2014 Nissan Pathfinder

For its latest redesign, the Nissan Pathfinder has ditched its previous truck-based platform in favor of carlike unibody underpinnings. While this means that tackling trails is no longer its forte, the switch does endow the Pathfinder with class-leading fuel economy and improved on-road manners to go along with a well-furnished cabin with seating for seven.

Recent Changes
Nissan has introduced a hybrid variant of the Pathfinder for the latest model year that returns 26 mpg combined - that's four mpgs better than the standard, V6-powered model.

Overview
In place of the boxy shape of its predecessor, the latest Pathfinder features softer, more fluid lines that hint at the less rugged - but more refined - structure that lies beneath. This new car-based architecture helps the crossover weight in at 500 lbs. less than before.

The reduced mass, in turn, aids the Pathfinder in achieving excellent efficiency figures from its 260-horsepower, 240-lb ft of torque 3.5-liter V6. In standard front-wheel-drive from, the crossover is capable of returning 20 city/26 highway/22 combined mpg, while an available four-wheel-drive system aids extra foul-weather traction but increases consumption to 19 city/25 highway/21 combined mpg. In normal situations it drives the front wheels only, diverting power rearward when extra grip is needed; should the driver desire, it can also be locked into FWD-only mode for optimal economy or 4WD-only for light off-roading.

Maximum towing capacity is rated at 5,000 lbs. with the V6.

Those seeking even better fuel economy can opt for the Pathfinder Hybrid, which is good for 25 city/27 highway/26 combined mpg with FWD or 4WD. Despite those impressive numbers, the Hybrid is actually nearly as powerful as the standard Pathfinder - it uses a 2.5-liter supercharged four-cylinder that teams up with an electric motor to produce 250 horsepower and 243 lb-ft of torque. In this case, going green doesn't require settling for snail-like acceleration, although it does entail a lower, 3,500-lb. tow rating.

All Pathfinder models shift through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that plays a big part in the 'ute's fuel-thrifty ways. It can, however, induce prolonged bouts of high-rpm engine droning under medium-to-heavy acceleration.

Spacious, Refined Interior
Roominess and versatility are defining characteristics of the interior, which boasts 2nd-row seats with 5.5-inches of forwards and backwards travel so that 2nd- or 3rd-row legroom can be prioritized. A Latch and Glide system means the 2nd row can be folded forward for easy access to the rearmost seats, which offer adequate space for children or short adults.

Sixteen cubic feet of cargo space are available behind the 3rd row, while 47.8 and 79.8 cubes can be unlocked by folding the 2nd and 3rd rows flat, respectively.

Clever packaging means the hybrid model's lithium-ion battery pack doesn't eat into passenger or cargo space.

In terms of design and materials, there's a definite upscale feel to the cabin, from the quality of the materials to the tasteful layout of the dashboard. Things can be further upgraded with a variety of options including a voice-activated navigation system, a 13-speaker Bose stereo and an impressive Around View system that uses four cameras to provide a 360-degree overhead view of the Pathfinder's surroundings.

Standard and Optional Features
The Pathfinder is available in S, SV, SL and Limited trim levels. The Hybrid model is only offered with the three upper trims.

The entry-level S is fitted with tri-zone automatic climate control, full power accessories, keyless entry, push button start, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo system with an AUX input jack, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and 18-inch alloy wheels.

The SV adds an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, automatic headlights, a rearview camera, a rear sonar system, Bluetooth connectivity, a proximity key, a USB input, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift, auxiliary audio/video input jacks, SiriusXM satellite radio, a seven-inch info display and speed-sensitive intermittent windshield wipers.

The SL brings leather upholstery, a power liftgate, remote start, heated front and rear seats, a power-adjustable front passenger seat, wood-tone trim, heated exterior mirror, chrome body side moldings, fog lights, a HomeLink universal trasceiver, stainless steel kick plates, memory functionality for the driver's seat and exterior mirrors and a digital compass.

New for the latest model year is the SL Tech Package, which brings a 13-speaker Bose stereo and a navigation system with an eight-inch touchscreen, NavTraffic and NavWeather, Zagat restaurant reviews.

The range-topping Platinum includes everything in the SL Tech Package plus an Around View monitor, DVD video playback capability, Bluetooth streaming audio capability, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a power tilt/telescoping steering column with position memory, a two hitch receiver with a seven-pin trailer tow wiring harness, a 120-volt AC power outlet and 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels.

Occupant Safety
All Pathfinder models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Key Competitors
Looking for a three-row crossover with plenty of space for people and gear? Alternatives to the Pathfinder are numerous, including the Ford Explorer, the Toyota Highlander, the Honda Pilot, the Mazda CX-9 and the Hyundai Santa Fe.

There's just one direct competitor to the Pathfinder: the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

The Highlander Hybrid can lay claim to better fuel economy and power than the Pathfinder Hybrid, but it's offered only as a loaded AWD model with a relatively high MSRP, a configuration that might not suit all buyer's needs.