The newest version of the Nissan Pathfinder was designed to help it better live up to its name.
The all-wheel-drive Pathfinder Rock Creek is an off-road focused model that follows the new trend of rugged three-row crossover SUVs like the Honda Pilot TrailSport, Kia Telluride X-Pro and Ford Explorer Timberline.
When the Pathfinder was redesigned for 2022, Nissan instilled it with more of the off-road spirit of the early Pathfinder trucks, but the Rock Creek takes that to the next level.
It features standard all-terrain tires and an updated suspension that increase its ground clearance from 7.1 to 7.7 inches, tougher front and rear bumper styling, a trailering kit and a tubular roof rack with a 220-pound capacity for carrying gear.
It also gets water-resistant leatherette upholstery with Rock Creek badging, heated front seats — but not a heated steering wheel — second-row captain’s chairs and a 360-degree camera system with a variety of views to make it easier to negotiate tight trails … and parking spaces.
Prices start at $44,145, and it comes pretty much fully loaded with only accessories available on the options list.
The Pathfinder’s 3.5-liter V6 also gets a boost in power from 284 hp to 295 hp and from 259 lb-ft of torque to 270 lb-ft, with the Rock Creek rated to tow trailers at the model’s maximum 6,000-pound limit.
The effect of the changes is a Pathfinder with an overall sturdier feel in all conditions and a definite improvement in its rough road capabilities. It’s still not a rock crawler, but you can spend all day driving the Rock Creek over ruts and gravel, no worse for wear.
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It’s only slightly nosier and stiffer on pavement, thanks mostly to the chunky tires, but not so much to be a turn-off. The Rock Creek also features Nissan’s ProPilot Assist advanced electronic driver aid suite with lane-centering adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and automatic emergency braking.
Fuel economy does take a hit from the all-wheel-drive Pathfinder’s top rating of 23 mpg combined and 27 mpg highway to 21 mpg combined and 23 highway as a result of the increased rolling resistance of the tires and extra aerodynamic drag caused by the lift and styling changes.
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It otherwise carries over features found in the reset of the Pathfinder lineup, including a removable console between the second-row seats, a third row suitable for adults and a roomy cargo area behind them with a deep underfloor wheelbarrow storage compartment.
It may still not be a true off-road truck like its forebears, but the Pathfinder Rock Creek is enough of a “truck” for most people and a lot more useful as a family car than any of them ever were, and the most useful model available today.
2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek
Base price: $44,145
Type: 4-door, 7-passenger all-wheel-drive SUV
Engine: 3.5-liter V6
Power: 295 hp, 270 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
MPG: 20 city/23 hwy