PINEVILLE, Mo. -- South of Springfield in the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri, we're taking rough and bumpy Ponderosa Road cut through dense forests to log seat time in the 2013 Pathfinder that looks fresh in a new curvy-corner package which represents a 100-percent redesign of Nissan's mid-size sport utility vehicle.
Flashing a chrome-encrusted grille and aerodynamic headlamps capping the curvy stepped hood, Pathfinder wears muscular fender blisters bulging over big alloy wheels.
It looks edgy and athletic, like a lanky runner with rippled muscles wound tight and ready to sprint to speed on a fast track.
For the make-over, Pathfinder switches from a rear-wheel-drive (RWD) body-on-frame platform to a front-wheel-drive (FWD) unibody structure with a powerful V6 planted in the engine bay, a load of electronic vehicle controls aboard for safety and a spacious cabin layout with three rows of seats for seven passengers.
Stretching more than 16 feet long and 6.5 feet wide, this slippery wagon rides on a stretched platform with two doors on each flank of the elongated cabin and a liftgate lid at the rear.
Size-wise, the next-generation Pathfinder measures about five inches longer and more than four inches wider than the previous iteration with the wheelbase length stretching two inches longer to 114.2 inches.
The passenger compartment is substantially larger with almost 80 cubic feet of flat-floored stow space stretching from front-row seatbacks to tail-side liftgate.
Three rows of seats are standard in all trim versions of Pathfinder and legroom for riders is generous -- 41.7 inches for the second-row bench that splits and folds and also slides fore and aft.
The new monocoque structure for Pathfinder is like a car's platform melding chassis and body into a cohesive entity that's extremely rigid.
Then install the independent suspension system with struts in front and rear multi-link arrangement, add hydraulic electric power-assisted steering and disc brakes for all corners with anti-lock brake system (ABS) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD).
Further, every Pathfinder edition carries a vehicle dynamic control (VDC) device with a traction control system (TCS) which automatically checks lateral skidding on slippery pavement.
For locomotion Nissan pulls out the VQ35DE 3.5-liter V6 engine which comes with dual overhead cams (DOHC), plus the Nissan variable induction control system (NICS) and continuous variable valve timing control system (CVTCS).
It delivers prime muscle -- 260 hp at 6400 rpm with 240 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm -- and links to Nissan's advanced Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Fuel economy estimates dramatically increase to best-in-class figures with 20/26 mpg city/highway.
Nissan offers the 2013 Pathfinder with FWD traction or a computer-managed 4-wheel-drive (4WD) system.
The smart 4WD device sets a rotary dial on the console so the driver may select different traction settings:
* 2WD -- full-time FWD to maximize fuel economy.
* AUTO -- all-wheel-drive (AWD) mode to vary the engine's torque between front and rear wheels for optimum traction with different pavement conditions (smooth or rough, wet or dry).
* 4WD Lock -- full-time 4WD.
Pathfinder's revised cabin treatment includes form-fitting seats and a wagonload of electronic devices. The designers specified plenty of high quality materials and soft-touch surfaces, plus vivid graphic displays, including the Nissan Advanced Drive-Assist Display positioned at the center of the instrument cluster and the Around View Monitor which depicts a 360-degree image of the vehicle.
Pathfinder 2013 trims out in four different versions:
* Pathfinder S is the price-leader edition but stocks premium equipment like 18-inch alloy wheels, a keyless entry device, 3-zone automatic climate system, cruise control, height-adjustable driver seat, 60/40-split second-row seat, tilting-telescoping steering wheel and 6-speaker audio kit with 6X CD player.
* Pathfinder SV is the upgrade edition with extra equipment aboard such as automatic headlamps, keyless ignition, 8-way power controls for the driver seat, leather binding the steering wheel, Bluetooth phone connectivity, 7-inch color multi-information display, rearview camera and a premium sound system with USB/iPod interface.
* Pathfinder SL edition adds more gear, including exterior elements like foglamps, roof rack rails, heated mirrors and a power liftgate, plus cabin extras like leather upholstery, heat elements in seats front and rear, driver seat memory functions, 4-way power for the front passenger seat, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
* Pathfinder Platinum is the deluxe luxury edition stocking 20-inch alloy wheels and 235/55R20 all-season tires, the Around View Monitor parking camera, power-adjustable and heated steering wheel, cooling for front seats, a navigation system and 13-speaker Bose audio system with Bluetooth audio connectivity plus a DVD player.
In addition, three equipment packages are available: SL Premium Package, Platinum Premium Package, Trailer Tow Package.
Nissan sets MSRP figures for Pathfinder 2013 beginning at $28,650 (S-2WD) and $30,250 (S-4WD).