The Pathfinder Rock Creek is a new edition of Nissan’s popular SUV designed with rugged styling and above-average off-road capabilities. We took some time to get to know this great-looking family vehicle on and off the pavement and enjoyed its smooth and comfortable ride and spacious and versatile interior.
We already thought that Nissan did a great job with the design of the current-gen Pathfinder. The Rock Creek is our favorite configuration yet. Building on the mid-tier Pathfinder SV 4WD trim, the Rock Creek comes with a sturdy tubular roof rack that looks great sitting atop a glossy black roof. Our test vehicle had white bodywork, which provided a bold contrast from the black trim elements. It also has standard LED fog lights, a unique blacked-out front end, and Rock Creek badging on the front doors and liftgate.
Like other current Pathfinders, there's a 3.5-liter direct-injected V6 engine under the hood, though the Rock Creek gets a slight horsepower and torque bump to 295 hp and 270 lb-ft. compared to 284 hp and 259 lb-ft. in other trims. Mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission and an intelligent 4-wheel drive system, it offers ample acceleration and passing power on-road and the power you need to dig out of deep ruts and sticky mud. Nissan also bestows the Rock Creek with an enhanced transmission cooler, which helps keep systems operating reliably on longer off-road rides over challenging terrain.
The Rock Creek rolls on 18" aluminum alloy wheels with an imitation beadlock design. Those rims are wrapped in nubby Toyo Open Country all-terrain tires with a beefy 30.5" diameter. Those rugged tires offer extra traction on rough and muddy trails and have a thick 6+" sidewall; offering added protection from rocks and other off-road hazards. They add just a little noise on paved roads, but the cabin of the Pathfinder is really well insulated from sound and vibration.
There are seven available drive modes for varied terrain and driving conditions. We often left the Pathfinder in Auto mode, which did a good job adapting to different situations. The dedicated Mud/Rut mode helped us dig out of the sloppy stuff we found after heavy rains and red Oklahoma clay got ahold of our tires. There are also drive modes for sand, snow, sport, towing, and a fuel-saving eco mode. Speaking of fuel, you're looking at 20 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway, and a combined fuel-economy rating of 21 mpg. Considering competing vehicles that benefit from smaller turbocharged engines, these aren't stellar numbers, but we appreciate the grunt and lag-free power from Nissan's V6. The engine also has an auto stop-start feature to help a little bit with fuel economy, but it's a bit jarring coming out of a stop, so we left it off most of the time.
Like all Pathfinders, this model benefits from an independent front and multi-link rear suspension, providing a comfortable and controlled ride. The Rock Creek's suspension has been specially tuned for off-road riding, but not too aggressively, so it still feels good on the highway and in urban environments. The well-sorted power steering system and front and rear stabilizer bars help the Pathfinder handle more like a car or station wagon than a spacious 3-row SUV.
Nissan outfits the Pathfinder Rock Creek with durable leatherette seats appointed with orange stitching and Rock Creek logo embroidery. Nissan offers some of the most comfortable and supportive seating in the business, and these live up to those high standards. They're great on long road trips and offer good padding and isolation when riding on rough trails. We like the look of the gunmetal trim and sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel, which matches the stitched trim on the doors, dash, center console, and armest.
Second-row passengers enjoy wide captain's chairs with fold-down arms and a removable center console with cupholders. Legroom and headroom are excellent in these seats, and they're nearly as comfortable as the front seats. The split-folding third row also has good headroom and enough space for three, but legroom is limited, making it best for little kids. There's no shortage of cupholders in the Pathfinder, with a dozen places for you and your passengers to put their drinks.
Cargo space is excellent, providing plenty of room for all of your adventure gear. In addition to the roof rack mentioned earlier, you get 16.6 cubic feet of space behind the third row, 45.0 cubic feet behind the second row, and 80.5 cubic feet with both rows folded. There's also a deep storage bin beneath the cargo floor, which is great for carrying tools, emergency gear, or other items you want out of sight. The Pathfinder Rock Creek will also tow up to 6,000 pounds and comes with a standard hitch receiver and wiring harness.
The Nissan Pathfinder was already one of our favorite 3-row SUVs, and the Rock Creek edition is our favorite Pathfinder, thanks to its bold looks, off-road capabilities, and everyday utility. It can't compete with a Land Rover Defender or Ford Bronco on extreme terrain, but if you live in the country, frequently travel on unpaved roads, or enjoy the occasional overlanding trip, the Rock Creek fills the bill perfectly, and it won't break the bank doing it. The base price for the 2023 Pathfinder Rock Creek is $42,820. With upgraded 2-tone paint, all-season mats, cargo cover, and destination charges, the model shown here can be had for $45,250.