Nissan Pathfinder SUV gets mid-cycle upgrades

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The Smyrna, Tennessee-made Nissan Pathfinder SUV is sporting a mid-cycle freshening for 2017 including a chrome-laden face-lift and two-dozen more horses under the hood.

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When the latest generation of the Pathfinder was introduced in 2013, it was designed to shed its truck-like roots and become a mini-van substitute. Some of the wise guys in the automotive press dubbed it the Mall-finder for its softer ride and visage, but it was clearly just bending to market forces in the three-row crossover segment.

Well, three years have passed and was time for the Japanese car maker to fine-tune the Pathfinder’s exterior design and to torque-up the engine to keep pace with the competition. The result is a slightly more masculine exterior design and a tweaked, 284-hp engine.

Because it is a homegrown product, buyers can support the state economy by considering the Pathfinder, which will soon be competing against the new, seven-passenger Volkswagen Atlas SUV, assembled at VW’s Chattanooga plant.

The Pathfinder is available in abundance with generous advertised discounts at both of Chattanooga’s Nissan dealerships, Nissan of Chattanooga East at 2121 Chapman Road and Mountain View Nissan at 2100 Market Street.

As with many high-volume SUVs, the Pathfinder is available in a wide range of trim levels and prices. Pricing (before discounts) for all-wheel-drive models is: S ($31,680), SV ($34,370), SL ($37,390) and Platinum ($43,560). Our top-of-the-line Platinum tester has a sticker price of $44,685 including floor mats ($225) and destination charges ($900). All-wheel-drive is about a $1,700 upgrade.

The Pathfinder compares to the Toyota Highlander, the Honda Pilot, the Kia Sorento and the Ford Explorer, among others.

Styling and features
For 2017, Nissan equipped the Pathfinder with a more truck-like front fascia and added more definition to the four corners of the vehicle — nothing radical, just a minor change of personality. Meanwhile, a svelte belt-line makes the crossover look athletic, and a U-shaped grille gives it a strong jaw. The tweaks are designed to keep pace with SUVs like the new Mazda CX-9, which is often tapped as the most beautiful example of the evolution of the crossover form.

Inside the Pathfinder there’s a new, fine-tuned infotainment system. Meanwhile, under the hood is a new, direct-injection engine that raises horsepower from 260 to 284. The Pathfinder has been clocked in the 7.5-second range in the zero-to-60 mph (96 kph) dash.

When we first tested the current-generation Pathfinder, we thought the interior was the best in class, and it’s still a comfortable place to spend time. The Charcoal (black) interior in our tester, however, does not show off the Pathfinder’s furnishings as well as lighter, two-tone color schemes.

Our well-appointed Platinum tester includes virtually every option available on Pathfinders, which makes it the virtual equivalent of its corporate cousin the Infiniti QX60. Standard goodies include leather-clad seats (heated and cooled), push-button ignition, tri-zone climate controls, navigation, an 8-inch color monitor, a 13-speaker Bose sound system, and a dual power panoramic sunroof.

The Pathfinder has especially good access to its third-row seats. The second row is engineered so child-restraint seats don’t have to be removed to cut a path to the “way-back.”

Fuel economy is a respectable 26 mpg highway and 21 mpg city.

Driving impressions
With its car-like construction and suspension, the Pathfinder isn’t wallowy like some truck-based SUVs. Steering is light yet confident, and the continuously variable transmission gets high marks for avoiding the over-revving that’s sometimes associated with continuously variable transmissions (CVTs).

The new engine has almost 10 percent more horsepower than before, which translates to more relaxed acceleration. Towing capacity has also risen from 5,000 pounds to 6,000 pounds. In daily commuter driving the Pathfinder is easy to maneuver. The trick, 360-degree camera feature takes most of the drama out of parking and backing up a vehicle that weighs more than 4,600 pounds.

Bottom line
The 2017 Pathfinder is a resourceful, comfortable seven-passenger SUV that is also one of the value leaders in the segment. In higher trim levels it is a less-expensive alternative to entry-level luxury SUVs. When the VW Atlas arrives later this year it will be interesting to compare the two Tennessee-made family haulers.

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