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For 2013, the Nissan Pathfinder moves into the mainstream with more cabin comforts, classy looks and a massive 25 per cent improvement in fuel economy. The big change is the shift from the previous, truck-like body-on-frame construction to the more car-like unibody construction. This not only allows for a more compliant and comfortable ride, it also allowed the engineers to stretch the overall length by 124 mm and the width by 90 mm. That may not seem like much, but it makes a significant difference to the interior. The front seat occupants now have Best-in-Class leg and head room; the second row - with reclining seatbacks - can slide forward or back 139 mm (nearly six inches) and the fold-flat third row with class-exclusive recliners, actually offers adequate head and leg room for two adults.

There are four models to choose from starting at $29,998 with the S and SL models in 4x2 or 4x4 modes. The SV and Platinum models are 4x4 only. The previous 4.0-litre V6 engine has been replaced by a new, lightweight 260 horsepower, DOHC V6 with dramatically improved fuel economy (10.8 and 7.9 city/highway L/100 km compared to 14.9/10.2) while the standard transmission is Nissan's XTRONIC CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission).

Instead of 'stepped' mechanical gears, it uses a system of pulleys and a steel belt to synchronize rpm, road speed and accelerator pedal, resulting in a seamless transition of power across the rev range. I have never been a great fan of CVTs but I have to confess that, with nearly 20 years of development behind it, this XTRONIC unit has made me a believer. It is easily the most precise I've experienced.

Our tester was the SV model finished in Arctic Blue Metallic with a smart Charcoal Grey Cloth interior. The Pathfinder keeps the tough, bold grille of the truck family but the rather chunky, squared off lines of the previous model have been replaced by a more aerodynamic body. The headlight clusters flow back from the grille and merge with fenders that swell slightly around the front and rear wheel wells - a la Murano - while the roofline slopes down towards the rear, eliminating the boxy look of its predecessor without encroaching on second and third row head-room. Integrated fog lamps in the lower fascia, standard roof rails and bold, ten-spoke, 18-inch alloy wheels indicate the Pathfinder's multiple capabilities.

Our SV model came equipped with remote access via the Intelligent Key (that also operates the much appreciated Power Lift-gate), and Push Button Start.

The front buckets are heated along with the leather-wrapped, tilt telescoping steering wheel. The 60/40-split, fold-down second row can slide forward or back to provide more leg room as necessary and the off-side seat can tilt and slide forward - even when a child seat is installed - to allow easy entry to the third row. The interior décor is muted and conservative with a nice mix of piano black veneers and brushed metal highlights on the centre stack plus soft-touch surfaces on the door panel armrests. I particularly liked the legible main instrument cluster with its highly readable gauges for speedometer and tachometer flanking a 4.2-inch Trip Monitor. Controlled by a simple thumb switch on the steering wheel, it allows you to scroll through data like instant and average fuel economy, distance to empty, ambient temperature, trip distances and individual tire pressures. In addition it shows how much power is going to the front and rear axles when you're in 4WD. A simple dial on the centre console lets you control the All-Mode 4WD with 2speed transfer case. Select 2WD, for optimum fuel economy, 4WD AUTO, that directs power to the front and rear wheels as needed on rough or slippery surfaces, and 4x4 LOCK that splits the power equally between front and rear axles for the really heavy going.

Even when you're using all three rows, there's still 16 cu-ft. of cargo space plus a useful under-floor compartment at the rear. With the third row folded flat, cargo space increases to 47 cu-ft., and with second and third rows folded flat, you have a massive 79.8 cu-ft. of space to work with.

The independent suspension has been designed for maximum comfort whether you're cruising on the highway or tiptoeing over rough, unfriendly back roads. Nissan's unique Dual Flow Path shock absorbers stiffen up in response to large undulations or high, lateral G-forces to maintain stability and control while smoothing out smaller bumps and highway seams. Other dynamic assists include VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) and Traction Control. ABLS (Active Brake Limited Slip), four wheel, power-assisted disc brakes with ABS, EBFD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution), Brake Assist and Hill Start Assist. With its electronic Drive-by-Wire throttle system and electric, power-assisted steering, the Pathfinder is quick out of the gate and surprisingly agile for its size. And the rear view backup camera with audible warning beeps is a big asset when parking.

A 7-inch colour monitor in the centre stack is your HQ for audio and Tri-Zone Climate Control (the second row has its own climate controls). The 6-speaker audio system includes AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA playback and XM Sirius Satellite Radio (with 6 months complimentary service). Four auxiliary audio/video input jacks and a USB port for your other devices are included. Steering wheel controls for audio, cruise and Bluetooth, hands-free connectivity are standard. All the usual power amenities are standard including power, heated outside mirrors, automatic headlights and power door locks and windows with front, one-touch, up/down feature. Six airbags, including full-length side curtain airbags with rollover sensor, plus the LATCH system of child seat anchors, are standard. While still maintaining its 4WD mojo, the 2013 Pathfinder should find a much wider audience with its smoother ride, comfortable seating and greatly reduced thirst.

"We are extremely excited here at Newcastle Nissan, to re-introduce the legendary Pathfinder," says General Sales Manager, Michael Melen-chuk. "The key points we like to tell clients are better fuel economy, best-in-class luxury and a lower price than our competitors. It's a win-win in every sense."

?? Alan McPhee is a Canadian automotive journalist and is former editor of Carguide Magazine. His articles appear each week in this space.

BOTTOM LINE

2013 Nissan Pathfinder SV

Type: mid-size 2WD/4WD crossover

Engine: 3.5-litre V6

Horsepower: 260 @ 6400 rpm

Torque: 240 lb-tft @ 4400 rpm

Fuel economy: 10.8 L/100km; highway

- 7.9 L/100 km Base price: $35,248

Price as tested: $37,233

Vehicle provided by Newcastle Nissan

New Pathfinder offers gentler ride
 

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I heard good things about the suspension system from my dealership, I will have to get behind the wheel of a pathfinder to put this to the test!
 
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