How did the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder become what it is?

Nissan’s heavily revised Pathfinder has broke cover and making the rounds on the interwebz. The 2017 model marks the first major update for the fourth-generation Pathfinder and brings the further adoption of the latest driver assistance features and tech equipment. A lower drag coefficient, a new V-6 with direct injection, an updated Around View monitor system – all showing the Pathfinder has grown up to become a quasi-luxury crossover ready for the masses.

But that’s not how the Pathfinder got its start.

Nope, it was back in 1987 that Nissan debuted the original Pathfinder. It basically boiled down to a Nissan Hardbody pickup truck with a permanent camper shell attached to its bed and a second row of seats between the rear fender wells. In other words, it was like every other body-on-frame SUV at the time – a derivative of a pickup truck.

But like most every other SUV, time made the Pathfinder soft. The second generation debuted for the 1996 model year and brought a unibody design into the picture. The Pathfinder still had respectable off-road chops, but it was somewhat more limited than its predecessor. Unconventionally, however, the Pathfinder returned to a body-on-frame design for its third generation in 2005. It shared plenty of components with the more rugged Xterra SUV, as well.

Things got really different in 2013. The fourth generation Pathfinder abandoned its boxy shape and frame rails for an unquestionably softer and more rounded appearance. The unibody architecture returned, making its ride more car-like, though its interior became more functional.

Now for 2017, the Pathfinder adopts new technology that makes it more efficient, more powerful, a better tow vehicle, and safer for its passengers and those around it. The times, they are a changin’ – as one musician put it. While we certainly miss the rugged nature of the original Pathfinder, it’s impossible to doubt Nissan’s aim at the masses with this versatile crossover.

Let’s have a look at the Pathfinder’s history in detail.

Continue reading for the full run-down.

First Generation (1987 - 1995)

Follow the Pathfinder's 30-Years Evolution
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The original Pathfinder was introduced in 1986 as an ’87 model. It featured the same platform and front-end styling as the then-current Nissan Hardbody compact pickup truck. Like the truck, power came from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder. Optional was a 3.0-liter V-6 rated at 140 horsepower. The V-6 got a five-horsepower increase for 1988.

In 1990, Nissan made the Pathfinder a four-door SUV. This made the SUV a more family friendly vehicle thanks to easier access for rear passengers. The rear doors also started the “hidden C-pillar” door handle trend. That same year, the V-6 was boosted to 153 horsepower. Transmissions included both the manual and automatic variety.

Second Generation (1996 - 2004)

Follow the Pathfinder's 30-Years Evolution
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Nissan decided to target a more sophisticated buyer for 1996 and introduced a unibody platform under its new second-generation Pathfinder. This set the Pathfinder apart from the then-new Frontier pickup, which continued to use a body-on-frame design. The new Pathfinder received an updated powerplant as well – the 3.3-liter V-6. Power was rated at 168 horsepower.

Then in 2001, Nissan swapped in the 3.5-liter V-6. This new engine was part of Nissan’s new VQ engine family, descendants of which still power Nissan vehicles today. Power was rated at 250 horsepower with the five-speed manual and 240 horses with the automatic transmission.

Innovations included the introduction of an in-dash navigation system, called “Birdview,” that showed 3D-style maps with tall landmarks. The traditional leaf springs were dumped in favor of a multi-link rear suspension used in conjunction with a solid axle.

Third Generation (2005 - 2012)

2006 Nissan Pathfinder
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Nissan Pathfinder

Things got more rugged when the 2005 Pathfinder debuted. It returned to a body-on-frame design shared with the Xterra, Titan, Frontier, and Armada. Its suspension setup included an independent front end with MacPherson struts while the rear used a solid axle held by a multi-link system and sprung with coil springs. The Pathfinder also grew in size, now offering an optional third-row seat.

Power came from Nissan’s 4.0-liter V-6 that produced 266 horsepower and 288 pound-feet of torque. The 5.6-liter V-8 was introduced in 2008. This 310-horse, 388-pound-foot engine boosted the Pathfinder’s tow rating to an impressive 7,000 pounds.

Sadly for enthusiasts of true SUVs, this would be the highpoint for the Pathfinder.

Fourth Generation (2013 – 2016)

2013 Nissan Pathfinder High Resolution Exterior
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Though the fourth generation Pathfinder took a huge departure from the rugged third gen, it became a much more family friendly vehicle. Its unibody design gave it far more interior space for passengers. Thanks to a inventive second-row seat that folded easily, access to the third row was simple and quick. Total passenger occupancy increased to seven. Impressively, towing remained relatively high at 5,000 pounds.

Power came from a 3.5-liter V-6 that made 240 horsepower. It was mated to a CVT and AWD was optional. Despite grumblings about the CVT, the new Pathfinder achieved up to 27 mpg on the highway – making it far more economical than the third-gen SUV.

2017 Nissan Pathfinder

2017 Nissan Pathfinder High Resolution Exterior
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The refreshed Pathfinder now sports an updated exterior design, a restyled dashboard, and heavily reworked V-6. The new 3.5-liter now has direct fuel injection for more horsepower and better performance.

We’ve got a full review of the new 2017 Pathfinder, so check it out here.

Press Release

In the mid-1980s, compact pickup trucks were making major inroads in the United States truck market. With their affordable prices, favorable fuel economy and easy maneuverability, they were perfect for recreational use – especially when topped with an aftermarket camper shell.

As Nissan was getting ready to launch a new generation of its pickup, which came to be called the "Hardbody" for its durable double-wall pickup bed and aggressive styling, the company rolled out a surprise – a full-bodied SUV based on the new truck’s platform. It was called, in the U.S., the Pathfinder.

Thirty years later, Pathfinder remains one of Nissan’s best-known and popular nameplates. Following is a brief history as the new 2017 Pathfinder opens the next chapter of the iconic SUV’s proud heritage.

First Generation (1987 - 1995)

Introduced in 1986 as a 1987 model, the two-door Pathfinder was a trend-setter, sharing its aggressive front end styling with the Hardbody pickup, including the three horizontal slots on the front edge of the hood. Underneath, the rugged body-on-frame platform proved popular with off-road enthusiasts – especially combined with a relatively roomy and comfortable interior. Halfway through the first generation run (1990 model year), two rear doors were added – complete with what became Pathfinder’s signature "hidden" C-pillar mounted rear door handles.

Available engines included a base 2.4-liter 4-cylinder and a 3.0-liter V6 rated at 140 horsepower (145 as of 1988). From 1990 through the end of production, horsepower for the V6 was increased to 153 hp.

Second Generation (1996 - 2004)

For the 1996 model year, Pathfinder switched to a unibody platform and adopted new, more aerodynamic styling – separating Pathfinder from the Nissan pickup design. Engine displacement grew to 3.3-liters and horsepower increased to 168 hp. Additional refinements in handling and ride were priorities, and strong sales followed as a result.

For the 2001 model year, Pathfinder switched to the 3.5-liter V6, part of the award winning VQ-series engine family. Producing 250 horsepower (with a five-speed manual, 240 horsepower for the automatic), the new engine was well received by consumers – as were the family friendly interior features and technology, such as a Navigation system with a unique three-dimensional "Birdview" display.

Third Generation (2005 - 2012)

The third-generation Pathfinder made its world debut at the 2004 North American International Auto Show, along with new generations of the Frontier pickup and Xterra SUV. With the new 2005 model, Pathfinder returned to body-on-frame construction, using a modified version of the F-Alpha platform developed for the then-new Titan full-size pickup and Armada full-size SUV. A split fold-down 3rd row seat gave Pathfinder seven-passenger capability for the first time. Pathfinder celebrated its 25th anniversary with the 2011 model year.

The third generation’s standard powerplant was a larger 4.0-liter V6 rated at 266 horsepower and a hefty 288 lb-ft of torque. For the 2008 model year, Pathfinder was available with a V8 engine for the first time – borrowing the full-size Armada’s 310-horsepower 5.6-liter V8. With 388 lb-ft of torque a Pathfinder V8 could tow up to 7,000 lbs. (when properly equipped).

Fourth Generation (2013 – 2016)

With the introduction of the all-new 4th generation, Pathfinder provided capability with comfortable seating for seven, intuitive 4WD and 5000-pound standard towing capacity – along with an unprecedented level of premium style, comfort, fuel economy and thoughtful technology.

Addressing buyers’ desire for more efficiency in every aspect of their lives, the all-new 2013 Pathfinder utilized a refined new drivetrain featuring a 240 horsepower 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine mated to a next-generation Xtronic transmission to help provide a 30 percent increase in combined City/Highway fuel economy over the previous V6-equipped 2012 Pathfinder model – up to 27 MPG highway. Use of a unibody platform provided numerous benefits, including a flat floor for enhanced interior packaging flexibility and more space. Overall interior roominess increased by 8.4 cubic feet versus the previous Pathfinder design.

The fourth generation Pathfinder also introduced a long list of innovations, starting with its EZ Flex™ Seating System with 5.5 inches of 2nd row seat travel for ease of entry and exit to the 3rd row. The 60/40-split 2nd row featured innovative LATCH AND GLIDE™ technology that allowed forward movement and access to the 3rd row with a child safety seat remaining securely in place (on the passenger curb side).

2017 Pathfinder

Reborn for the 2017 model year with more adventure capability, more power and towing capability, a freshened exterior look and new available driver assistance technology features, the new 2017 Pathfinder takes the nameplate to the highest level of performance, technology and style ever.

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