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If you are a fan of the rugged, body-on-frame Nissan Pathfinder you might be disappointed with the all-new 2013 Pathfinder.

Get over it! Nissan has moved the Pathfinder into the mainstream, following the trend toward more car-like conveyances dressed in SUV clothing.

Called CUVs, this new generation of tall and capable vehicles has rapidly outpaced the old SUV in the hearts and minds of consumers and more importantly to carmakers, on the sales charts.

Meeting the needs of a dwindling group of buyers who regularly utilize the full slate of off-road abilities of an SUV can be a costly mistake when the majority of buyers just want the looks and perception of off-road capability.

This same group of buyers is also likely to keep their vehicle longer, and is thus not the best bet for new business.

Pathfinder sales last year trailed the pack by a wide margin. Nissan sold 2,000 of them compared to 5,000 Honda Pilots, almost 6,000 Toyota Highlanders and more than 9,000 Ford Explorers.

Nissan has learned this lesson twice. The first generation Pathfinder (1986-95) was a body-on-frame vehicle that established the name and an excellent reputation for ruggedness. The company switched to a unibody design for the second generation (1996-2004) but sales were not up to expectations so it switched back to body-on-frame for the third generation (2005-2012).

But by now the market had shifted dramatically to CUVs so here we have the fourth-generation 2013 Pathfinder, once again of unibody construction.

And the all-new Pathfinder, to be built in the company’s state-of-the-art plant in Tennessee, offers vastly improved fuel efficiency, more interior space and refinement, a more comfortable ride and new exterior styling.

In addition, it is lighter, faster, better looking and much more comfortable during typical daily driving on the road.

The 2013 Pathfinder has a clean contemporary look, with smoother, more aerodynamic lines replacing the sharp edges of the old model. Nissan claims best-in-class aerodynamics.

The new Pathfinder is 120 mm longer, 110 mm wider and 70 mm lower and offers more than eight cubic feet of additional interior volume. The interior has been similarly brought up to date with a spacious and light cabin and new materials and soft-touch surfaces.

Nissan claims the ne Pathfinder has best-in-class passenger volume, front head and legroom and a class exclusive reclining third row seat. That seat can be more readily accessed thanks to a clever folding and slide mechanism for the second row seat.

First introduced on the platform-mate Infiniti JX35, this setup allows the second row seat to be folded and moved forward even with a child seat in place.

As further evidence of the move into contemporary times the new Pathfinder is available with dual panoramic sunroofs, triple zone temperature control, a 13-speaker Bose audio system, a family entertainment system with dual 18-cm screens in the back of the front seat head restraints, heated and cooled front seats, heated second row seats and a heated steering wheel. You can get my favourite combination — heated cloth seats.

There are also a couple of significant Nissan-exclusive features available, like an Around View Monitor which uses cameras to give the driver a real-time view from above all around the vehicle.

Easy-fill tire alert is another slick feature, When the system detects low tire pressure and you are at the air pump, it will sound off when you have reached the proper air pressure.

While you can’t see it, the biggest improvement can be credited to a diet. The 2013 Pathfinder has lost a whopping 200 kilos! That alone is a significant accomplishment. That weight loss alone allowed the use of a smaller engine, using less fuel to provide the same performance and ability.

The new Pathfinder thus comes with a 3.5-litre version of the VQ-series V6 engine replacing the 4.0-litre version used previously. The new engine produces 260-horsepower and 240 lb. ft. of torque and runs quite happily on regular fuel.

The only transmissions available is an automatic, the latest generation (fK-k2) of Nissan’s CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). Nissan continues to stick with this design and having sold more than nine million of them during the past 20 years has it pretty well figured out.

This new one uses a chain instead of a belt for added durability and while it produces the same nasty ‘motorboating’ sound during sustained acceleration as other CVTs, the amount of power and performance from the V6 engine means you don't often need to sty in the throttle long enough to be annoyed by the lack of shifts.

Despite all this talking of becoming more city and highway-friendly, the new Pathfinder retains a class-leading 5,000-pound tow rating and the availability of a four-wheel drive system with three driver-selectable modes; 2WD, 4WD or auto. The base model of the 2013 Pathfinder is a front-drive vehicle.

The combination of less weight, smaller engine and the new CVT pays off at the pump. The new Pathfinder uses 25 per cent less fuel than the outgoing model. It is rated at 10.5 litres/100 km in the city and 7.8 on the highway, easily topping the six-cylinder competition.

The 2013 Pathfinder is available in S, SV, SL and Platinum trim levels. Even the base S comes with the automatic transmission, V6 engine, 18-in alloy wheels, tri-zone climate control, push-button ignition, power windows and locks.

Pricing ranges from $29,998 for the FWD base model to $40,798 for the Platinum with the works.

First Drive: Nissan's Pathfinder takes new road | The Chronicle Herald
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