The Rock Creek Edition of the 2019 Pathfinder is Nissan's effort to evoke the earlier days of its midsize SUV. It isn't completely successful, but it's a good try and worth considering on its own merits.
The original Pathfinder was introduced in 1987 as a truck-based SUV that was very off-road capable, thanks to its small size, trong frame, rugged four-wheel-drive system, and good ground clearance. But, like almost all other manufacturers, Nissan eventually redesigned the Pathfinder over the years as a more family-friendly car-like crossover, with available all-wheel-drive. It first got larger and more civilized in 1996. It got even larger in 2005 and again in 2013, when the current version was introduced.
Make no mistake, the 2019 Pathfinder is still one of the better three-row crossovers on the market, with a smooth ride, a powerful 3.5-liter V6, and one of the best Continuously Variable Transmissions. It can tow up to 6,000 pounds, properly equipped. But, unlike the earliest models, it's not really designed for serious off-roading. It's too large to squeeze between rocks and trees, and only has around seven inches of ground clearance.
But the Pathfinder hasn't completely lost its mojo. It is still available with optional Intelligent 4WD, with a dial-operated traction control on the center console that includes a locking center differential for when the going gets tough. It also has a hill ascent and descent feature for, well, ascending and descending hills in a controlled manner. Many competitors are willing to just offer optional all-wheel-drive.
Although the Rock Creek Edition package is largely cosmetic, in includes unique 18-inch wheels and all-season tires instead of the typical summer one. And the special trim pieces are genuinely special, including a larger grill, unique stitching on the seats, a trailer tow hitch and harness, and much more. Best of all, the package is only $995, which is bargain considering the wheels and tires alone.
Our test Pathfinder also included an option Rock Creek Cross Bars roof rack ($395) and Rock Creek Edition Premium Package, which added a power panoramic moonroof and 13-speaker Bose stereo (with an increasingly rare CD player) for another $2,110.
But the ground clearance remains the same and the front skid plate is plastic not metal, so most Rock Creek Edition owners will probably drive it like a regular Pathfinder — and enjoy the enormous interior room, good handling, advanced safety features just as much. The i4WD system includes a two-wheel-drive mode for better mileage, but can still be set to improve traction during the wet fall, winter and spring months.
Although the Pathfinder received a major facelift in 2017, it will probably be complete redesigned in the near future. In the meantime, the 2019 Rock Creek Edition helps keep it competitive in the popular midsize crossover SUV market. Especially since Honda recently revived the Passport name for what it claims is a more rugged midsize crossover.
2019 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek Edition
Base price: $39,610
Price as tested: $44,455
Type: Midsize crossover SUV
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (284 hp, 259 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Continuously Variable
Overall length: 199 inches
Curb weight: 4,293 to 4,662 pounds
Final assembly: Smyrna, Tennessee