shape I can only describe as a rounded rectangle a la the computer windows in macOS. The Pathfinder lettering across the rear hatch is pleasing, and I like the head and taillights. It’s just a nice SUV to look at.
Inside, things are more utilitarian, which isn’t a bad thing. An 8- or 9-inch touchscreen sits high atop the center stack, protruding a bit in a rather lovely way. Wireless Apple CarPlay is available with the larger screen on higher trims, while wired CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.
There are some clever storage areas, including a cubby beneath the center console, something that’s essential for any family vehicle. The digital shifter is straightforward, and since everyone else is getting away from the old PRNDL system, I can’t fault Nissan for it. Push forward for reverse, pull back for drive, and push the button on top for Park.
Though it looks a bit old school, with some competitors integrating everything into the fancy touchscreen, Nissan keeps a standalone climate control screen with actual knobs to control the temperature for driver and passenger. Prominent buttons for the heated and cooled seats are easy-to-find, which is surprisingly helpful given the difficulty I’ve had in turning those on in some new vehicles.
There’s a solid amount of safety tech on the Pathfinder, including standard automatic emergency braking, rear automatic braking and cross traffic alert, blind spot warning, and lane departure warning. Nissan calls it Safety Shield 360, but it should be called standard on every car.
It also has available ProPILOT Assist, which helps keep the vehicle in the center of your lane — it’s not fully hands-free, but it combines active lane centering with adaptive cruise control. It’s an excellent help during a highway commute or lengthy family road trip.
The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is a solid three-row SUV that offers a competitive feature set across both tech and luxury, with a pleasing design and everything you’d expect in a three-row SUV. But it’s also going up against some epic competition, and it’s worth shopping around to see what deals are possible.
The Pathfinder name goes back to 1985 when it was a body-on-frame off-roader. I wish the new one was more like that truck or the now-departed Xterra, but that’s just the car journalist in me talking. There’s far more demand for a comfortable, unibody family SUV than a body-on-frame truck — but it’s still a bit sad.
Car journalists love cars that regular people don’t want, like diesel wagons with manual transmissions or wildly capable off-road SUVs in niche segments already well-served by existing offerings. The Pathfinder doesn’t blaze its own path, but Nissan knows its customers and has built a car well suited to its buyers.