Off-Road Charm, On-Road Agility: The 2024 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek

nissan motor company logoNissan introduced the first Pathfinder way back in 1986 as its answer to the rising popularity of SUVs. The Pathfinder was a repurposed pickup truck at its heart for the first three generations of the vehicle, built atop the Navara/Frontier but with smart features all its own. The fifth generation of the Pathfinder was introduced in 2021 and the 2024 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek 4WD shows just how far the company has traveled with this well-liked three-row SUV. Continuing many of the most popular design choices from the last few years of its model, this one offers good offroad performance and a surprisingly comfortable and capable on-road experience too.

Nissan loaned me a shiny new 2024 Pathfinder Rock Creek edition for a week and I was glad to have it! From the space in the back (which I used for cargo and gear) to the pleasant highway drive experience, there’s really a lot to like in this rationally priced three-row SUV with 6,000 pounds of max towing capacity. The 2024 Pathfinder has five trim packages: S, SV, Rock Creek, SL, and Platinum. Here’s what my Rock Creek loaner looked like in Baja Storm Metallic:

2024 nissan pathfinder rock creek - exterior front

You can see that befitting its status as an off-road 4WD, it got pretty dirty while I was driving it. I tested it in snow, ice, melted snow, mud and dirt, finding it handled all the different conditions quite well. In fact, the one night there was a Winter Storm Alert and warnings about dangerous driving conditions, I simply switched the Pathfinder into SNOW mode and proceeded without a single slip or other issue. Notice those big 18″ wheels and those chunky 265/60 R18 tires. Definitely ready for bad driving conditions, or no road at all.

It’s hard to believe, but back in the day, you used to need to get out of your car and manually switch your wheels into four-wheel drive. Now it’s a button or knob from the comfort of the climate-controlled cabin with heated seats and a lovely sound system. So much more pleasant!

One of the features I liked the most with the rugged black and brown styling of the Rock Creek edition was its “tubular” roof rack. It’s, like, totally tubular, dude:

2024 nissan pathfinder rock creek - tubular roof rack

Since it only has a 220-pound capacity, however, you’re not going to be mounting your above-truck tent for overnights while on the road unless you’re quite petite. For cargo, skis, bikes, or cargo boxes, or to help you move cross country, it’s going to be great. If you can figure out how to get up to it: I found even climbing on the side to take the above photo a bit tricky.

2024 nissan pathfinder rock creek - dashboard

Moving inside the vehicle, you can see that in a lot of ways it still has that functional truck-inspired dashboard design. The 8-inch touchscreen infotainment screen seemed a bit small for the vehicle size, and I found it most frustrating that the “Settings” options through the Infotainment system didn’t offer redundant – but easier to understand – vehicle controls. To adjust the more important settings (like what happens when you unlock the vehicle, light controls, safety features) you have to use the Settings feature tucked into the much smaller screen on the main gauge display, as I’ll show momentarily.

Because this is mostly a classic Nissan layout, it was quite easy to jump in and just start driving. I never did find the steering wheel heater control, however, but then again, that might be a feature omitted in this edition. The ultimate in first world problems, I know, but it also highlights the challenges that modern vehicle designers face: Where to put all the controls!

Notice that the interior lacks any echos of the lovely brown and black dual tone appearance of the exterior. There’s red stitching in a few spots (like along the center console) but why that isn’t color synchronized with the exterior is a bit of a puzzle. Likely it’s related to efficiencies and the economics of larger scale dash feature manufacturing. Still, it’s a very pedestrian interior color scheme for a truck with such a great, rugged exterior appearance. You can see this even more in the following closeup:

2024 nissan pathfinder rock creek - climate controls

Even in 2024 the NissanConnect only supports wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so I’m listening to an audiobook off my iPhone via Bluetooth. Nothing wrong with that, but when you spend almost $46K on a vehicle, it might be a surprise that wireless isn’t supported. Otherwise, the climate controls worked well and the three levels of seat heater were a blessing during the sub-freezing mornings.

The various buttons below the infotainment display were helpful too, but it was odd that there were a lot of constraints around when you could or couldn’t use the camera for exterior views. Every time I was parking, it automatically cut out if I was moving forward (as into a parking spot) and kicked back on when I was in reverse. This might be a feature that can be overridden. Notice also that there’s no navigation button: The Pathfinder eschews any on-board navigation, assuming (probably rightly) that modern drivers will be plugging in their phones for a dynamic driving map.

2024 nissan pathfinder rock creek - center console

The center console design was quite functional and the rectangular spot above the cup holders almost proved a good place to place my phone while driving, though it would be better if it were an inch or two deeper. The hero of this area is the drive mode knob, however, with its many easy shortcuts to trailer mode, mud, regular highway driving, even hill crawl. It may look modest, but in many ways, it’s the heart of the Pathfinder line, and I definitely utilized it during my evaluation period. Also note the PATHFINDER branding on the armrest. A bit below it (just off the picture) was a great ROCK CREEK logo, one of the few spots of color in the interior.

Earlier I mentioned that most of the important vehicle settings are only accessible through the 7″ Drive-Assist Display (as Nissan calls it). Here you can see what I’m talking about:

2024 nissan pathfinder rock creek - main gauge

Because of its limited display size, acronyms are inevitably utilized, but that just makes it more confusing to the driver. What’s VDC? What’s TPMS? Why is ECO Mode accessible here, rather than in the drive mode knob on the center console? More importantly, I really would like to see all of these controls duplicated and accessible from the Settings option on the main infotainment system. Do these two design departments need to have a meeting? 🙂

Otherwise, the main gauge is the same darn design that’s been in Nissan vehicles forever. Do you really need a tachometer showing you RPMs when it’s a 9-speed automatic transmission? Speaking of which, the very capable engine in the Rock Creek is a 3.5L DOHC 24-valve 6-cylinder engine pushing out 295hp with 270lb/ft of torque. Enough for that trailer of gear or boat, no question.

Climbing out of the 2024 Pathfinder, here’s the 2nd-row legroom:

2024 nissan pathfinder rock creek - 2nd row rear legroom

If you don’t get the chance to drive lots of vehicles, I can assure you this is quite good and it’s with the driver’s seat just about all the way back too. It’s entirely comfortable for adults and if you get the second row bench rather than the dual captain’s chairs, you can reasonably expect three adults to share the seat. The third row’s a lot smaller (as most are) so it’s probably best to designate it as the kids’ row, as you can see from this rear cargo shot:

2024 nissan pathfinder rock creek - rear cargo space

A pretty typical 60/40 design. Notice also that the third-row seats are, in toto, noticeably narrower than the second row. This is due to the rear wheels, but it’s important if you think that you’ll be able to get 3 + 3 + 2 in the Pathfinder. That last row’s going to be a tight squeeze for the wee folk. Still a decent amount of cargo space and the All Season Cargo Protector (optional) is a nice addition to ensure you can throw snowy ski boots or muddy camping gear in without worry.

Worth noting is that the rear climate controls are remarkably capable, an unusual feature on vehicles in this class:

2024 nissan pathfinder rock creek - rear climate controls

It’s always good to keep those second-row passengers quiet with their own charging ports and climate controls!

And so, finally, I found that there was a lot to like with the 2024 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek, from a comfortable drive to a great, rugged curb appeal. It handled inclement weather like a champ too. There were some quirks, however, notably that with the third row seats down, the seatbelt sensor warned me every time I started the Pathfinder that there was a rear passenger without a seat belt on. One presumes folding it down was triggering the sensor, but isn’t this something that should have been fixed in testing? It also has mediocre fuel efficiency when not towing. I saw 21.3mpg and its EPA ratings are 20/23, but in this stage of auto evolution, I’m expecting at least 20% better mileage. And when you hitch up a trailer? Good luck with those fuel stops.

2024 nissan pathfinder rock creek - exterior rear

If you’re in the market for an SUV with decent cargo space, an optional third row, and a price tag that comes in just below $50K, however, there’s a lot to recommend the Pathfinder Rock Creek. Definitely worth a test drive!

2024 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek 4WD with 3.5L 24-valve 6-cylinder engine and 9-speed automatic transmission. BASE PRICE: $43,630.00. Options included: Rock Creek All-Seas Floor Lines and Cargo Area Protector, Splash Guards, Premium Paint. AS DRIVEN: $45,920.00

Disclosure: Nissan loaned me this vehicle for a week in return for this candid writeup. Thanks, Nissan!

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dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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