2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek Review: Adventure-Friendly Family Hauler

2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek

Pavement sucks. Let’s leave it. That sentiment apparently comes out of the mouths of the crafted “desired demographic” for midsize SUVs of every auto manufacturer’s marketing department, because more examples of these outfitted family-size crossover SUVs continue to find space in more dealer lots.

Just a couple of months back, we tested the new Honda Pilot Trailsport. Now Nissan has brought back its version, the Rock Creek, for the latest generation Pathfinder. And, just like the Trailsport, it brings real differences to the table, not just a “rugged appearance.”

Curious to see how this latest Rock Creek behaves, we ventured off to New York’s Catskills to fling a bit of mud with the Rock Creek’s all-terrain shoes, as well as test its comfort on the interstate and backroads to get there. Breathing in a bit of fresh air throughout was an added bonus.

(Photo/Andrew Link)

In short: If a rooftop tent or big cargo-carrying capacity is high on your priority list, the Pathfinder Rock Creek’s roof rack will certainly entice you — not to mention a respectable base price. But beware, there are noticeable on-road comfort drawbacks that come along for the ride.

2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek


  • Vehicle 5-door, 7-seat, Crossover SUV
  • Dimensions (length, width, height, wheelbase) 198.8", 77.9", 73.7", 114.2"
  • Cargo (3rd/2nd/1st rows up) 17/45/81 cu.-ft.
  • Engine 3.5L V-6
  • HP & Torque 295 hp (at 6400 rpm), 270 lb.-ft. (at 4800 rpm)
  • Transmission/Driven wheels 9-speed automatic transmission/all-wheel-drive
  • MPG 20 city, 23 hwy, 21 cmb


  • Priced more attractively than its competition
  • Fantastic comfort for adults in the captain’s chairs second-row
  • Impressive towing capacity for a crossover SUV


  • Fuel economy suffers
  • Noisier on the interstate than other trims
  • Not as refined as some of its competitors

2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek: Review

(Photo/Robin Warner)

Look the Part

The Rock Creek lies smack dab in the middle of the Pathfinder lineup, yet is immediately recognizable with several distinct features. To start, the Rock Creek stands a full 2.8 inches taller than other Pathfinders. That’s mainly due to a beefy, matte-black tube-steel roof rack.

A lifted suspension makes up the rest of the difference. It’s 0.6 inches higher than the others. Nissan also tuned that suspension to handle the off-road stuff you want to throw its way.

(Photo/Robin Warner)

Serving dual purposes of looking tough, but also adding genuine traction off the pavement, are 18-inch wheels (instead of 20-inch wheels on many Pathfinder trims) with Toyo Open Country all-terrain tires mounted. More than that, Nissan made these Toyos wider than other Pathfinder tires, 265 mm instead of 255.

(Photo/Robin Warner)

You also get a tow-hitch receiver and harness plug-in as standard equipment. As well as LED fog lights. You know, for fog.

(Photo/Andrew Link)

Inside, Nissan embroidered “Rock Creek” on both front seats and the lower center console armrest, and a nice orange thread stitches the interior together. The Rock Creek comes standard with second-row captain’s chairs as well, making it four-adult comfortable. And, to keep up with the modern overlander theme, you get a 360-degree view camera system.

(Photo/Andrew Link)

Proper Powertrain

The Rock Creek comes standard with all-wheel-drive (AWD), unlike most Nissan Pathfinder trims, which get front-wheel drive (FWD) unless you tick a $2,000 options box. Given the credentials, that’s not a surprise. But the Rock Creek also pumps out more horsepower and torque than any other Pathfinder, including the top-of-the-line Platinum. That is a surprise. 

(Photo/Andrew Link)

Under the hood lies a naturally aspirated 3.5L V-6, just like its brethren. But Nissan included software to take advantage of using premium instead of regular fuel, just as the Infiniti QX60 (its premium-brand cousin) does.

With 93 octane in the tank, it makes 295 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque, 11 more of each compared to the other trims. Nice little bragging right. It will run fine on regular fuel but will lose its horsepower advantage too. 

Regardless of what’s in the tank, it always channels that power through a nine-speed automatic transmission, which works quietly and quickly, and possesses good intuition on which gear to choose at which time. But for those that want to decide on their own, you do get paddle shifters. 

Smooth Operator

Both on the road and off it, the V-6 hums along fine and provides plenty of muscle to get Pathfinder up to speed. The Rock Creek accelerates onto the highway with ease and then finds ninth gear to keep revs well under 2,000, emitting a pleasant mellow tone as you go. But know that you’ll need to stop more frequently in it.

(Photo/Andrew Link)

Due mainly to the roof rack and wider all-terrain tires, Rock Creek Pathfinders only manage 23 mpg on the highway versus 27 for an also all-wheel-drive Pathfinder SV. City fuel economy also drops to 20 mpg instead of 21. 

Both these attributes make more noise too. Simply put, all-season tires roll down the road quieter than all-terrain variants. But the main noisemaker is the roof rack. After all, it has a lot of angles and gaps and extruding objects to get in the way of airflow. And the air makes sure you know about it.

(Photo/Andrew Link)

On the plus side, Nissan did a good job to isolate the Rock Creek’s cabin from the worst of it, and also stuffed it full of things that make trips on the road more pleasant. You get an easy-to-read 8-inch center console touchscreen, which connects to both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Heated seats up front keep your backside warm, and three-zone climate control handles your front side. 

That’s in addition to a myriad of cubby spaces, cup holders, and USB ports scattered throughout.

(Photo/Andrew Link)

Off-Road Prowess for 7

The aforementioned 0.6-inch suspension lift translates to 7.7 inches of ground clearance instead of 7.1, which is not that high. Honda’s Pilot TrailSport, for example, leaves 8.3 inches of daylight between the ground and its floor. And the Subaru Outback gives you 8.7 inches, or 9.5 inches if you go for the Wilderness. 

But combined with how Nissan tuned the suspension, the tires, and the many drive modes built into the standard AWD system. You can definitely still comfortably leave the pavement. I found a narrow, muddy one-lane road leading to nowhere with its fair share of jutting-out branches and kitchen-sink-deep potholes and ascended with no trouble. 

(Photo/Andrew Link)

Toward the top, an even steeper snow-covered mud hill that led to a trailhead provided more evidence of the Rock Creek’s sure-footedness. The deep snow cradled the Rock Creek’s underfloor and exercised the all-wheel-drive system, certainly, but I made it to the trailhead just fine. 

Adventure-Ready Adjacent

That said, don’t expect to follow modified Jeeps and Broncos through the Moab. Approach and departure angles are 18.8 and 22.8 degrees respectively, with a 19.3-degree breakover angle. Better than the standard Pathfinder, but not much else.

But the Rock Creek has a different advantage. This will haul your UTV (or two) and your friends to the trailhead with space and power to spare — and give your group a nice rooftop place to stay overnight, if you mount an RTT. 

That roof rack is rated to handle a 220-pound load dynamically, which is more than double many other racks. And Nissan rates the Rock Creek to tow up to 6,000 pounds worth of stuff from the factory. That figure beats Honda by 1,000 pounds and Subaru’s Outback Wilderness by 2,500. 

2023 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek: Summary

Nissan’s Pathfinder Rock Creek starts at $44,355, or $5,290 less than the Honda Pilot Trailsport. For that money, you get the rugged look and some legitimate ruggedness to go with it.

(Photo/Robin Warner)

You also get seating for seven and 17 cubic feet of space for stuff in the back. Or comfortable seating for four adults and 45 cubic feet of cargo. Or just keep it to you and a friend and bring 81 cubic feet of your favorite things. And don’t forget that 6,000-pound camper trailer you got hitched behind you.

Ultimately, Honda better equipped the Pilot Trailsport for venturing farther off road — and did it in a package that feels more refined. But Nissan built the Pathfinder Rock Creek to fit more budgets and offer more flexibility to use your vehicle to do exactly the way you want.

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