We put the refreshed Nissan Pathfinder up against the Honda Pilot to see how these two midsize SUVs stack up.
Those shopping for a three-row crossover for your family are spoiled for choice.
The Nissan Pathfinder, while not unpopular, hasn’t won nearly as many hearts as others in the segment. Nissan took notice and has given the 2017 Pathfinder, which goes on sale in September, a host of changes over the current model.
I’ve driven it, and I’ve also recently revisited one of its key (and more popular) rivals: the 2016 Honda Pilot.
Why compare the Pathfinder to the Pilot? Both Honda and Nissan reps have acknowledged they’re key rivals, but Honda was arguably the first to perfect the car-based three-row crossover more than a decade ago. Currently, the Pilot ranks as one of the best-sellers in the class. In the case of the 2016 Pilot, it’s about as good as it gets in terms of being able to haul people or things or some combination.
First Impressions: 2017 Nissan Pathfinder
While Honda tried to de-box and soften the current Pilot when it was introduced about a year ago, Nissan’s mission for 2017 was to make its Pathfinder appear more rugged. A grille inspired by the Nissan Titan pickup and fewer curves go at least a little way to make it look more like an SUV than a wagon.
Inside, however, it’s very clear you’re sitting in a Nissan car. It’s easy to step in and out, like most car-based crossovers. All Pathfinders seat up to seven passengers, but those who get put in Economy Coach (commonly known as the third-row seat) will have to be young. It is easy to get back there however, as the second-row seat slides far forward to improve access, even with a child seat attached. More crossovers should be like Nissan’s in this regard.
Matters for passengers are not helped by a ride that’s somewhat floaty and the seats are of dubious comfort. It’s also not particularly quiet inside and the whole experience isn’t comfortable for the driver. Good, then, that radar-guided cruise control and forward collision warning are now options.
All Pathfinders get a 3.5-liter V6 that now has 284 horsepower (24 more horsepower than the 2016 model). As before, the Pathfinder is sold with standard front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is also the only choice, which gets the job done, but isn’t particularly exciting.
Setting the Benchmark: 2016 Honda Pilot
The Honda Pilot also has a 3.5-liter V6, but with 280 horsepower and either a six- or nine-speed automatic. The nine-speed comes on the most expensive models, which is a shame because the six-speed is more refined. We think it’s worth the 1 or 2 mpg loss in fuel economy, especially considering the nine-speed’s occasional erratic nature and somewhat confusing push-button gear selector.
Two areas Nissan likes to push in the 2017 Pathfinder are off-road ability and towing capacity. While the Pathfinder decisively beats the Pilot in towing with a 6,000-pound rating on all models (the Pilot can tow between 3,500 and 5,000 pounds, depending on the trim), its off-road skills are harder to compare. Old-school drivers will likely appreciate the straightforward controls in the Nissan versus the Honda’s selectable sand, snow and mud drive modes, though, even if both are best suited to nothing more arduous than gravely camping trails and mostly level fields.
Still, Honda offers a superior driving experience. Where the Pathfinder feels leaden at times, the Pilot weighs less, which is made obvious by more responsiveness from the pedals and steering wheel. While there is wind noise, the Pilot also feels less taxed by mass. The ride is more comfortable than the Pathfinder’s, even on optional 20-inch wheels.
The Pilot’s interior is also better thought out. It’s notably more spacious inside, and all but the top Elite version seat eight to the Nissan’s seven. The third row is able to accommodate adults better than in the Pathfinder, even if it isn’t exactly comfortable for long trips. Still, the Pilot’s assortment of cubbies and cup holders mean its occupants will be more at home on long trips.
The Pathfinder has the edge on interior controls, however. Compared to Honda’s insistence on a touch-screen radio that employs no physical switches except for those on the steering wheel, Nissan has gifted all Pathfinders a new 8-inch screen that’s bright and clear, although not much more responsive than the Honda’s. Nissan also offers an around-view monitor which gives a simple view of the big SUV’s corners. All Pilots have a backup camera, but you have to get the most expensive model to get parking sensors, which greatly help in parking this box in tight spaces.
Pricing and Results
The revised top-line Pathfinder Platinum with all-wheel drive starts at $43,560. Meanwhile, a fully loaded 2016 Pilot Elite like the one I drove starts at $46,770. That said, Honda has been pretty stingy with incentives and Nissan has been pretty generous in the past. But is that enough to overcome the differences in performance, packaging and quality? Try as the Pathfinder might, the best bet is still the Pilot.