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2017 Pathfinder offers power boost, family-friendly feel

The Pathfinder used to be a tough-as-nails off-road path-maker. Changing consumer preferences and family service have dictated its reformulation into a seven-passenger people mover.

For 2017 the Pathfinder gets a mild freshening, including new “square” front and rear fascias that make it look less wagon-like. The revised grille resembles the Titan’s, and the new wheel designs are attractive. Overall, the changes integrate well with the existing body lines.

Under the long hood, there are engine enhancements this year. The 3.5-liter V-6 engine now comes with direct injection and variable valve timing. These changes bring 24 more horsepower (needed) and increase torque 19 pound-feet to 259. The big V-6 is backed by a continuously variable transmission (CVT) unchanged from last year. In this application, the CVT works better than some of Nissan’s CVTs mated to smaller engines. The CVT features Nissan’s “D-Step” logic, which makes it feel like you’re using a traditional automatic transmission. The typical droning, high-revving, annoying action of most CVTs is eliminated. The fuel economy benefits remain.

The power increase boosts Pathfinder’s towing max from 5,000 to 6,000 pounds — not bad for a crossover. Nissan also added a more robust trailer hitch area to help improve towing.

Inside, Pathfinder knows its new place with a logical layout that eschews glitz but ends up as an odd mix of grained, hard plastic with a few softer panels added in. The benefit for families is it will likely hold up well, but if you don’t want the family-friendly look, you’ll be disappointed.

Nissan focused on leg, head and shoulder room for all passengers, including in the third row. The center bench seat glides fore and aft, making leg room adjustable and very roomy if the third row is not in use. If you have toddlers, you’ll like the center bench’s flip/fold/slide setup for backseat access that permits child seats to stay locked in place. Now, about that third row — it actually works. The cushions are on the thin side, but the seats are positioned low, providing head room for passengers other than grade-schoolers.

Infotainment consists of a new NissanConnect (powered by SiriusXM) system featuring an 8.0-inch touch screen that lets you swipe, pinch and touch tile icons like you would on a tablet.

My Platinum tester came with heated/cooled leather seating up front, a nice 13-speaker Bose audio system, navigation system, 20-inch wheels, huge sunroof, power liftgateand Nissan’s surround-view camera system with moving object detection (to name but a few of the goodies).

On-road, the Pathfinder is pure car. Acceleration is robust, and Nissan removed some of the jiggly handling by firming up the suspension with beefier shocks and springs. I found piloting this machine a breeze — but remember, this is a bigger vehicle than it appears. Grip is better than many competitive vehicles due to the 20-inch tires, and more road feel has been added in. My tester was a 4WD version, meaning it operated in front unless traction was needed or I locked it in 4WD (50/50 front/rear distribution).

Unfortunately, the trails are closed for the Pathfinder, as it does not have a low-gear 4WD and ground clearance is minimal.