Nissan’s 2023 Pathfinder Rock Creek Edition Is Looking for the Trail

Photo By: Nissan

The original WD21 Nissan Pathfinder was, well, a pathfinder for the SUV movement that exploded in the late 1980s and is still with us today. Debuting in 1985, it was a truly rugged off-highway vehicle that took its underpinnings and general styling cues from Nissan’s equally successful D21 Hardbody Pickup. Both were body-on frame, solid rear axle, and part-time 4-wheel drive with a selectable transfer case. The rear diff could even be optioned with a limited-slip differential. Having owned a 1995 Pathfinder, I found the WD21 platform to be a great vehicle on and off-road. Plenty of power from the VG30 V6, excellent handling, and capable in the rough stuff.

WD21 Nissan Pathfinder | Photo by Stephen Nielson

Since the WD21 was phased out in 1996, the Pathfinder has had something of an identity crisis. While the R50 platform that replaced the original was a good vehicle, it trended a little more towards the road-going side. The true successor to the WD21 was the XTerra, which was internally coded as WD22. As the years went on, the Pathfinder strayed further and further from its rugged roots and eventually became a crossover in 2012.

The current generation, the R53, debuted last year, and Nissan has been marketing it as a return to the rough and tumble origins of the nameplate. Underneath though, it is still a crossover based on the same platform as a Maxima. In an effort to further sell it as a return to form, Nissan has announced “the new, bolder, off-road-inspired 2023 Pathfinder Rock Creek.”

READ MORE: Ford’s F-150 Rattler Is an Entry-Level Off-Roader with a Bite

Off-road inspired equipment will include a 5/8-inch lift, 18-inch beadlock-style wheels with all-terrain tires mounted, and a roof rack. You’ll get an 11hp bump to 295hp and 270 lb-ft of torque vs. 259 lb-ft. You’ll also get more “aggressive” styling, a bevy of exclusive interior and exterior colors, and orange contrast stitching on the seats, steering wheel, instrument panel, center console, and door panels.

Photo by Nissan

Nissan has a rich history of building proper, capable SUVs and trucks. A large part of that history in the US is occupied by the original Pathfinder. And while crossovers can certainly get you to wild and remote places, they are no replacement for a proper SUV. Nissan debuted the excellent new Frontier last year that is a true contender in the mid-sized truck category. Would it be too much to ask for them to take the original, successful formula and build a real SUV on that platform and stick the Pathfinder badge on it?

Photo by Brett Willhelm

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