Dan Wiese is a freelance automotive writer. He is a regular contributor for Brand Ave. Studios and to AAA Midwest Traveler magazine's online Web Bonus.


The $995 Rock Creek Edition appearance package, available on 2020 Pathfinder SV and SL trims, emphasizes "the rugged Pathfinder heritage," Nissan says. Photo provided by Nissan

The throwback is making a comeback.

Last year, Nissan made available on its Pathfinder crossover an optional "Rock Creek" appearance package, adding loads of outdoorsy eye-candy while recalling Pathfinder's early days as a genuine rock-crawler.

The reception for this throwback decor among Nissan fans was satisfactory enough to bring this specialty model back for its sophomore year. Consequently, Nissan figures, why mess with success? The 2020 edition is identical to its 2019 predecessor in every way -- and, happily, that includes price. The cost of this optional package in 2020 remains $995, just as it was in 2019.

When garbed in "Rock Creek" raiment, Nissan's Pathfinder -- a thoroughly modern, three-row, minivan-surrogate crossover -- proves that it's proud of its roughneck past, even if it has no interest in actually repeating it.

Pathfinder, you may recall, started life in the mid-1980s as a genuine bushwhacker -- a truck-based compact SUV that, really, was little more than a Nissan Hardbody pickup housing a three-place, under-roof back seat rather than a cargo bed. Not fit for polite society, Pathfinder in those days was tougher than a two-dollar steak.


Photo provided by Nissan

To wit: I remember back in 1995 driving a Hardbody-based Pathfinder to the 13,186-foot summit of the Colorado Rockies' rugged Mosquito Pass 4WD trail. I'll tell ya, Pathfinder in its youth was one rugged little truck.

Since then, however, Nissan has taken Pathfinder to finishing school. No longer riding a truck platform but, rather, sharing its foundation since 2012 with the Altima sedan, this crossover today is both elegant and refined. Not a gum-chewing mug anymore, this former delinquent now's got class.

Nonetheless, the Rock Creek edition fondly recalls Pathfinder's rebellious days with a host of tough-guy eye candy: dark 18-inch wheels hugged by beefy 255/60R18 Continental CrossContact all-season tires, black mesh grille, black front and rear fascia accents, black roof rails, black door handles and outside rearview mirror housings, black molded overfenders, unique “Rock Creek” exterior badging on front doors and, out back, a tow hitch that's more than just eye-candy: that standard bit of hardware will drag a best-in-class 6,000-pound trailer.

Inside are two-tone seating surfaces, high-contrast stitching on seats, doors, console lid and steering wheel, matrix-like accent trim on dash, doors and floor console and unique "Rock Creek" badging on front seatbacks and floor mats.

Otherwise, Rock Creek is a Pathfinder, which is to say it's a fine three-row, family-friendly, minivan surrogate offered in S, SV, SL and Platinum trims, each available with front- or all-wheel drive.


Photo provided by Nissan

Regardless, every Pathfinder is powered by a direct-injection, 3.5-liter V-6 with variable-valve timing. That engine produces 284 hp and 259 lb.-ft. of torque, all managed by a CVT automatic.

On the road, Pathfinder drives and rides like the big family-hauler it is. Not loads of fun, but always handy and sensible. Even equipped with what Nissan calls 4WD -- really all-wheel drive -- Pathfinder offers no low-range gearing, although there is a torque-lock button and hill-descent control for mild off-pavement duty.

Meanwhile, the front seat is roomy, the middle row spacious, and even the third row can accommodate two adults. Access to row three is handy thanks to a middle row whose seat scoots forward, cushion flips up and back tilts, resulting in a compressed chair and a wide third-row-access portal.

Pathfinder's infotainment controls are intuitive, with a touch screen and redundant hard buttons and knobs.

For SUV buyers who want what is, essentially, a minivan that looks tough, Pathfinder's Rock Creek edition is made to order. It's got past-era tough-guy panache and 21st-century comfort and convenience.

This content was produced by Brand Ave. Studios. The news and editorial departments of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had no role in its creation or display. For more information about Brand Ave. Studios, contact tgriffin@stltoday.com.