If you ever find yourself up a “rock” creek without a paddle, perhaps the best way to navigate your way back to suburbia just might be behind the wheel of this Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek. It’s outfitted for adventure and looks the part too!
An all-new 5th generation Nissan Pathfinder debuted last year, and its “return to rugged” theme helped it easily win our Drivers’ Choice Award for Best Midsize Utility. An upgraded Rock Creek version arrives for 2023, designed to drive that point home even more forcefully!
The Rock Creek package itself arrived last gen but was clearly more about styling than actual off-road performance. While it does get a little more serious this time around, even Nissan refers to it as off-road “inspired”. We like their honesty!
Available with 4-wheel-drive only, the Rock Creek does add an upgraded suspension with just over half an inch of lift. There’s a beefy roof rack, new front fascia with black accents and mesh pattern grille, and 18-inch wheels styled to look like bead locks with all-terrain tires.
So, while the upgrades aren’t overly comprehensive, it’s worth pointing out, that even in its standard from, and despite its unibody frame, we found the Pathfinder plenty capable when the pavement ends.
Nissan’s intelligent 4-wheel-drive system has a combination of 7 drive and terrain modes, 3 of which are off-road specific: Snow, Sand, and Mud/Rut. Same 3.5-liter V6 under the hood, but Nissan did revise the fuel-mapping for the Rock Creek to boost output a bit. Horsepower climbs from 284 to 295, with a torque increase from 259 to 270lb-ft. Max tow package is standard for a 6,000-lbs. rating; as is a 9-speed automatic transmission, which was a big part of why we liked this gen Pathfinder so much, happily saying goodbye to the old gen’s CVT.
At our Mason Dixon test track, we couldn’t necessarily feel that extra oomph, as the Rock Creek left the line rather softly, though power arrived in heaps once we got rolling. And 6.8-seconds to 60 is more than adequate for a family utility. The engine does sound like it’s working overtime, despite the 9-speed steadily working through the gears, but power delivery is very consistent. The all-terrain tires made for a slightly less settled feel at higher speeds. So, 15.2 seconds to reach the quarter mile at 92 miles-per-hour.
The additional ground clearance didn’t seem to be a negative in our handling course. You could sense more tire sidewall flex, but the Pathfinder still felt firm with only moderate body roll. Though as before, stability control systems step in well before anything gets out of sorts. In braking, there was a good amount of nosedive, and you could feel the blocky tread pattern struggling to find grip, but a quite respectable 112-feet was our average stopping distance from 60.
Inside, the unique seat covering is a mix of simulated leather and nice-looking fabric, with orange stitching and embossed logos. There’s more orange stitching throughout the cabin, along with a standard Around View Monitor with specific off-road modes for the 8-inch infotainment screen. Keeping capability was a priority here, so there’s still 3 rows of seating standard, and even a good 16.6 cubic-ft. of room behind the 3rd row, plus hidden underfloor storage. 45.0 cubic-ft. of space behind the 2nd row, with a max of 80.5. All highly flexible as well. The 2nd row captain’s chairs that come standard in the Rock Creek, have a nice removable console in between, as well as climate controls for rear seat passengers.
The only compromise seems to come in daily driving, where you’ll have to put up with a little more tire noise and an overall more truck-like feel; though those are the very things people generally sign up for when opting for an off-road inspired rig.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings are 20-City, 23-Highway, and 21-Combined. We hyper-miled our way to a great 26.1 miles-per-gallon average on Premium. That’s still a slightly below average Energy Impact Score, using 14.2-barrels of oil yearly, along with emissions of 6.9-tons of CO2.
Considering a base 2-wheel-drive Pathfinder starts at $36,295, and top Platinum comes in at $49,295, paying $44,115 for the Rock Creek is more than reasonable.
The 2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek may not be built to impress the hardcore dirt diggers at an off-road park, but when it comes to performing tasks that the vast majority of people buy 3-row SUVs for, it excels better than ever, and now looks a whole lot cooler while doing it.
Engine: 3.5L V6
Torque: 270 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 6.8 seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.2 seconds at 92 mph
60-0 Braking: 112 feet (avg)
EPA: 20 City / 23 Highway / 21 Combined