For my entire childhood, I remember that people who had Nissan SUVs had something a little different in their lives. Specifically, when you’d go to open the rear door of a Nissan SUV, you reached up into the C-pillar, and that’s where you found the door handle. They did this for a few generations of the Pathfinder, for the Pathfinder-based Infiniti QX4, and for the Xterra. They even did it for the Juke, right up until it was canceled recently.
To me, as a child, this was all very unusual. For many years, I questioned why Nissan SUVs didn’t have door handles at all. Eventually, it became clear that they did have door handles, but they were just in a different place. Then I questioned why they chose to put them there.
This is something I still question. I think the main reason for the door handle placement is that it’s intended to give the car a cleaner look in the back door, and it’s supposed to be a more convenient way to open the door: you’re already pulling from that direction anyway, so why not put a door handle there? I’m not entirely sure why they felt this was some great innovation, especially because nobody really followed them down this path, but they did — and they used it in several vehicles.
Interestingly, although I mention that "nobody really followed them down this path," that isn’t technically true. Just recently, two models grabbed on to the "Nissan theory of rear door handle placement," specifically the Honda HR-V and the Toyota C-HR — both of which look like they have two doors, but actually they have four doors due to the concealed door handles in the C-pillars.
Ultimately, this is a small footnote in the world of automotive creation and design. But I love small footnotes — and whenever I see an old Pathfinder on the road, I still stare quizzically at that door handle.