Years ago, the Nissan Pathfinder was known for its athletic off-road capabilities. It was a true body-on-frame SUV that could easily hold its own off the beaten path. Fast forward to today, and the Pathfinder finds itself in its second generation as a unibody three-row family-hauling crossover. However, with the 2023 Rock Creek edition, Nissan makes a play to appeal to buyers who want a sampling of what the Pathfinder used to be.
Price and value
The new Rock Creek trim nestles in about midpack in the Pathfinder lineup. The MSRP range for the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder is $36-900-$49,870. It is available in five trim levels with a suite of standard features, including Nissan Safety Shield 360, tri-zone automatic temperature control and Apple CarPlay integration. All trim level pricing is based on a four-wheel drive configuration.
- Pathfinder S: $36,900
3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve V6 engine
9-speed automatic transmission with manual mode
Third row 60/40-split fold-flat reclining bench seat
- Pathfinder SV: $39,720
Heated front seats
Intelligent lane intervention
- Pathfinder Rock Creek: $42,820
Black tubular roof rack
Intelligent around view monitor with off-road mode
Unique leatherette-appointed seats with badging
- Pathfinder SL: $43,420
Heated steering wheel
Intelligent around view monitor
- Pathfinder Platinum: $49,870
20-inch machine-finished aluminum-alloy wheels
Bose premium audio system with 13 speakers, including dual woofers
Overall, the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder is a good value, and the Rock Creek trim reflects that. It lags behind some rivals in features, but the rugged looks and upgraded off-road capability over the other Pathfinder trims make up for it. The crossover carries a 3-year/36,000-mile basic warranty and a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
The Rock Creek Pathfinder’s performance is a bit of a mixed bag, but its buttery smooth V6 and rugged demeanor are hard not to like. The all-terrain tires, subtle lift kit and off-road-tuned suspension are the reasons to buy the Rock Creek. They work well enough with the rest of the drivetrain to provide a smooth, if uneventful, on- and off-road driving experience. The Pathfinder is a good value already, and the Rock Creek trim should provide most buyers with just enough performance to have some mild off-road adventures.
The entire Pathfinder lineup keeps the previous generation’s 3.5-liter V6 engine, and we really like it. We’re always OK with more power, and with the Rock Creek edition, you get 295 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque with premium gas — 11 more horsepower and torque than the standard Pathfinder. The SUV is a decent hauler, too, with better-than-average towing capacity for the segment. The engine is smooth in its power delivery and produces enough power that it doesn’t feel lacking when you put the pedal down.
During our week of testing, fuel economy was decent but obviously hampered by the larger tires. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 20 mpg in the city, 23 on the highway and 22 combined. Our week of driving was slightly worse than estimates, with close to 18 mpg combined and around 21 mpg on the highway.
Nissan has fitted the V6 to a 9-speed automatic transmission, and it’s an intuitive pairing. Shifts are smooth, and it doesn’t lag behind when a downshift is needed. The Rock Creek Pathfinder is only available in four-wheel drive.
Acceleration and handling
The Rock Creek’s extra grunt handles the beefy tires well, but we wouldn’t go so far as to call it exciting. Car and Driver clocked the Rock Creek Pathfinder from 0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds, about average for the segment. The Pathfinder feels good in your hands, but the tires do their best to numb the handling. Overall, the ride is composed and comfortable, which we’re sure extends to its performance on mild off-road trails.
Braking in the Rock Creek felt sure enough for an SUV this size, but its test numbers reflect significant stopping distances due to its tires. Car and Driver measured its 70-0 mph stopping distance at a lengthy 194 feet. The Rock Creek trim is equipped with automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, among other emergency braking features.
Interior comfort and convenience
Nissan’s done a nice job restyling the interior of the Pathfinder, and that extends to the Rock Creek edition. It’s a genuinely comfortable and spacious place to spend time, especially in the front seats. It’s a nice, clean design with good materials that should age gracefully. There is a lot of legroom up front and in the second row for children and adults. Third-row space is decent, but not the best in class. It’s also easy to get in and out of for children and adults alike, even for third-row occupants.
One of Nissan’s best features across its lineup are the zero-gravity seats. They’re comfortable and supportive, with just the right amount of cushion, and they beg for long drives. The second-row chairs are also comfortable, with plenty of space and legroom for adults. The third row is OK, but best reserved for smaller children.
The Rock Creek edition features leatherette on the sides of the seat cushions and a cloth-like material in the center. It feels durable enough, but it did seem to emit an odor that was undesirable. The seats warmed up nicely on cooler days.
The tri-zone climate control system works well in the Pathfinder. Each area of the vehicle felt comfortable and reached the programmed temperature quickly. The controls are easy to use and intuitive enough for each occupant to operate.
Cargo space and cabin storage
Nissan has upped its storage game in the new Pathfinder, with plenty of cubbies and nooks — including a genius, large bin below the center console that’s accessible by the driver and front-seat passenger.
There’s also plenty of rear cargo space. It has 16.6 cubic feet behind the third-row seats, 45 cubic feet behind the second row and 80.5 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded. It’s not the best we’ve seen, but it is better than the average midsize SUV. However, there is bonus underfloor storage, roomy enough for some bags, small equipment or groceries.
Nissan includes several standard features in the Pathfinder, including an 8-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, USB ports, satellite radio and a six speaker stereo. Our tester included a 9-inch touchscreen that looked great and was responsive and intuitive to operate. Flanking either side of the touchscreen are physical volume and tuning knobs, which were appreciated.
Exterior appearance and functionality
The Rock Creek trim is all about rugged appearances, and to that end, it succeeds. It’s a nice, off-road-ready upgrade to the Pathfinder’s already handsome looks. We anticipate it to be popular among families who want a little more capability for adventures. Everything, from the roof rack to the beadlock-style wheels to the Toyo all-terrain tires, communicates adventure. It looks especially good in our tester’s two-tone Scarlet Ember Tintcoat and Super Black paint. Other interesting colors are Obsidian Green Pearl and Super Black, Baja Storm Metallic and Super Black, Boulder Gray Pearl and Super Black, and Pearl White TriCoat and Super Black.
Towing capacity and payload
The Pathfinder is a capable tower and is rated at 6,000 pounds — about 1,000 pounds more than most of the competition. That’s a decent number for a V6 powered unibody SUV and only adds to the adventurous disposition of the Rock Creek trim.
The Rock Creek edition is equipped with 18-inch beadlock style wheels which, when coupled with meaty 265/60 R18 Toyo all-terrain tires, make for a soft and comfortable ride. There was some road noise from the Toyos, but it wasn’t annoying. We didn’t have a chance to take it off-roading, but we’re sure the tires would perform well given their aggressive tread.
Lights and turn signals
As with other Nissans, lighting controls are on the turn signal stalk left of the steering wheel, with automatic activation standard. Nissan has done a nice job incorporating LED headlights, slim daytime running lights and elongated LED taillights into the design, giving the exterior a fresh, modern appearance.
Cameras and side mirrors
With the Rock Trim trim comes the Off-Road Intelligent Around View Monitor system, which provides a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of your vehicle and surroundings. When parking, or in a precarious spot off-road, you can select a split screen between your car’s front, rear and the curb. The camera system is also helpful for backing up and connecting to trailer hitches.
Front and rear windshield
The new Pathfinder has excellent visibility most all the way around, the exception being in the rear when the third-row headrests are up. Automatic, rain-sensing wipers are standard and work well, as do the front and rear defrost features.
Nissan loads up the Rock Creek edition with a host of standard safety features, thus furthering its compelling value proposition. Our tester was equipped with Nissan’s ProPilot Assist, which basically acts as a driving aid that’s especially helpful on road trips. The Pathfinder feels safe and is a place you’ll be comfortable putting your family.
Nissan has a lot of excellent safety and driver assistance features, and they’re present in the Rock Creek Pathfinder.
- Adaptive cruise control
- Intelligent around view monitor
- Intelligent lane intervention
- Intelligent blind spot intervention
- Selectable driving modes
Awards and ratings
Thanks to the recent model redesign and suite of safety features, the Nissan Pathfinder is a safe place to be. It received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick+ designation and four and five star ratings in most tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It was also awarded the Sobre Ruedas Best SUV award at the Miami International Auto Show for its large seating capacity, versatility and truck-like brawn.
We really enjoyed the Nissan Pathfinder SL tester we had a few months ago, and the Rock Creek edition has only bolstered our love for this family SUV. The Rock Creek trim retains many of the features of the SL trim but adds legitimate off-road capability, as well as an attractive, rugged appearance. We anticipate the Rock Creek trim to be popular for Utah families, as it performs family-hauling duties well and provides the freedom to get off the beaten trail. If mild adventuring is something your family enjoys, the Rock Creek trim is a no-brainer.
Find your new Nissan Pathfinder on KSL Cars today.
Is the Rock Creek Pathfinder a serious off-roader?
Serious? Not really. Capable of going on most mild paths and trail terrain? Absolutely. Unless you’re into rock crawling, aggressive off-roading or desert running, the Rock Creek Pathfinder should prove capable in an array of off-road situations.
Is the Rock Creek Pathfinder a good value?
Definitely. While it does lack a few features found standard on some of the competition, the Pathfinder is generally a few thousand dollars less. It’s comfortable, capable, spacious and smooth — checking most boxes Utah families desire.
KSL Cars does not endorse any vehicles. The views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not reflect the views or opinions of KSL.com or its employees.