I’ll admit I’m not the first person to think about the Nissan Pathfinder all day. I’m more of a “check the used-car sites to see if Lotus Elise prices are holding” type, and the Pathfinder doesn’t necessarily scream “Think about me, you absolute dunce!” It wouldn’t be a very compelling argument if it did.
But pricing for the 2020 Pathfinder came out Tuesday, with the model starting at $31,680 for the front-wheel-drive version and topping out with a $44,610 four-wheel-drive trim. It was only then that I remembered how the current generation of the vehicle kind of looks like a “new” crossover from 2010, and how the Pathfinder used to look cool.
From the outside, it is now roughly as attractive as a lump of oatmeal.
The Pathfinder has gone through a confused existence in general, beginning in the 1987 model year with two doors and the body-on-frame construction often used on trucks and larger SUVs. (Rear doors came later.) The next generation came around in 1996 and went to a unibody construction, with Nissan saying the looks were altered to differentiate it from the company’s pickup. In 2005, the third generation came out, returning to the body-on-frame approach and the giant, truck-like looks.
The current-generation Pathfinder came out in 2013, offering standard FWD and optional 4WD. It returned to unibody construction once again, and went from looking like your neighborhood rough, tough SUV to looking like any other bland crossover you could buy. That’s still what it looks like today.
Why it didn’t keep the boxy look and go for the “rugged luxury” branding vibe automakers love these days is a mystery. Boxy SUVs are good when a model has a history of boxiness, and the Pathfinder does. Just look at the Toyota 4Runner: alive, thriving and looking not much different than it did back in 2004, because there’s no real need for it to change. Boxy works, when done correctly.
The Pathfinder instead morphed into a vehicle that doesn’t even look, from the outside, like it belongs in 2020. We live in a time when car buyers know they want a crossover or SUV, they just don’t know which one, meaning each has to stick out in order to get their attention—hence the Camaro-looking Chevrolet Blazer or the upcoming Ford Mustang “inspired” electric crossover. But the new Pathfinder is just there, shrugging, figuring it would rather not be noticed at all than be noticed and potentially rejected.
The Pathfinder has been a lot of different things in its life, but it had some of the right ideas along the way. How it went from seedlings of potential future greatness to the aged-looking crossover it is today, I will never know.
But the good thing is that I won’t be stuck with this tormenting question long, as I’ll return to forgetting it exists by approximately tomorrow morning.