Is this a "just right" vehicle?

We’re all looking for the Goldilocks solution—that perfect thing that isn’t too soft or too hard, isn’t too sweet or too sour, isn’t too big or too small. But we may have solved the challenge of finding that perfect sized family vehicle. Or it would be, if only you could get your hands on one.

To be fair, supply shortages are impacting many manufacturers, not just Nissan.

Nissan’s original Pathfinder line up had no less than five variants, starting with the 2WD versions (the ST at $54,190 and Ti $65,910) and the AWD variants with an ST-L for $61,790. Despite being offered in nine cool colours, my favourites being Deep Ocean Pearl and Scarlet Ember, at the time of writing, you could only purchase a Ti at $70,030 or our range topping test vehicle, the flagship Ti-L, weighing down the scales at a hefty $80,227.

Where the Pathfinder was once the most likely candidate to be proudly on display in the driveway of the three bears, its limited availability and high entry point price is putting that under threat—at least until supply chain issues are resolved.

Assuming you have nearly $90K to get the Ti on-road or the full range becomes available, is the new Pathfinder likely to satisfy Ms Goldilocks?

If you want to avoid frown lines in your forehead from the stress of manoeuvring in busy shopping centre carparks or navigating near grid locked suburban streets on the school pickup run, the Pathfinder’s responsive electric steering and effortless agility to spin around in just 11.8m for those get me out of here U-turns proves it’s not a bulky, cumbersome grizzly bear.

Yet, when packing in the family, all your mates or a swag of gear, it’s no baby bassinet. This well-proportioned family friendly transporter is an excellent compromise between a spacious practical interior and a non-intimidating manageable exterior. It’s genuinely capable of accommodating even the most demanding requirements of the modern growing family or adventurous couple.

Even better, there’s no need to compromise on comfort, and should sibling rivalry be an issue, then the Pathfinder Ti-L clever rear layout incorporates a crucial neutral zone to keep the peace. There is USB power access in both second and third rows, so the two-legged volume monkeys can keep themselves entertained for hours with social media updates or Netflix movies.

You get a 12v socket up front, plus USB-A and C outlets for your own phone, so on those late nights after finishing work for the lonely drive home you can stream your favourite Spotify tracks or enjoy crisp DAB radio through the deep, rich sounding 13 speaker Bose audio system with not one but dual subwoofers, because everyone knows it’s all about that bass! 

The cargo area also has a 12v outlet ready to power a small fridge for when picking up tasty cheeses, olives, pate, salted butter and crusty bread to enjoy with a crisp chilled white after the drive to the holiday destination.

One of my gripes with many vehicles is the lack of practical dap-it-down spots and the missed opportunity to utilise wasted space. If you’re anything like me, you’ll love how Nissan’s boffins have taken advantage of every nook and cranny. There are multiple storage points, a pass-through console, a reasonable glove box for maps or purse, there’s even a neat little shelf just above the glovebox for pens, and cup holders everywhere. In fact, 16 in total.

You’ll never run out of places to put your house keys, change, drink bottles or macchiato coffee. Good job!

Oh, and did I mention the rewarding indulgence of limousine style arm rests in the second row of the Ti-L with two individual captain’s chairs? Nice. I can see Mum and Dad relaxing in the back whilst the P-plate pilots rack up valuable drive time behind the wheel under the watchful eyes. Win, win, really. And, when you need to take the tiller again, the two-stage memory seat control proves its worth.

Mind you, it would be handy to have the option to adjust the angle of the rear armrest in relation to the backrest position for different sized passengers, making it a more comfortable rather than it being fixed, pointing skyward, as you recline the back rest.

Have you noticed that just about every manufacturer is slowly increasing the size of each model variant? The Pathfinder is no exception, only this time it feels like it genuinely is for the betterment of occupant comfort and convenience rather than external flamboyant show pony dimensions.

With increased space in every direction, there’s commodious leg, head and shoulder room for grumpy overgrown teenagers, or those relatives who think you’re happy to be nominated as skipper.

Thanks to the fore and aft sliding adjustment of the second row, you get genuine seven seat capacity as in our Ti-L you could easily balance out the room front and rear to keep everyone comfortable and achieve sufficient toe room for third-row passengers.

What I’d not realised until a couple of back seat drivers squawked was that the second-row seats might benefit from an initial rearward slide limiter when loading third row passengers, as the lift and return home sliding action of the second row saw the seat locate to the very rear most position, catching unwary feet and knees in the back.

Apart from this surprise, the process of flipping forward the second-row seats either from the door entry or when captive in the third row is push button simplicity at its best. And whilst we’re talking good design, there is plenty of room to access or exit that back row thanks to the well-placed broad step offering secure foot placement, and proper wide opening rear doors with solid convenient grab handles to steady yourself. If you push the middle row forward to sacrifice just a little leg room, you can squeeze two adults in the very back in relative comfort, allowing you to take extra friends out for the night.

If you’re a fur-kid parent, want plenty of space for a hefty shopping spree, or to stow camping gear for a peaceful weekend away with your partner, flip up the electrically controlled rear hatch, then fold down that additional third row for reasonable storage space of 550L.

With the seat up, it can still accommodate an array of boxes, gardening supplies, or medium suitcases and carry-on luggage to drop friends to the airport.

And for a little extra storage, there’s a nice little cubby box under the rear-most floor section, great for smaller less-used items. The spare tyre is stowed below – no need to unload everything in the rain to change a tyre.

I appreciated the interior designer’s pragmatic approach to smart utilisation of interior space, allowing you to remove the centre console between the two rear bucket seats with a simple quick release action, enabling a turn and step through access to the third row or providing a deep storage area for taller items after folding the second. It increases that storage area to 780L of space for the tent, fridge, mountain bike and inflatable paddle board.

However, your furby may snort their disgust at the failure of the folded third row to provide a true level surface. My Aussie Shepherd preferred to lie longitudinally rather than transversely on his bed. It’s no deal breaker, but it is disappointing that given this Pathfinder’s well considered practicalities, smart functionality and niceties, the engineers couldn’t tweak the design to achieve a proper flat floor. When folding the second-row captain chairs, they also follow that subtle upward incline, making positioning, loading, and unloading of wider, longer, more fragile items like a mirror, needing base support, just that little more of a challenge.

It might seem picky, but if you’re shelling out nearly 90K for a premium vehicle, then the devil is in the detail. The more I’m expected to pay, the less willing I am to accept compromise in performance, form, and function.

Sink yourself back into the broad comfortable 12-way power adjustable quilted leather accented driver’s front seat and there’s little subtlety in this handsome Pathie’s origins. Aesthetics and design flair have been more than a little influenced by the US market. It’s all-chunky practical rotary dials and good-sized buttons for an array of functions covering AC and heating, audio, genuine vehicle navigation, handy cameras or to engage the self-indulgent derriere warmers and coolers.

Nissan has achieved a pleasing blend and balance of ergonomics and aesthetics; this fifth generation Pathfinder’s interior layout is a genial amalgamation of digital technology with a dab of retro simplistic form and style, making the interior a relaxed and comfortable space that has a gratifying purposeful robustness.

I liked the practicality and positioning of the old school style horizontal vents, underlined by a discreet splash of elegant satin chrome separating the LED display, and wonderful large, practical rotary dials and touch controls for easy quick operation when adjusting interior climate comfort settings.

Which is important when you’ve three climate zones with air vents all the way through to the rear row. To further manage interior comfort, Nissan has incorporated the welcome practicality of rear door sunshades on to cut heat and glare, ensuring everyone is protected and comfortable.

Par for the course in a vehicle of this calibre is Apple and Android integration. And whilst Apple and phone charging are both wireless in the Pathfinder, but Android still needs to be tethered to the dash via a cable.

Our Ti-L was fitted with the premium 12.3” TFT driver instrument display. The HD graphics produce rich colour and smooth motion, mimicking analogue gauge instrumentation. There’re loads of customisation options for vehicle settings with different display options and instrument readouts to match your mood and preference. Coupled with the excellent 10.8” Head Up Display, you can see at a glance important information such as vehicle speed, posted speed limit, plus handy turn-by-turn navigation instructions allowing you plenty of time to negotiate traffic conditions and stay focused on the road ahead.

I was impressed to find that this was one of the few HUDs that I could see the display whilst wearing my polarised sunglasses.

For me, jumping into this 5th generation Pathfinder was a pleasant and rewarding surprise. From the moment I pushed the start button to when I pulled into traffic, I was relaxed and comfortable, as if having done this many times before. And that is testament to the vehicle’s smart design for ease of operation and intuitive interaction between driver and vehicle.

The Pathfinder is a family orientated vehicle, which is intended to be rugged yet refined, both capable and comfortable. Whilst I didn’t have enough time with our Ti-L to test its broader capability outside the city confines, it did show its prowess as a practical daily commuter or freeway cruiser with a smooth quiet power train and confident on-road driving dynamics.

Under the hood resides the sweet 3.5 litre DOHC 24-valve direct injection V6 petrol carried over from the previous model. I appreciated Nissan’s logic. If it ain’t broke, don’t fiddle with it.

However, Nissan saw fit to retire the leisurely, bordering on lacklustre, CVT and hook up a proficient slick 9-speed auto which has transformed the driving character.

It knows how to get the best out of that enjoyable V6’s abilities, resulting in an effortless and relaxed drive.

Around town, its quiet disposition is smooth and buttery. On the open road, it will cruise with assured ease. 

But should the need arise to pull on the lusty 202kW of available urgency – engage the paddle shifters for a little lively fun, stand down on the throttle to open the taps and the V6 will show you just how strong and willing it can be as it builds power in a controlled and very reassuring delivery.

With a gratifying exhaust rasp to widen your smile, it provides that all important mid-range punch for overtaking confidently assertive. It’s an SUV with hidden benefits.

With its gutsy 340Nm V6, the Pathfinder AWD also extends its appeal by offering a safe and sensible towing capacity of 2,700kg, probably influenced by its unibody construction rather than the older body on frame setup. Hooking up a camper or small van is made all the safer thanks to a specific driver select Tow mode and Nissan’s effective onboard trailer-stability program. With a gross vehicle mass of 2,750kg—including passengers, tow ball weight and luggage, that’s a more realistic match of one to one and far less chance of the tail wagging the dog.

Nissan indicate a reasonable drinking habit of 10.5L/100 but I struggled to resist the opportunity to enjoying the rewarding silky surge from the V6, so I was seeing closer to 13L/100, totally self-inflicted but I’ve no complaints. That means with a tank of 71L, the Pathie will reward your good driving habits with around 700ks. Obviously, hook up the van and head for the hills and you can expect less.

For the most part, the ride is serene, thanks to the well suppressed cabin reducing external road noise and traffic volume. Bumps and dips are nicely absorbed by the suspension, allowing the cabin to remain stable and relaxed even over less than perfect country roads. The Pathfinder is happy to maintain a smooth, brisk pace for cruising, but won’t appreciate excessive enthusiasm through the bends. This is a vehicle built for comfort, not speed, and it delivers on that brief very well indeed.

Externally, the new Pathfinder cuts a handsome stance. That prominent black grille bordered by chunky chrome highlights follows the design language of Nissan’s muscular signature DNA. There’s pronounced bulging guards with squared-off shoulder edges and wheel arch flares further enhancing the visual width and strength of its exterior design. The slim line LED headlights and raised eyebrow Daytime Running Lights generate an assertive yet trustworthy appearance as it stares straight back at you.

But for me, it’s the design elements of the C-pillar creating a floating roof suspended over the rear glass and those thin pillars which give it a premium almost sensual appeal. Our Ti-L was finished off with smart dress shoes in the form of 20” machined alloys wrapped in sticky 50 series profile tyres.

You may have seen the term 4WD loosely used for this new Pathfinder. Unlike its much earlier predecessor, it doesn’t have a low ratio transfer case nor a locking centre differential for direct 50/50 distribution of engine torque to the front and rear axles. Rather, it’s an on-demand AWD system that is reactive to changing low traction situations by providing torque transfer between the front and rear through the use of hydraulic pressure and a clutch pack. 

Initial wheel slip prompts system intervention to redirect available engine torque to the wheels with the best purchase. Nissan has further enhanced the Pathfinder’s ability by allowing the driver to choose Standard, Eco, Snow, Sand, Mud/Rut and the previously mentioned Tow mode to optimise throttle, transmission and traction system responses for the given terrain and conditions.

It’s fair to say that the Pathfinder will comfortably succeed on moderate forestry trails, secondary gravel roads, a slushy surface coating over firm ground or moderately compacted sand.

It is a broadly capable but road orientated SUV. It is not intended to tackle heavy, technically challenging 4WDrive-only terrain.

The five-star ANCAP safety rated Ti-L has the comprehensive range of driver assist technologies you’d expect in a premium flagship—thanks to Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility safety suite. The ProPILOT system utilises Intelligent Cruise Control with the steering assist, to keep you in your lane, safely spaced from the vehicle in front, and at the designated speed limit.

There are full sized airbags protecting not one or two but all passenger rows, with an additional far-side airbag between the two front-seat passengers to stop you bumping heads.

And for additional confidence in your Pathfinder, Nissan has backed it with their five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, with complimentary roadside assistance across the same period. Servicing comes around every 12months or 10,000kms, whichever occurs first.

Smooth, quiet, comfortable, roomy and practical. This will absolutely be a vehicle that is easy to live with long term. Despite the high entry price point, the Pathfinder is likely to still impress potential purchasers as a worthwhile proposition – or have others delay a vehicle upgrade in the hope of improved availability across the range.

If you’ve outgrown the smaller SUV, don’t plan on tackling tough tracks but like the idea of comfortable getaways beyond the city limits then the Pathfinder has that elusive right-size balance that eliminates the need to compromise between drive-ability, park-ability and pack-ability.

Goldilocks might think it’s just right.

Model as tested: 2023 Nissan Pathfinder Ti-L 

  • Recommended retail: Drive away – $88,171 
  • Engine: 3.5 litre six-cylinder 
  • Output: 202kW/340Nm 
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic 
  • Fuel: 10.5L/100km 
  • Tank Capacity 71L 
  • Safety rating ANCAP 5 Star
Drive Editor - Ray Cully
Drive Editor – Ray Cully

About our Motoring Editor: Ray has been passionate about all things automotive since he first started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels models when he was five. Since leaving his executive role at General Motors (GM), he’s been sharing his driving experiences with Australian audiences for nearly 20 years, commencing his automotive journalist career with a popular WA-based magazine and was writing his own column in The West Australian for 8 years.

Ray’s strong love of automotive engineering and clever design has seen his articles and photography featured in prominent national magazines in Australia and the UK. He loves sharing his passion with other drivers, including via a long running stint as Senior Instructor for Land Rover Experience, providing training and education for new vehicle owners.

Recently Ray has been presenting on TV shows including Ready for Adventure and the very popular Caravan and Camping WA, to showcase some of the great products, vehicles and companies that make getting out and exploring Western Australia that much more enjoyable.