The Nissan Pathfinder once was synonymous with rugged. But the SUV has gone soft in recent years, and the Japanese automaker has forsaken adventure for comfort.
Nissan is taking a small step back from that approach with its 2019 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek Edition.
The package, available as an upgrade on the SL and SV trim levels, gives the popular midsize SUV an adventurous alter ego.
The Rock Creek Edition comes standard with a tow hitch receiver able to tow up to 6,000 pounds. And both trims have standard roof rails and crossbars.
These standard features make the Pathfinder Rock Creek Edition a compelling choice for families looking for outdoor adventures – as long as they can get there on paved roads and packed dirt trails. It has seating for up to eight and tip-and-slide third row access.
Yet, despite the new badging and gear-hauling features, this remains the relaxed fourth-generation Pathfinder. You’re still likely to see it shuttling kids to and from school rather than in a car wash stall being scrubbed of mud.
This doesn’t mean it lacks the capacity to chew up the outdoors – it just requires a tempered approach. It’s meant more for those going on day hikes and spending a weekend at a drive-up campsite. Hardcore off-roaders need not apply.
With the Rock Creek Edition, the automaker delivers a family vehicle it hopes may still pique the interest of the rugged, outdoorsy type. This was on full display during a recent test drive of the four-wheel-drive SL Rock Creek Edition outside Missoula, Mont.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH, SORT OF
The drive consisted mostly of paved highways and some gravel trails, which the Rock Creek Edition navigated easily. It traversed a roughly 1-foot deep, 20-foot long mud puddle without issue. There was a brief moment of hydroplaning upon impact but the Pathfinder quickly found its footing.
The engine is a 3.5-liter direct injection V6 that delivers 284 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque mated to a continuously variable transmission. It’s the same as a regular Pathfinder. It’s not overly powerful but it is able to comfortably pass other vehicles, even on an incline.
The Rock Creek Edition is best utilized as a reliable family commuter, but its rugged exterior and aesthetically-pleasing blacked-out accents give it an edge.
Its 18-inch dark-finished alloy wheels complement all-black features like its front grille, side mirrors, roof rails and overfenders. The door handles, front and rear bumper accents and license plate finisher are all black. Even the Rock Creek Edition badging is finished in black.
Each trim is available in either front-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive. However, the four-wheel-drive models use that mode only to 25 mph before automatically switching into front-wheel drive.
The Pathfinder comes standard with 255-millimeter all-season tires that performed well on highways and gravel trails and through the occasional large mud puddle.
However, it’s unable to tackle more advanced or technical terrain. With just 7 inches of ground clearance, the Rock Creek Edition would struggle with even moderate off-roading.
The Rock Creek’s interior tech left much to be desired, with the most notable issue being a lack of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility. Even the SUV’s available Technology Package is absent those plug-and-play phone features. Nissan’s peers have begun making this feature standard, making the omission a confusing one.
Without CarPlay or Android Auto, drivers are left to rely on the vehicle’s built-in navigation. It is standard on the SL and available on the SV. Though it seems dated, the system still functions reliably, albeit slowly.
Each trim has an 8-inch touch screen display, Bluetooth connectivity for streaming music and speed-sensitive volume control. Hard button controls sit below the touch screen, providing access to climate control, the radio, the navigation input screen, a settings menu and the map.
There’s also a camera button that switches the screen to display top-down and side views of the vehicle. That’s helpful for parallel parking or pulling out of tight spaces.
The SUV’s cargo space is roughly comparable to that of the Subaru Ascent. The Pathfinder measures 16.2 cubic feet behind the third row, 47.4 feet behind the second row and 79.5 feet behind the first row. The Ascent has 17.6 cubic feet behind the third row and 86 cubic feet behind the first row.
Inside the cabin, the Rock Creek Edition has an unusual two-tone interior with high-contrast stitching native only to its two trim levels. This includes both Rock Creek interior badging and interior trim. There’s also Rock Creek badging stitched into the rear cargo area.
DRIVE PERFORMANCE AND SAFETY
While most vehicles in the Pathfinder’s segment offer a selection of dynamic drive modes, the Rock Creek Edition keeps it simple. But both FWD and 4WD trims offer only the four basic drive options: reverse, drive, low and neutral.
The plain drive modes work well, though. It’s not designed to tackle terrain more difficult than a gravel road, but it still produces a smooth, comfortable drive experience on paved highways. It does get a little bumpy on rough, rocky roads.
The Pathfinder also comes standard with a safety suite comprising automatic emergency braking, intelligent cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot warnings. It also has rear-door alert that notifies drivers if something is left in the third row after the vehicle is shut down.
Other Nissan ProPilot Assist features like lane-keep assist and stop and hold cruise control, found on its Rogue crossover, are unfortunately absent.
PRICING AND AVAILABILITY
The 2019 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek Edition is available as an upgrade on both the 2WD and AWD SV and SL trims for an extra $995. The SV Rock Creek Edition 2WD and AWD starts at $35,265 and $36,955, respectively. The SL Rock Creek Edition 2WD and AWD models start at $38,915 and $40,605, respectively. Prices do not include a destination fee.
Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, Trucks.com attended an event where Nissan hosted travel and lodging.