2023 Nissan Pathfinder Review: Refined and Ready for Dirt

The Nissan Pathfinder never received the cachet that the Jeep Wrangler or Ford Bronco did off-road, but it's been quietly going about its business since 1985. At the beginning it shared most components with its Nissan Hardbody pickup truck counterpart. Now beginning its fifth generation, the Pathfinder is quieter, more comfortable and more capable than ever before.

The 2023 Nissan Pathfinder offers a 3.5-liter engine and a nine-speed automatic transmission. It comes in the buyer's choice of two- or four-wheel drive and has a terrain mode selector and new screens in front of the driver and at the center of the dashboard. A major redesign last year left it looking like nothing else on the road.

2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek Review

The Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek is new for 2023 and uses the same powertrain as the rest of the lineup. It benefits from the addition of a slew of off-road parts. The list starts with the suspension and its 5/8-inch lift, 18-inch beadlock-style wheels and knobby all-terrain tires.

The Rock Creek also comes with a tubular roof rack for extra cargo, an exclusive front fascia, Rock Creek badging, leatherette and fabric seats with Rock Creek embroidery, orange contrast stitching and a 360-degree monitor with Off-Road Mode.

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The cabin of the Pathfinder Rock Creek feels more outdoorsy than the standard SUV. Its multi-material seats are comfortable while the rubberized surfaces are easy to clean. A stubby shifter leaves more room for stuff in the center console.

A 9-inch infotainment touch screen feels a little small in this application but it was within reach and worked well with physical controls for the important functions. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are both included though only CarPlay can go wireless.

The traditional version of the Pathfinder is amazingly quiet with new acoustic laminated front glass, 20 percent thicker second row glass, a 20 percent increase in door isolation area, and 2.5-times thicker carpet backing mass. When pulling up to a stop the engine noise is barely noticeable. The Rock Creek version has more road noise permeate the cabin.

Its cargo area will for four golf bags with all three-rows up, and with them down the Pathfinder can carry 4-foot sheets of plywood. Another storage area is under the cargo floor, which now offers about 2 cubic feet of space, up from about 1 cubic foot in the previous model.

2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek
The 2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek can carry 7 or 8 passengers. Nissan North America

The retuned 3.5-liter V6 makes 284 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque. The new nine-speed transmission is extra smooth with the engine and always seems to be in the right gear. Acceleration off the line is good, though passing does take a full stomp of the gas pedal.

It feels big on the road and the steering isn't very sharp. This large SUV isn't supposed to be a corner carver, but it should be more accurate and direct. The brakes are a little softer than expected too, however this all leads to a more comfortable ride both on and off road.

The Pathfinder can tow 6,000 pounds and Trailer Sway Control is standard. It gets an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated 21 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city 26 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined for two-wheel drive models. Four-wheel drive models get 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.

All Pathfinders come with Nissan Safety Shield 360, including emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot, rear cross traffic and lane departure warnings and rear automatic braking. Blind Spot Intervention, Intelligent Lane Intervention and traffic sign recognition are optional.

2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek
The 2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek comes standard with all-wheel drive. Nissan North America

The 2023 Nissan Pathfinder competes with other three-row SUVs like the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade. More off-road-centric vehicles include the Jeep Grand Cherokee L and Ford Explorer Timberline.

The base Nissan Pathfinder starts at $34,640 but four-wheel drive bumps that to $39,360. The Rock Creek package raises that to $44,115. The Telluride starts at $33,390 and the Hyundai Palisade is $34,950.

The three-row Jeep Grand Cherokee L is more expensive at $43,445. The Ford Explorer has a base price of $36,760, but the Timberline, a more apt comparison, starts at $48,480.

The Rock Creek upgrades on the Nissan Pathfinder turn it from just another three-row SUV into an orange-accented, mud-tired trail machine. For those that need space and capability, and a little bit of serenity, it's a great option.