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2013 Nissan Pathfinder follows the beaten path

What the Pathfinder loses in extreme off-road ruggedness

What the Pathfinder loses in extreme off-road ruggedness it gets back in technology, but it's pretty much the norm when in the company of vehicles such as the Ford Explorer. Credit: Nissan

It was a category full of off-roaders that buyers just couldn't get enough of. The seemingly unstoppable Ford Explorer. The go-anywhere Nissan Pathfinder.

It's amazing how things change in five or six years.

In simple terms, the Explorer and Pathfinder are no longer truck-based, off-road-capable sport utility vehicles.

Like the Explorer, Nissan's seven-passenger bus has emerged from its chrysalis as a family wagon able to conquer nasty road and weather conditions.

The Tennessee-built wagon had remained virtually untouched since the 2005 model year, other than adding a 310-horsepower V8 option for 2008. A robust body-on-frame chassis made it ideal for boulder-bashing, creek-fording activities.

That's all well and good, but it's likely that Pathfinder owners rarely, if ever, risked blazing their own path in a rig costing as much as $45,000. Enter the all-new version that abruptly changes course and adjusts its stride in step with similar models from other automakers.

The new Pathfinder, which arrives this fall, has been on a serious diet, shedding about 240 pounds (320 pounds for 4x4 units) when compared to the outgoing V6 models. This meant converting to a unitized (frameless) platform that's shared with Nissan's Infiniti JX luxury wagon. Along with the V8, the previous base 266-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 - never a paragon of fuel efficiency anyway - was also dropped in favor of the one-engine-fits-all 3.5-liter V6. In the new Pathfinder, it's rated at 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. It's teamed with a continuously variable transmission (CTV) that replaces the previous five-speed automatic.

The resulting reduction in fuel consumption, at least on paper, seems impressive. Front-wheel-drive versions are rated at 20 mpg city and 26 highway, while four-wheel-drive Pathfinder numbers are a closely aligned 19 and 25, respectively. The previous edition earned a 15/22 rating (14/20 for the 4x4).

There is a penalty to be paid for the new Pathfinder's weight and power decrease in that its maximum towing capacity has dropped to 5,000 pounds from 7,000.

Nissan's 4x4 option is worth it for anyone living and working through challenging weather and/or road conditions. TheAll-Mode 4x4i system allows you to select either two- or four-wheel-drive, or engage the Auto setting and let the All-Mode make the call, based on where tire slippage is detected.

The new sheetmetal manages a passing resemblance to the outgoing rig as far as the grille is concerned. But from there the quaintly boxy body-of-old, with its muscular fender flares, has given way to gentle, sweeping curves and rounded edges. Physically, the Pathfinder could be mistaken for any number of competing tall wagons, such as the Mazda CX-9 or Chevrolet Traverse.

Dimensionally, the new "Path" gains about five inches in length, 4.5 inches in width and two inches between the front and rear wheels. Maximum cargo capacity with both rear rows of seats folded has increased only a fraction, perhaps owing to a slightly lower roofline.

Passenger comfort was apparently paramount with Nissan's designers, who created a third-row reclining seat and a second row with five inches of fore and aft travel. The split-second bench also features an "EX Flex" portion that slides forward for easier third-row access, even when there's a child seat attached.

At a starting price of $29,100 (including delivery charges), the Pathfinder S arrives with all the usual accessories, including tri-zone climate control and 14 cup/bottle holders. The SV adds roof rails and a rearview monitor while leather-covered seats, remote engine start and a power liftgate are SL highlights. From there, the sky's the limit, where the SL Premium, Platinum and Platinum Premium trim levels are concerned. An up-level sound system, Around View camera, panorama moonroof and a navigation system are on the menu, depending on the depth of your pockets.

The reborn Pathfinder might have been stripped of its traditional sport ute bravado, but it will certainly add new friends with an easy-on-gas powertrain, easy-to-take creature comforts and easy-on-the-eyes design.

What you should know: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder
Type: Four-door, front- /four-wheel-drive tall wagon
Engine (hp): 3.5-liter DOHC V6 (260)
Transmission: Continuously variable (CVT)
Market position: The Pathfinder now belongs to a class of passenger-car-based wagons that's more practical for most people and somewhat more fuel-efficient. These vehicles are not necessarily cheaper than the rugged off-roaders they replace.
Points: Lighter and more stylish than the previous version; V6 is decent on gas and has plenty of power for most tasks; V8 won't be missed; Upgraded interior focuses on passenger comfort; Sophisticated 4x4 system a definite advantage; Dizzying inventory of trim levels and options; Giving up the off-road image might actually be worth it.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 20/26; Base price (incl. destination) $29,100

By comparison

Mazda CX-9
Base price: $30,200
Good looking inside and out; revised styling expected for 2013.

GMC Acadia
Base price: $33,500
Refreshed for 2013 with new styling; retains eight-passenger space.

Ford Explorer
Base price: $29,000
Roomy wagon offers decent fuel economy with optional turbo-four engine.

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