Off-Road Ready: 2023 Nissan Pathfinder ‘Rock Creek’

Today’s family livery is often a three-row utility vehicle, represented by more than one dozen crossover models. The Nissan Pathfinder is in the thick of things, a model that seats up to eight and delivers class-leading towing capabilities.

For 2023, the Pathfinder gains a Rock Creek edition, a special grade with improved off-road facilities and a tough look to go with it.

2023 Nissan Pathfinder Review

Nissan offers the 2023 Pathfinder in five grades – S ($35,000), SV ($37,820), Rock Creek ($42,820), SL ($42,420), and Platinum ($47,970).

Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is a $1,900 upgrade for all trims, yet it is included with the Rock Creek. Add $1,295 for the destination charge.

Our test model was a 2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek grade with standard all-wheel drive. This model is well optioned with select individual upgrades available including two-tone paint ($795), running boards ($615), and illuminated kick plates ($325).

With a final price of just over $44,000, the Pathfinder costs less than the competing Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade.

Exterior Remarks

2023 Nissan Pathfinder side

Manufacturers routinely roll out special packages that sometimes become standalone trims or grade levels. That is exactly what Nissan did with the Pathfinder Rock Creek.

The new grade sits squarely in the middle of the Pathfinder’s five-model lineup. We’ve written extensively about the latest and fifth-generation Pathfinder with reviews you can find here and here. For the sake of this review, we’ll examine what Rock Creek brings to the model line.

The Rock Creek edition brings in a more nature-pursuing look for the Pathfinder. Ever since the Pathfinder switched to a crossover design in 2013 and the Xterra was dropped, the brand has lacked a true off-road credibility SUV to slot below the range-topping Armada.

The Rock Creek doesn’t quite bridge that divide, but it does gain a half-inch advantage in ground clearance as well as improved approach, breakover, and departure angles.

However, do not think for a moment that you’ll follow the Jeep Wrangler or Ford Bronco into the hinterlands even though the Rock Creek comes with Beadlock wheels wrapped within all-terrain tires. Notably, Rock Creek lacks the sturdy underbody cladding or skid plates necessary for protecting the transmission, oil pan, fuel tank, and other vulnerable and exposed parts.

What Rock Creek does have is a raised safari-type tubular roof rail system with a 220-pound capacity, special badging, unique bumpers, and grille treatment. 

At this grade level, the Pathfinder features LED fog lights. Curiously absent is a power liftgate. And just like the base grade, it isn’t even on the options list. This deficiency may be a showstopper for anyone who finds the liftgate too heavy or that it soars too high to their liking.

Interior Highlights

2023 Nissan Pathfinder front seats

The Rock Creek treatment comes inside and in the form of front seat debossing and special imitation leather-covered seating surfaces dressed in black. Also, this is the only grade with standard seven-passenger seating as Nissan includes second-row captain’s chairs. Unique styling, including orange piping, set this model apart from the pack.

The Pathfinder’s interior is as roomy as most competitors with very comfortable seats in the first two rows and sufficient space for three in the third row. Nissan equips the Pathfinder with numerous storage compartments, including drink holders, cubbies, and concealed storage.

2023 Nissan Pathfinder middle row
Middle row captain’s chairs

Behind the third row is 16.6 cubic feet of storage space. Although small, that’s more than the 14.4 cubic feet offered by the Mazda CX-9.

Fold down the third-row seat and the storage capacity mushrooms to 45 cubic feet. Behind the third row, 80.9 cubic feet of space is available. That’s only 10 percent more space than the compact Nissan Rogue.

All grades come with full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescopic steering column, and three-zone climate control. If you want full leather seating, then the SL and Platinum models have you covered.

Technology Features

2023 Nissan Pathfinder interior

An 8-inch touchscreen display screen and a 6-speaker audio package come standard.  Satellite radio, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto are included. Every grade has at least four USB ports.

Move up through the grade range and the Pathfinder features a 9-inch touchscreen display with navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and wireless device charging. A 13-speaker Bose audio package is also available along with two additional USB ports.

Nissan also makes available a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and a 120-volt power outlet.

Safety Features

Nissan equips the 2023 Pathfinder with forward and reverse collision warning and automatic emergency braking. Automatic high-beam headlights, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, pedestrian detection, and lane-departure warning are included.

Also available are front parking sensors and a surround-view parking camera system. A head-up display and ProPilot Assist are also available. The latter bundles adaptive cruise control with lane centering to keep this SUV on track when activated.

Powertrain Choices

One year removed from its most recent overhaul, the single powertrain combination offered in 2022 carries forward. That’s a 3.5-liter V6 engine with 284 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque. In Rock Creek models, performance tweaking ups those numbers to 295 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque.

Power routes to the wheels utilizing a 9-speed automatic transmission. When properly equipped, the Pathfinder pulls up to 6,000 pounds. This compares to upwards of 5,600 pounds in the Ford Explorer and no more than 5,000 pounds in the Volkswagen Atlas.

Models equipped with front-wheel drive earn an EPA-estimated 20/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined. Choose all-wheel drive and Pathfinder delivers 20/25/22 mpg. However, the Rock Creek trails the pack with 20/23/21 mpg.

Driving Highlights

2023 Nissan Pathfinder rear

We didn’t push our test model to the limits, but we did tackle nearby farmland and went up and down each path with ease. We appreciated the extra grip afforded by the all-terrain tires and immediately noticed the difference in the limited-slip differential supplied under certain conditions.

Indeed, up to 50 percent of the power from the front wheels moves rearward, with an extra amount to the wheel that needs it most.

Figure that if you’re turning around and the conditions are muddy, you’ll escape the morass. Although the Pathfinder lacks a true low gear, it does come with a drive mode system designed to tackle mud, sand, and snow. We would simply avoid any place where conditions are less than favorable.

On the other hand, the Pathfinder will see far more usage on the road by carrying families to soccer games, church, school, and family outings. The Pathfinder delivers strong off-the-mark acceleration with ample power delivered to the wheels.

We’re happy that Nissan deep-sixed the previous CVT in favor of a conventional geared transmission. For the most part, the transmission works as expected although downshifts may occasionally lag.

On the highway, the Pathfinder moves with authority, offers a comfortable ride, and supplies firm braking. Precise steering and good handling are two other hallmarks of this model.

Nissan Pathfinder Considerations

The Rock Creek model brings off-road chops to the Pathfinder. It does so with a unique style and includes features that set this model apart from the pack.

But if you’re shopping for an SUV and have no intention of off-roading, the Pathfinder SL is similarly priced and includes the power liftgate not offered by the Rock Creek. Add in all-wheel drive and your final price should stay below $45,000 or within the range of competing models.

Photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.

Steve Cooper

Leave a Comment