2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek Review: Mojo returns
A few years ago, the Nissan Pathfinder seemed neutered both in purpose and in appearance. It had lost its personality and its off-road capability, both of which were traded in on jellybean looks and milque-toasty performance.
The old Pathfinder was capable of handling soccer practice and carpooling, of course—Nissan just didn’t advertise it. Owners could feel like they had a genuine dual-purpose vehicle: Tame on weekdays, game for some adventure on weekends. But the Pathfinder had become domesticated. It was just another SUV.
Then came an effective, slightly angular redesign for 2022, reminiscent of how Pathfinders used to look but nicely updated. Now, with this legit Rock Creek off-road package, the Pathfinder officially has its chops back. The Rock Creek model has the right rugged look inside and out but also most of the hardware and software that other SUVs do, such as a host of safety equipment, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, and ProPilot, an active driving-assist feature. The Pathfinder Rock Creek doesn’t have a power tailgate, though.
What the Rock Creek package does have is an off-road-tuned suspension, purposeful-looking 18-inch wheels with 265/60 R18 all-terrain tires—Toyos on our test model—an “Around View monitor” with off-road mode, a unique front fascia and grille, a roof rack, and LED fog lights. Inside, there’s orange-stitched Rock Creek badging, second-row captain’s chairs (making for seven-passenger capacity with the third-row bench, but that seventh passenger had best be on Weight Watchers), and durable-feeling leatherette upholstery. The Rock Creek is all-wheel-drive, of course, an upgrade from base Pathfinders, which are front-drive.
The 3.5-liter V-6 also has 295 horsepower, 11 more than that of a regular Pathfinder, and more torque; but to get all of that extra muscle you need to feed it premium gas. The Rock Creek’s six runs fine on regular, but its output is closer to the standard engine’s 284. We suggest using premium if you’re towing—the capacity is a healthy 6000 pounds—and regular gas the rest of the time. Overall EPA-rated fuel economy is 21 mpg, lower than that of other Pathfinder models.
Specs: 2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek
• Price: $42,820/$ 44,855 base/as tested
• Powertrain: 3.5-liter V-6, nine-speed automatic transmission
• Horsepower: 295
• Torque: 270 lb-ft
• Layout: Four-wheel-drive, four-door, seven-passenger SUV
• EPA-rated fuel economy: 20 mpg city, 23 highway, 21 overall
• Competition: Toyota Highlander, Kia Telluride, Subaru Ascent
Base price on our Pathfinder Rock Creek was $42,820, with only two options plus $1295 for shipping: Rock Creek floor liners ($345) and two-tone paint ($395), the latter of which looks just right on this trucklet. The list price was $44,855.
On the road, the Pathfinder Rock Creek is a little stiff-legged, but you would expect that with the off-road handling upgrades. The ride is by no means objectionable, but it is distinctively rougher than that of the regular Pathfinder.
The tires, those Toyo Open Country radials, were new to me, and they work well everywhere—on dry pavement, over wet pavement, and in the dirt during mild off-roading. I’m lucky to live next to a state forest with all variety of Jeep-worthy trails, and on paths I would consider to be near-medium in difficulty, the Pathfinder Rock Creek was capable. The Toyos are slightly noisy on pavement, but any effective all-terrain tire makes its presence known on-road. Like the stiffer ride, the noise is just part of the package. The steering is more precise than on most off-road-capable machines.
Inside, the Pathfinder Rock Creek offers a friendly environment, with instruments and controls that are simple to master. The driver’s seat is 10-way power adjustable with power lumbar support. The passenger seat, with four-way manual adjust, isn’t as comfy. Second-row seats are pretty roomy and there’s a removable center console. The third row is best for kids, or adults who really need a ride.
The Pathfinder Rock Creek is a very competent, well-mannered sport-ute, exceptional at nothing but good at everything. At under $45,000, it is a lot for the money, but that price includes a personality once again. If you aren’t looking for personality, the base Pathfinder starts at about $9000 less.
2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek
Highs: Solid powertrain, three-row seating, handsome styling.
Lows: Not-great fuel economy, highway ride a little jiggly.
Takeaway: Viceless, good-looking sport-ute with some off-road ability.