You never really appreciate a good HVAC system until it’s 111 degrees Fahrenheit outside and you’re stuck in notorious Los Angeles stop-and-go traffic.

I’d been behind the wheel of the 2017 Nissan Pathfinder for a few hours, driving from Venice Beach in Los Angeles eastward to what’s known as the Inland Empire. The further I got from the ocean, the higher the summer temperatures climbed and the more cars crowded onto the freeway.

For 5 hours the Pathfinder kept its engine temperature at precisely a tick below the gauge’s midpoint while blasting out immense amounts of cold air. I arrived at my destination cool as a cucumber and ready to tackle whatever the rest of the day could throw my way.

The Caspian Blue color makes the best of the Pathfinder’s new sheet metal.  

Emme Hall/Roadshow

While the Pathfinder started out in 1987 as a rugged SUV,  literally built to find paths. 30 years later it’s more likely to be seen searching for parking spaces at Applebee’s. It’s Nissan’s smaller three-row crossover, sitting below the gargantuan Armada in terms of space. Front-wheel-drive is standard but all-wheel-drive is optional for $1,690 across S, SV, SL and Platinum trim levels.

A new 8-inch color touchscreen with pinch and zoom capability is standard across all trim lines, but you’ll have to step up to the mid-line SL Pathfinder if you want features such as Blind Spot Warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. New this year is the Around View Monitor 360-degree camera system with Moving Object Detection, which alerts the driver to moving objects when pulling forwards, backwards or remaining stationary. It’s a great help in parking lots when that big pickup truck parked next to you is blocking your view.

2017 Nissan Pathfinder

The new 360-degree camera makes parking a snap. 

Emme Hall/Roadshow

It isn’t until you move up to the Platinum trim that Intelligent Forward Emergency Braking and Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC) arrive on the scene. ICC keeps you at a pre-determined distance from a lead car and can bring you all the way to a stop, but that’s where the fun ends. The system disengages upon standstill and requires a tap on the gas from the driver to get going again. Many systems won’t work at all below 20 miles per hour, so the Pathfinder is 50% better right off the bat. But living in traffic-filled San Francisco, I wish the tech would stay engaged during pauses and start up again on its own.

The NissanConnect infotainment system is well thought out, but doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The Maxima and Murano both offer the former, so presumably it will come to the Pathfinder soon. Let’s hope Nissan gets Android Auto on board as well.

While navigation was easy to use, I had a few problems when trying to use my phone as an audio source. When I first plugged in my phone, the system automatically wanted to draw from my music playlist. My music is terrible and I’d rather listen to a podcast, but the system wouldn’t let me switch to my podcast app. Instead, I had to unplug the phone, start one up and plug the phone back in while it was playing.

When a phone call came in, NissanConnect didn’t automatically turn off the podcast and switch to the call when I answered it. I had to fumble with my phone to turn off the podcast, yelling to the caller, “Hang on! I have to pause this,” treating them to a quick snippet of Reply All as I did so.

More powah!

Nissan did better with the upgraded engine and transmission. The revised 3.5-liter V6 puts out more power and torque than last year, up to 284 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of twist versus 260 and 240 respectively. This powerplant offers strong acceleration and is well mated to the third-generation Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).

A word here about that CVT: It’s good. Like, really good. It’s programmed with what Nissan calls D-Step Logic Control, which has the step-like feeling of a traditional automatic gearbox. Sure those simulated shifts are Fakey McFakerstein, but it means the transmission loses the annoying drone and buzz of previous years. It pretty much had me fooled into thinking I was driving a conventional automatic and is probably the best CVT I’ve ever driven.

Most CVTs deliver better fuel economy and my time in the Pathfinder is proof of that. Although EPA fuel ratings for my all-wheel drive tester are 19 miles per gallon in the city, 26 miles per gallon on the highway and 21 miles per gallon combined, I averaged 23.1 miles per gallon over my week and a half with the car, including a trip down to Los Angeles at well above the speed limit. You can expect slightly better numbers in the two-wheel drive model.

The Pathfinder has improved its on-road manners for 2017 thanks to increased spring rates in the front and rear. The 20-inch tires on my top-of-the-line Platinum made for a bit of a rougher ride, but the 4,500-plus pound Pathfinder carves a decent corner. On my super-secret proving ground in the hills of Oakland, California, the Pathfinder stayed composed over undulating pavement and tackled the twisties at speeds that belied its larger footprint. It’s not quite as fun as the Mazda CX9, but it’s no slouch either.

The steering has been revised with a quicker ratio, but I found it reluctant to return to center on slow-speed turns. While it was fine on the back roads, the weight of the steering pulsed while navigating long sweepers, like freeway interchanges. I could literally feel the steering wheel moving in my hands even though my turn was set in place.

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