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The term “Crossover SUV” has become standard nomenclature throughout the automotive industry, without a clear definition of what, exactly, makes up such a vehicle. According to Webster, the definition of “crossover” can refer to almost anything blending various elements that create something popular with a new audience. In automotive terms, crossovers have become a blend of minivans, family sedans and traditional Sport Utility Vehicles (SUV), with manufacturers constantly seeking new audiences for these feats of engineering.

Truck-based, body-on-frame vehicles like Nissan’s own XTerra, have always defined “real” SUVs. However, is the unibody Jeep Grand Cherokee, which arguably offers as much off-road capability, a crossover or a “real” SUV? Most would agree it is. The line between crossovers and “real” SUVs has become so blurred it’s hard for the average consumer to know which is which.

The 2013 Pathfinder, which is available in both Front-Wheel and All-Wheel Drive (AWD) unibody configurations — defines the current crossover state-of-the art. It’s loaded with creature comforts and features never before found in the rugged, body-on-frame Pathfinder of days past.

Walkaround: I have to admit, when I saw the first media photos of the 2013 Pathfinder, I was less than impressed. However, photography doesn’t quite do the all-new Pathfinder justice. This model doesn’t have the same boxy styling, or truck grille, which linked the outgoing Pathfinder to the Frontier and Titan pickups as well as the larger Armada. Like most newer, car-based crossovers, the styling is softer and more rounded, with a strong character line running the length of the body, flowing from the headlights down the hood, underneath the beltline and into the LED tail lights.

The front fascia stylizes the previous truck look, and I expect you may see the Frontier and Titan sport similar changes in the future.
The 2013 Pathfinder rides on the same platform as the Infiniti JX, and is slightly larger in all dimensions than the previous version. Its 114.2-inch wheelbase is two inches longer than before with the body itself almost five total inches longer, and 4.4 inches wider.
The height is a full three inches lower, two of which were gained by reducing ground clearance to 6.5-inches for better ingress and egress.
Depending on the trim level, thanks to the switch to lighter unibody construction, the new Pathfinder has shed as much as 500 pounds from the vehicle’s overall mass.

Interior: Nissan didn’t skimp on interior size or amenities, to achieve that weight reduction, delivering a three-row cabin that’s comfortable, spacious, airy and well-appointed. It successfully makes the transition from traditional SUV to more refined crossover.

The seats are comfortable, with wide bolsters and a well-cushioned bottom, with leather standard with the SL and Platinum trims. The old dashboard’s sharp edges are history, with soft-touch materials on nearly every surface. Thoughtful touches like padded leather on the doors make this Pathfinder seem more like a refined luxury sedan than a rugged off-roader.

The family-friendly second row allows you to slide the outboard passenger seat forward without needing to remove a child seat. It also offers enough leg and headroom for most adults, along with conveniences like cupholders in the door armrests and the ability to slide and recline. All seats behind the first row fold flat, revealing 79.8 cubic feet of cargo space. There’s 16 cubic feet with all seats in position, compared to 79.2 and 16.5 cubic feet in the 2012 Pathfinder.

In terms of technology, the 2013 Pathfinder abounds in it, starting with Nissan’s Around View Monitor technology, which was perfected by Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury brand. It displays views of every angle on all sides of the vehicle — excellent when parking or maneuvering in tight spaces.
Other amenities include a full navigation/infotainment system, kickass Bose premium audio (available on SL and Platinum trims only), a tri-zone DVD entertainment system, along with a host of alphanumeric safety systems and Nissan’s new Easy-Fill tire inflation system that honks the horn when tires are inflated to their optimum specification.

Under The Hood: Nissan’s 3.5-liter VQ35DE workhorse V6 — arguably the best powerplant since the small-block Chevy — is the only engine available. It delivers 260 horses at 6,400 rpm and 240 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm.
The old Pathfinder’s conventional, five-speed automatic has been replaced with Nissan’s revamped, and much improved Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). The new CVT is actually a surprisingly good match for the engine — and much better than the previous version which is used in the Pathfinder’s sibling Infiniti JX.

Nissan used the same basic formula that improved fuel economy on the 2013 Altima sedan, with the CVT shouldering much of the burden. The V6 has been pretty much left alone, while the transmission’s 40-percent reduction in internal friction and use of a drive chain specifically designed for the Pathfinder, improves overall performance. Nissan’s All-Mode 4x4-i system allows drivers to switch between front — and all-wheel drive on the fly, as well as featuring a fully automatic mode, and is available on all models.

The Pathfinder boasts best-in-class six-cylinder fuel economy — which for the front-wheel-drive version is 26/highway and 20/city. AWD numbers are 25 and 19. Despite criticism over using a CVT on an SUV, there’s much to say for a tranny only revving the engine to 1,800 rpm’s while driving 70 miles per hour.
Behind The Wheel: We test drove the Pathfinder on the roads in and around Napa and Sonoma Valleys, as well as on some beautiful stretches of asphalt hugging the California coast, and then did some off-roading on private land just outside of Petaluma. Overall, there’s a lot to like about this vehicle.
We drove both the front — and all-wheel-drive versions. Both deliver a solid, smooth, comfortable and stable ride, that’s relatively quiet. And even with the CVT, it didn’t disappoint on some of the more engaging terrain, although in all fairness to both machine, and potential buyers, while as adequate as any crossover, this is not the go-anywhere off-road enthusiast’s machine the previous version was. But it isn’t meant to be either.

The car-based platform leaves that traditional truck feeling and ride behind, instead, delivering a refined, dialed-in driving experience. The steering is a bit light for my personal taste, but brakes, throttle response and handling are all good, and the Pathfinder just feels more nimble than its competitors.
Whines: Visibility is good, although the wide A-pillars make vision around some corners slightly problematic. However, some competitors have larger blind spots.

Bottom Line: Regardless of how you define a crossover SUV, The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is a winner in the three-row, family-friendly segment. It offers a well-appointed cabin, lots of functionality and decent driving dynamics packaged in a sleek new wrapper, We don’t see how this new Pathfinder could be anything less than successful.

KPBJ.COM | New 2013 Nissan Pathfinder becomes a unibody crossover 
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