While Honda, Toyota and General Motors were scoring big with car-based crossovers a decade ago, Nissan remained one of the last holdouts to stick with truck-based SUVs in the critical three-row midsize/large segment. But when Nissan gave in and exchanged its Pathfinder’s pickup truck roots for a passenger car’s in 2013, the company may have over-corrected for being late to the bandwagon.
Accordingly, for 2017, the Pathfinder has been tweaked to re-emphasize some of its old toughness. You’ll find it in boxier front-end styling, looking tougher than last year’s gently curved model. Upgrades to its V6 engine also help it tow an extra 1,000 pounds, for a total rating of 6,000 – impressive for a crossover. (For true heavy-duty performance, Nissan also has a newly redesigned Armada, a V8-powered traditional SUV.)
Other updates simply respond to the passage of time, as Nissan added new luxury, technology and convenience features to keep up with the class norm.
These updates round out a large crossover that offers an experience that’s overall pleasant but unremarkable. With more space than a Toyota Highlander or GMC Acadia, and particularly easy third-row access for this type of vehicle, the Pathfinder tops those models if you plan to carry more than four adults or growing teens. An EPA rating of 21 mpg in the tested all-wheel-drive model is respectable for this class, and the 3.5-liter V6 delivers ample power. As on many Nissans, a widely available 360-degree camera – showing an overhead view of the vehicle and its surroundings at low speeds – is greatly appreciated when parking.
That said, the Pathfinder does show its age on the dashboard, which could have used a more comprehensive rework during the 2017 update. The navigation screen and various other controls look and feel dated, and the dashboard’s nighttime orange lighting is an odd look – though most controls are at least user-friendly. A revised steering rack, meanwhile, can result in unwanted effort at very low speeds yet disconcertingly disconnected-feeling responses at higher ones.
Perhaps the Pathfinder’s closest competitor is the Honda Pilot, which boasts a quieter ride and an airier feel to the cabin. The new Volkswagen Atlas is also a promising class standout. But the Pathfinder still doesn’t fall flat and, depending on which features you want, competes well on price.
Safety-minded buyers might wait for yet another update, though: Starting next year, the Pathfinder, and numerous other Nissan models, will offer emergency automatic braking as standard equipment rather than a costly and hard-to-find option like the 2017 model. Prices for the 2017 Pathfinder start at $31,230, and the tested top-of-the-line Platinum model hit $44,685.
The Hyundai Elantra is, for the most part, a thoroughly unexciting compact sedan. Functional, affordable and cleanly styled, it’s a user-friendly transportation appliance that compares favorably in many ways to the popular Toyota Corolla.
Like that competitor, the Elantra is offered as a dressed-up sporty version. But unlike the mere cosmetic changes on a Corolla SE or XSE, the new 2017 Elantra Sport has concrete performance upgrades that greatly improve the driving experience.
The biggest change is under the hood. The Elantra Sport swaps out the standard Elantra’s coarse-sounding 147-horsepower four-cylinder engine for a smoother, stronger 201-horsepower turbo shared with the Veloster sporty hatchback. It lacks the ferocity of a Ford Focus ST, Subaru WRX or Volkswagen Golf GTI, but the Elantra Sport’s extra power propels it into consideration against a Mazda3 or Honda Civic. That is to say, it remains an economy car, but the Elantra Sport is at least a decently fun economy car.
The tested car came with a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission; a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is optional. EPA fuel economy ratings as tested are a dismal 22 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway, but the tested car blew away those numbers to return a respectable 37 mpg in mixed but mainly highway driving in suburban Maryland and Virginia.
Steering and handling are less transformed s than acceleration in the Elantra Sport. There’s a clear improvement over the standard Elantra, but it hasn’t reached the precision of the Mazda, Honda or the standard version of the Ford Focus.
Stylistically, the Elantra Sport features appealing tweaks to the exterior that give it a more premium look. The interior remains on the dull side, though – the controls are user-friendly, but the layout lacks the pizzazz of a Civic or Mazda3.
Prices for the Elantra Sport start at $22,395 – pretty good for 201 horsepower. You’d have to spend quite a bit more for that much zip from a competitor. If power and value matter more than the sharpest handling, and you aren’t looking for a true performance car, the Elantra Sport is an appealing contender.