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For 2013, the Nissan Pathfinder sport utility vehicle is longer, wider and has a roomier interior than its predecessor. At the same time, this new Pathfinder is 500 pounds lighter. And with a 30 percent boost in fuel economy, it tops all other mid-size crossover SUVs in sipping gasoline.

How can a bigger SUV be lighter and more fuel efficient?

Nissan engineers built the redesigned, 2013 Pathfinder as a unibody, so the vehicle no longer uses a heavy truck frame. Secondly, all Pathfinders now come with a fuel-efficient continuously variable transmission (CVT). And, the V-6 engine is bit smaller, at 3.5 liters instead of 4 liters, while a V-8 no longer is offered.

So, while towing capacity has dropped from 7,000 pounds in the 2012 Pathfinder to 5,000 pounds now, the new Pathfinder proudly carries a government fuel economy rating of 20 miles per gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway as a two-wheel drive model.

This rating is better than previous mileage standouts in the category — the Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer which, like the Pathfinder, have three rows of seats.

Another highlight: Starting retail prices for this fourth-generation Pathfinder are lower than that of its predecessor.

Specifically, starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $29,495 for a base 2013 Pathfinder S with 260-horsepower V-6 and two-wheel drive. The lowest starting retail price, including destination charge, for a 2013 Pathfinder with all-wheel drive is $31,095.

This compares with $30,115 for a base, 2012 Pathfinder with two-wheel drive and $32,115 for a base 2012 Pathfinder with four-wheel drive.

Meantime, the 2013 Honda Pilot starts at $30,350 with 250-horsepower V-6 and two-wheel drive and $31,950 with four-wheel drive. The 2013 Ford Explorer starts at $29,995 for a front-wheel drive model with 290-horsepower V-6 and $31,995 with four-wheel drive.

The new Pathfinder is restyled, with some people liking the lower-to-the-ground and mainstream family hauler look on the outside.

Minimum ground clearance under the new Pathfinder is 6.5 inches; last year’s Pathfinder, with its body-on-frame design, had minimum ground clearance of more than 8.5 inches. So, fans of older Pathfinders, with its rugged and taller appearance, may not be impressed.

The 2013 Pathfinder’s 3.5-liter, double overhead cam V-6 generates 260 horsepower instead of the 266 from last year’s 4-liter V-6. Torque is reduced more, going from 288 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm to 240 at 4,400 rpm.

But the test Pathfinder was responsive when accelerating and didn’t lag, even when it carried a full load of seven passengers.

The CVT, which a driver operates like an automatic transmission, worked smoothly and in satisfying fashion, and the characteristic drone sound that was expected wasn’t heard.

In fact, nothing much was heard inside the Pathfinder, because the vehicle is so quiet. Passengers in the tester didn’t even notice any wind noise at highway speeds. The interior seemed as quiet as that of a luxury car.

Better yet, the tester averaged 21.6 mpg in combined city/highway travel. This is nearly equal to the government’s combined 22-mpg rating. The average mileage gave the test Pathfinder a 420-mile range on a single tank of regular gasoline.

The 2013 Pathfinder retains above-it-all seating positions that give passengers and driver good views out over traffic.

And even though the new Pathfinder is shorter in height by 3 inches from its predecessor, it offers improved headroom for passengers, particularly when a moonroof is not installed. In the test vehicle, two 5-foot-2 adults sat comfortably in the third row, thanks to this headroom and expanded legroom.

Plus, second-row seats can travel 5.5 inches forward and back, so it’s easy to add more third-row legroom, adjusting space among the rows of seats to accommodate everyone in comfort.

It’s also easy to move second-row seats out of the way to allow access to the third row. It takes just the push of a finger on a lever at the side of a rear seat to get the seatback to fall forward and the seat to slide forward. This leaves a good-sized space on the floor, by the door, for a passenger to put his or her feet while climbing up and into the back row.

Cargo room in the Pathfinder has grown, too, to a competitive 79.8 cubic feet when second- and third-row seats are folded down. When all the seats are up and in use, cargo space measures 16 cubic feet, which is about the same as in a Honda Accord sedan trunk.

Despite the 500-pound weight loss, the Pathfinder still can feel hefty on the road with less-than-crisp handling and a ride that tends toward comfortable and compliant rather than tightly controlled.

Passengers readily can notice body motions as this 16.4-foot-long vehicle travels through curves and on twisty mountain roads. Still, steering response was notably good.

A special touch in the tester was how long the driver seat cushion was. It came to the back of the knees of a 5-foot-4 driver and provided exceptional support.

One complaint, however, was the weak illumination provided by the test vehicle’s halogen headlamps. Upscale high-intensity discharge lights are not available.

Also, a rearview camera, which is really needed to see what’s behind the Pathfinder while a driver backs up, is standard on SV trim levels and above, but not on the base S. In contrast, Honda includes a standard rearview camera on all Pilots.

The 2013 Pathfinder received four out of five stars, overall, in government crash tests, which includes five out of five stars in side crash testing.

Standard safety equipment includes electronic stability control, antilock brakes, traction control and six air bags.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder is lighter, roomier and improved in fuel economy - The Washington Post
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