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Nissan Pathfinder adapts to the times

The Nissan Pathfinder has benefitted from the company's decision to revert to unibody construction. Its exterior features a wide chrome grille and large Halogen headlights. Fog lights are standard on SL (shown) and Platinum trim.
The Nissan Pathfinder has benefitted from the company's decision to revert to unibody construction. Its exterior features a wide chrome grille and large Halogen headlights. Fog lights are standard on SL (shown) and Platinum trim.
Paul Borden

2014 Nissan Pathfinder

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Having spent most of its life as a hard-working, truck-based SUV ready to hit the trails or do grunt work, the Nissan Pathfinder has assumed a more genteel role as it moves into its fourth generation.

Not for the first time since it was introduced in the mid-1980s, the Pathfinder is once again of unibody construction, sharing its platform with the upscale Infiniti QX60 crossover (formerly the JX).

It is the second time the Japanese automaker has switched the Pathfinder from body-on-frame construction to a sedan-like crossover.

When it was introduced as a 1986 model, the Pathfinder was a true SUV based on the Nissan Hardbody pickup truck. A decade later, the Pathfinder became more civilized with unibody construction and a more refined look and ride.

That lasted for one generation as Nissan took the Pathfinder back to its truck roots when it introduced the 2005 model.

That lasted for one generation, and it was back to “crossover” form when Nissan revealed the 2013 Pathfinder.

Hmmm. Does Nissan have a problem making decisions?

Well, yes and no.

Could it be there are two teams of Nissan engineers engaging in some tug-of-war with the Pathfinder with one side advocating a truck-based SUV and the other a crossover?

Probably not, though it does seem like it at times.

Chances are, however, the Pathfinder will remain a crossover in the future because that’s what the public has shown that it prefers a vehicle with the typical hauling capacity of a truck-based SUV but one with better fuel economy and a more pleasant driving/riding experience.

Not everybody needs an SUV to tow a boat, and the four-wheel drive capability of a crossover (when equipped) can handle the challenges most ordinary folks are going to put it through.

Thus the crossover continues to grow in popularity as an alternative to the traditional family sedan.

The Pathfinder figures to benefit from that trend.

After the major change in chassis setup for the 2013 Pathfinder, Nissan added a gas-electric hybrid model for 2014 and also made available in SL trim Pathfinders a Tech Package that includes a Bose premium audio system, navigation, voice operation, Bluetooth streaming audio, and an eight-inch color touchscreen monitor.

With the Tech package, the SL seems to offer the best combination of price and features. Two-wheel drive SL models start at $35,250, not including destination and delivery charges. That’s only $2,950 more than the SV models and $4,700 less than the MSRP of the top-of-the-line Platinum Pathfinder.

The Tech package lists for $1,570, so you can add that and the $2,650 SL Premium Package that includes a dual panorama moonroof and tow package and still be under the base MSRP for the Platinum model.

The 4WD Pathfinder SL carries an MSRP of $36,850, or about $3,000 more than the SV trim and nearly $5,000 under the Platinum.

Frankly, it looks like Platinum buyers just want to show off.

All non-hybrid Pathfinders (there’s a base S model that starts at just under $30,000) feature a 3.5-liter V6 engine that runs on regular fuel and puts out 260 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 240 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. A CVT (continuously variable transmission) is standard, but don’t be put off by that. It’s not “shiftable,” as some CVTs are, but throttle response is pretty good for a vehicle of this size.

Fuel economy is 20 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway for 2WD models and a mile-per-gallon less when equipped with 4WD. On 4WD models, a button on the console lets a driver select 2WD, 4WD or Auto mode, the latter letting conditions dictate the drive configuration.

The inside of the Pathfinder features three-row seating for seven passengers with the second row easily sliding forward to allow access to the far back, even with a child seat in place. The third row is snug (30.7 inches of legroom) but there is nearly 38 inches of headroom for models with a moonroof and 36.5 for those without it, pretty good for those two riders. There is a good 16 cubic feet of storage space behind the third row as well.

Overall, the high quality materials make for a pleasant ambiance for the interior usually found in at least entry-level SUVs. Controls are not overly complicated, and if you aren’t comfortable using the touchscreen for commonly used functions, there are redundant buttons and knobs to get the job done.

Overall, the Pathfinder finds itself in a very competitive segment among midsize SUVs, including other Nissan models Murano and Rogue. But it should be on your shopping list if that’s the kind of vehicle you have in mind.

For a quick look and some key specs, check the accompanying slide show.