© 2023 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.

2020 Nissan Pathfinder SV 4WD Review

Mark Savage
The 2020 Nissan Pathfinder SV 4WD is a mid-sized SUV built to keep the family safe at an affordable price.

Do you prefer old school or retro to an overabundance of digital doodads? Do you prefer driving your vehicle to your vehicle driving you?

Nissan has an answer for SUV lovers. Its name is Pathfinder. This is a fine SUV with room for seven passengers, but with a modicum of the gizmos and gadgets that can make today’s vehicles safer, but often frustrating to drive. I enjoyed this drive without a lane-departure system beeping or tugging at the wheel and everything else on the dash being simple enough that having an electronics degree wasn’t necessary.

First some background. The Pathfinder is a fine mid-size SUV that has remained mostly unchanged for eight years (seven model years). The good news is that it was well designed to begin with so it is roomy, rides well and has plenty of power, plus optional four-wheel drive.

READ: 2020 Nissan Versa SR Review

Mine was a Caspian Blue Metallic SV model with 4WD and the Rock Creek Edition packages to spiff its looks and add just the right amount of technology most of us want. Total damages were just $40,280 after starting at $37,205, including delivery fees.

The SV is second up in trim levels to the base front-drive S, which starts at $32,725 with delivery. So, it’s pretty straightforward. The Rock Creek Edition packages add a black mesh grille, black roof rails, plus black door handles, fascia accents, mirrors, badging and molding over the wheel wells. Its 18-inch wheels also are dark metal.

Credit Mark Savage
The Pathfinder has stayed mostly unchanged over the last eight years but the Rock Creek Edition package adds a dark metal accent to the vehicle.

The Rock Creek tech package ($980) includes heated cloth front seats, a heated steering wheel and heated outside mirrors. Plus, it includes a navigation system and SiriusXM traffic and travel links, plus the NissanConnect safety and infotainment system. All fine, and nothing too fancy to fuss with as you drive.

What I continue to like about the basic Pathfinder is its power. That comes from its tried and true 3.5-liter V6 that delivers a healthy 284 horses at 259 lbs.-ft. of torque. That’s more than many of its competitors, plus many of them increasingly go with turbocharged I4 engines that are more fuel efficient. But this V6 is strong and reliable. Heck, Pathfinder will tow up to 6,000 lbs.Thankfully this V6 also is happy to drink regular gas.

That’s good because gas mileage is so-so, as you might expect in a mid-size SUV, although Pathfinder has lost a couple hundred pounds in the past year. I got just 18.0 mpg in about a 30/70 mix of highway to city driving. The EPA rates the 2020 model at 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. There’s an Xtronic continuously variable transmission that is designed to aid gas mileage. It also shifts smoothly and gives you the semblance of a normal shift sensation. Some CVTs feel slushy, but Nissan CVTs are among the best feeling and performing.

Handling is pretty good with a moderate amount of feedback and road feel to the wheel. It’s easily controlled and feels substantial on the highway. Ride is pleasant too, in fact better than many pricier SUVs I’ve driven lately. And the ride felt less choppy on city streets than in my previous Pathfinder test drive.

Credit Mark Savage
The gas mileage for the Pathfinder will not blow you away but that should be expected for a mid-size SUV.

This SV model also included four-wheel-drive, controlled via a dial on the console. That allows you to improve footing if the weather turns nasty or you wander off road into mud and muck. That system adds $1,690 to any trim level, of which Pathfinder has four, S, SV, SL and Platinum. Traction was good and I had this during one of our rain-turns-to-snow days that really slicks up roads.

Inside, the test truck was extremely quiet and comfy. Seats were gray cloth with black leatherette trim, orange stitching and an orange Rock Creek logo embroidered on the seat’s back cushion. The dash was black with matte silver air vents and trim, extending to the console and doors. Fake carbon fiber trim decorated the doors, console and center stack’s surfaces.

Pathfinder’s seats are soft, supportive and comfortable, better than many competitors. These also were heated via that Rock Creek package, along with the steering wheel.

The dash is well designed with a simple-to-use eight-inch screen with large buttons and knobs. Likewise, the climate control system buttons and knobs, while numerous, are equally easy to use. I mention this because so many brands, especially high-end marques, create a confusing climate and infotainment interface that can be distracting while driving.

Back seat space is roomy and comfortable too, and the second-row seats fold flat and slide forward to aid small folks crawling into the third row. It holds three youngsters, but really just two adults, except in a pinch. Legroom is limited in the third-row seat.

Credit Mark Savage
The Pathfinder comes with a simple infotainment console that makes it easy to adjust while driving.

Standard here on the safety front are parking sensors, plus adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking to slow or stop the car if a vehicle pulls in your path, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert that you view via the backup screen. Standard is an SOS emergency system overhead and a HomeLink system on the mirror.

There are heat controls for the rear seat area and plenty of plug-in outlets back there for cell phones, iPads, etc.

A few things you won’t find on the SV model include a sunroof or wireless phone charger. Hoping such a charger will be standard on all vehicles soon. There are, however, new Type-C USB ports. The rear hatch also is not powered, although a motion-sensing power hatch is optional. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto also are not available yet.

One other bugaboo remains the driver’s manual lumbar support adjustment. I can live with it being manual, but the lever is not on the lower seat cushion’s side nearest the door, as most are. It’s a lever located on the driver’s right side on the seat back cushion’s edge, facing the passenger seat. Reaching back to adjust it is incredibly awkward.

Credit Mark Savage
Even on slushy days, the Pathfinder keeps its traction and handles nicely with 4WD.

Pathfinder SV’s list price is a bargain considering it’s well equipped and this model comes with 4WD. But even if you move up to the top-end Platinum model with dual-pane sunroof and motion-detecting hatch, cost only rises to $42,920.

For a family of six or seven, there are many SUV choices with three-row seating. So, shop carefully and be assured the Pathfinder is stout and strong and worth a look.

Overview: 2020 Nissan Pathfinder SV 4WD

Hits: Strong power, controlled ride, 4x4, heated seats and wheel, soft and comfortable seats, easy infotainment screen to use, large buttons, quiet interior and third row seat, plus CD player. Good safety equipment.

Misses: No sunroof or wireless phone charger, awkward to reach manual lumbar adjustment for driver’s seat. Rear hatch not powered.

Made In: Smyrna, Tenn.

Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 284 horsepower

Transmission: Xtronic CVT automatic

Weight: 4,448 lbs.

Length: 198.5 in.

Wheelbase: 114.2 in.

Tow: 6,000 lbs.

MPG: 20/27,18.0 (tested)

Base Price: $37,205 (includes delivery)

Fair Market Price: $33,267*

Major Options: Rock Creek Edition package, (black fender moldings, unique dark 18-inch wheels and tires, black mesh V-motion grille, black roof rails, unique lower front fascia, black door handles and rearview mirrors, black front/rear fascia accents and license plate finisher, black model and grade badges and 4WD badge, unique badging on front doors and seat surfaces, high-contrast stitching on seat, doors, console lid and more, metallic interior trim, trailer hitch and harness and splash guards), $995

Rock Creek edition cross bars, $395

Carpeted Rock Creek floor mats, $310

Welcome lighting, $395

SV Rock Creek Tech package (Nissan nav system, Sirius XM travel & traffic link, NissanConnect services and premium plus, heated front cloth seats, heated steering wheel, heated outside rearview mirrors), $980

Test Vehicle: $40,280

Sources: Nissan, Kelley Blue Book

Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.

Mark Savage writes the auto review column, Savage On Wheels, for WUWM (formerly for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) and Savageonwheels.com. He is the former executive editor of American Snowmobiler magazine and FineScale Modeler magazine, both part of Kalmbach Media in Waukesha.
Related Content