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road test

It’s not that Nissan’s Pathfinder was feminine, exactly – it just wasn’t as, er, rugged as buyers would like.

“We might have gone too far to a softer urban-type vehicle,” said Andrew Harkness, chief marketing manager for Nissan Canada. “We want it to look good and rugged.”

(Nissan)

For the 2017 refresh of the car-based family hauler – the first serious change since the fourth-generation Pathfinder came out for 2013 – Nissan says it has moved from crossover styling to “true SUV-ness.”

Nissan found its path with the latest version – Canadian sales have risen steadily from 2,666 in 2012 to 9,898 last year.

(Nissan)

It’s comfortable, seats seven and drives like a car – a big evolution from the original 1986 Pathfinder. But buyers – male and female – found it looked a little too refined.

So it gets a new hood, grill, bumper and LED daytime running lights up front, and a new bumper and tail lamp behind.

The changes aren’t just cosmetic.

The Pathfinder, in showrooms by mid-September, gets a new 3.5-litre V-6 with direct injection. It goes from 260 to 284 horsepower and from 240 to 259 lb-ft of torque. That boost means it can tow up to 6,000 pounds – 1,000 pounds more than before. That’s the best in class, Nissan says.

It’s 0-60 mph acceleration is improved by about 0.2 seconds – and fuel economy on the FWD version improves slightly – from 10.4 combined to 10.2 (4WD stays the same).

Nissan’s also tweaked suspension to improve ride quality, it says. And it’s made steering 11 per cent quicker.

Software changes make the CVT feel a bit more like an automatic transmission.

“Consumers are used to shift shock,” Harkness said.

It will come in FWD and 4WD. Nissan’s launch included an “adventure tour” with the 4WD Pathfinder, the all-new 2017 Armada and the all-new 2017 Titan half ton.

(Nissan)

While the bigger two got to tackle a serious off-road course, the Pathfinder stuck to paths that were already found: a hilly dirt road with a few serious bumps. The ride was noticeably pleasant and car-like even then – there shouldn’t be screams from passengers if you head onto a dirt path to find a decent picnic spot.

Inside, the changes are minor – but there are new front cupholders (they allow mugs with handles, Nissan says) and new touchscreen software.

(Nissan)

There are five trim levels: S, SV, SL Premium Tech and Platinum. SL and Platinum gets a motion activated lift gate. It works fine, but it takes practice to figure out that sweet spot to make it work. Otherwise, it’s like trying to move your hands around to get the sensor taps to work in a public bathroom with your hands are full of soap – it’s easier to just push the darned button.

For 2017, the base S gets a rear view monitor and 8-inch touchscreen, bluetooth and mirrors with side turn signals. It also gets automatic temperature control.

The SV adds keyless entry, power drivers seats, heated front seats and rear sonar.

SL adds leather seats, heated seats in the second row, blind spot warning and Nissan’s around view monitor – which provides a birds-eye of the car and warns you if there are moving objects getting close. It also has rear cross traffic alert, which warns you if cars are coming from the sides while you’re backing up.

SL Tech adds subscription-based NissanConnect, navigation, Bose 13-speaker premium audio and a panoramic moonroof.

Platinum adds 20-inch wheels, LED headlights, cooled front seats, forward emergency braking and intelligent cruise control, which slows down when you’re too close to cars in front.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

(Nissan)

TECH SPECS

Base price: TBD

Engine: 3.5-litre V-6

Transmission/Drive: Continuously variable transmission/Front or four-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.6 city, 8.5 highway (FWD); 12.1 city, 8.9 highway (4WD)

Alternatives: Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Kia Sorrento, Toyota Highlander

You’ll like this SUV if ... you want a refined, comfortable family hauler that drives like a car – and gets compliments on its looks, finally.

RATINGS

Looks: Where the old Pathfinder was wishy-washy, the new one is handsome all-around.

Interior: Controls make sense. Fairly easy to operate radio and navigation system without scrolling through menus. For Platinum, controls for the memory seats have been moved up onto the driver’s door. Second and third rows are comfortable. The second row seats slide forward easily to let adults climb into the back – even with a carseat in the second row.

Performance: It drives like a car. On the road, steering is responsive but not too sensitive. Comfortable on rough roads. The engine mostly revs like you expect from an automatic, despite the CVT.

Technology: No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. On fancier models, the around-view monitor gives you an overhead view of all four sides – and warns you if somebody moves into it. Two USB ports.

Cargo: Lots of room with third row down.

The Verdict

8.0

Nissan’s made sure the Pathfinder sticks to the right path – it’s gained character, comfort, and a little more power.