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By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

The seven-passenger Pathfinder has shed its rugged traits and morphed into a sleeker crossover like the rest of the segment, giving an equal focus popular in-car technology, comfort, and class alongside all-weather performance, and is doing it in impressive form.

I drove a 2015 Nissan Pathfinder with a 260-horsepower 3.5-lier V6 engine paired to the automatic XTRONIC continuously variable transmission system and Intuitive four-wheel drive featuring a selectable two-wheel drive and lock option. Available in four trims – the base S, SL, and Platinum – my SL test drive came with the following standard features: leather upholstery; EZ Flex seating system; eight-way power driver’s seat; heated front and second row seats; push-button start; tri-zone climate control; XM Radio; Bluetooth; six-speaker audio system; advanced driver assist display; seven-inch color touchscreen; rearview camera; rear sonar park system; power liftgate; roof rails; fog lights; Blind Spot warning; Rear Cross Traffic Alert; and eighteen-inch alloy wheels. Total vehicle price as described came to $37,750.

After a more serious rebuild, changes for the 2015 model include a few tweaks to the transmission and the availability of more appealing technology like a 360-degree parking camera and safety items. It’s a competitive market for the mid-size SUV; more rugged choices include the Dodge Durango and Chevrolet Yukon, followed by the svelte Toyota Highlander and economical Mazda CX-9 and Kia Sorento.


Stylish But Comfortable Results: The Pathfinder’s well-constructed interior achieves a posh appearance, yet could benefit from higher quality leather upholstery. Cleverness seems to be the cabin’s call, with side pockets on the lower center console perfect for storage; an easy second-row sliding system to get to the rear seats; and the ability to convert to massive cargo room in a flash – 79.6 cubic feet of it with the second and third-row down. While the navigation and audio graphics are competitive and thorough in their commands, the high approach angle of the instrument panel makes for slightly impaired viewing.

Reliability & Safety Factor: The 2015 Pathfinder earned “Good” crash-test ratings from every category with The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and is a Top Safety Pick. There is no data yet from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Pathfinder’s standard safety equipment includes Vehicle Dynamic Control, LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children), and Electronic Brake Force Distribution.

Cost Issues: The base S trim starts at $29,510 and the loaded Platinum at $41,410. A top-of-the-line Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring with options is $37,570, and a similarly equip Kia Sorento is around that mark.

Activity & Performance Ability: Nissans are known for their responsive engines, and the V6 operates quite impressively (the transmission noise and feel might take some getting used to). The four-wheel drive works on a dial system easiest enough for any driver to understand. For a three-row SUV, the dimensions are manageable with an agreeable turning radius and that upgraded 360-degree parking feature coming in handy.

The Green Concern: Nissan boasts a fuel economy I couldn’t achieve. Estimates are 19-city and 26-highway for a combined 22 miles-per-gallon – the best I got with an even roadway mix was 18.7 mile-per-gallon. Without a hybrid engine, the 2015 Acura MDX seems to be getting the most impressive numbers for a mid-size SUV with the new 3.5-liter engine and all-wheel drive at 18-mpg city and 27-mpg highway for a combined 21 miles-per-gallon.

Like others in its class, the Pathfinder exchanged its rugged roots for a more elegant crossover look, bringing with it all the technology, safety features and refinement now expected for a three-row utility vehicle. Although it didn’t live up to its fuel economy claims, Nissan is staying on trend by offering a strategic mix of trim levels and making sure the consumer is getting a fair share of desirable standard features in each.

2015 Katrina Ramser