What Is It?
Thirty-five years ago Nissan introduced the Pathfinder — long before the sport-utility vehicle (and the acronym SUV) became commonplace. The Pathfinder has come a long way since the first truck-based 2-door model. The latest version arrived on the market last year with a roomy, attractive interior, impressive capability, new technology and rugged looks influenced by the original 1987 model. For the new model year, the Japan-based automaker offers the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek, giving the SUV unique styling along with slightly more off-road prowess.
Nissan provided us with a 2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek 4WD painted with a two-tone Scarlet Ember Tintcoat / Super Black paint. Besides the extra cost for the paint, the only option on the test vehicle was all-season floor mats for a total MSRP of $45,250. The Rock Creek edition resides between the SV and SL in the Pathfinder lineup. Competitors to the Pathfinder Rock Creek include the Honda Pilot TrailSport, Ford Explorer Timberline, Kia Telluride X-Pro, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota 4Runner and Subaru Outback Wilderness.
The Pathfinder features a more rugged, squared-off design than the previous generation, sporting an updated version of Nissan’s familiar V-Motion grille — a frontal feature found on almost every model in the Nissan lineup. Standard LED headlights flush with the bodywork flank the grille, while slim LED daytime running lights wrap around the hoodline.
Rock Creek Styling
The Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek stands out from the rest of the lineup with unique badging, a tubular roof rack with a 220-pound load capacity, and a unique front fascia with a dark V-Motion grille. LED fog lights are also standard.
Ready for Adventure
“The 2022 Pathfinder was all about a ‘return to rugged,’ and the Pathfinder Rock Creek takes that spirit even further,” said Senior Vice President of Nissan U.S. Marketing and Sales Michael Colleran. “From the urban jungle to the natural beauty that can be reached within minutes from the city, Pathfinder Rock Creek has both the style and hardware to create an adventure just about anywhere,” noted Colleran. All Rock Creek Pathfinders come with four-wheel drive as standard equipment. Additional ability to travel off the beaten path comes via an off-road-tuned suspension, a slight 5/8-inch lift, and 18-inch beadlock-style wheels with all-terrain tires.
The 2023 Pathfinder features a clean design inside, centered around the 8-inch touchscreen display mounted high on the dashboard. The electronic gear selector takes up less room and opens up the center console for more storage, as well as accommodating additional storage below. Climate controls are kept separate and have an easily discoverable interface for seat heating and rear climate control. The Pathfinder Rock Creek features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay which require a wired connection.
Special Interior Trim
The Rock Creek edition gets special treatment with exclusive leatherette/fabric seats with the Rock Creek logo stitched into the seatbacks. The seats, steering wheel, instrument panel, center console and door panels all get contrasting orange stitching.
The Pathfinder Rock Creek comes with captain’s chairs in the second row for more comfortable, spacious surroundings. The SUV has decent headroom and legroom, and the center console adds a convenient storage area. Second-row seats can also fold and slide via the touch of a button for easy access to the third row, even with a child seat installed.
As with most three-row SUVs, the Pathfinder’s third row is a bit cramped for adults, especially with every seat in use. Second-row seats can be moved forward to provide a bit more legroom, and USB ports and cupholders for third-row passengers ease the pain of being relegated to the rearmost seats.
The Pathfinder offers plenty of cargo space — Nissan says the SUV has room for four golf bags with all three rows in place. Consumers can also fold down both rows of rear seats to create enough space to haul a standard 4 x 8 sheet of plywood. The cargo floor and third-row seatbacks are covered with all-weather mats for easy cleanup. The SUV also has a hidden storage area below the cargo floor.
Under the Hood
Nissan’s 3.5-liter V6 engine powers the Pathfinder; however, the Rock Creek edition gets a bump to 295 horses (versus 284) and 270 lb-ft of torque (up from 259) when using premium fuel. That power gets sent to all four wheels via the smooth-shifting 9-speed automatic transmission. With a standard-equipment tow hitch receiver and harness, the Pathfinder Rock Creek can tow up to 6,000 pounds. However, trailer brakes are not standard.
On the Road
We’ve had several opportunities to drive the current-generation Pathfinder and always find it very comfortable and quiet on the road. Acceleration is strong with quick, smooth upshifts and downshifts thanks to a new 9-speed automatic transmission that replaced the CVT.
Some sacrifices are made with the Rock Creek edition — the standard off-road tires add a bit of road noise, and the ride isn’t quite as smooth. Steering feedback and handling are also diminished. For most situations we would rather have the typical all-season tires which offer better traction on the pavement, especially when wet.
In the Snow
When the roads get icy and snow-covered, the Pathfinder performs well owing to full-time all-wheel drive. While the more aggressive tire tread can be a negative in everyday driving, it was a welcome feature in the winter weather. With both commendable traction and controlled wheelslip, the Rock Creek Pathfinder excels in slick conditions.
Deep Snow and Mud
During our testing, the traction control system became a hindrance when taking the 2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek into mud or deep snow. Momentum is the key when pushing through these conditions, but when this Pathfinder’s wheels start to slip, the power gets cut to prevent them from spinning, stopping the vehicle in the worst possible place. Unfortunately the SUV does not have a button to turn off the traction control.
Last year’s redesign of the Nissan Pathfinder makes this three-row SUV a strong contender in a very competitive market segment. The comfortable interior has a high-tech vibe and offers plenty of utility with a spacious cabin and considerable cargo space. The Rock Creek doesn’t make the Pathfinder much more of an off-roader since its tires are the primary differentiator when it comes to capability, although customers will likely appreciate the unique styling of this special edition.