The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder's predecessors were tough off-road trucks, but it's been reinvented this year as a family-friendly crossover SUV. That means it's smoother, more comfortable and better on gas, even if it's not the mountain goat it used to be. Does Nissan's latest have what it takes to be your next family hauler? Here are five reasons to visit your Nissan dealer and find out for yourself.

1. Three Real Rows of Seats

Although the previous Pathfinder technically had a third row, it was really only for small kids and pets. But Nissan didn't make the same mistake twice. The new Pathfinder has useful passenger space in all three rows. And the EZ Flex seating layout includes a sliding second row and reclining third-row seat backs. Just like that, the Pathfinder has gone from a traditional SUV with a third-row jump seat to a legitimate minivan substitute.

2. Surprising Fuel Economy

Even though the Pathfinder has a powerful V6, it's not a gas-guzzler like your typical 3-row SUV. Thanks in part to a CVT automatic transmission that makes the engine more efficient, the Pathfinder is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at an impressive 20 miles per gallon city and 26 mpg highway. To put that in perspective: The best the old Pathfinder V6 could do was 15 mpg city/22 mpg hwy. As a fringe benefit, the CVT doesn't have separate gears like a regular automatic, so you'll never feel a single shift.

3. Car-Like Ride and Handling

Whereas the previous Pathfinder was built like a truck for off-road use, the new one is based on a car platform. In fact, the Pathfinder rides on the same basic platform as the front-wheel-drive Nissan Altima sedan, if you can believe it. That means it rides more smoothly and takes corners like a big car rather than a tough SUV. We found it to be a very family-friendly driving experience.

4. Flexible All-Wheel Drive

Although the new Pathfinder is tuned for on-road use, that doesn't mean it's not a four-season vehicle. In fact, the all-wheel-drive Pathfinder is plenty capable, and it has a nifty rotary mode-selector that can lock in full-time all-wheel drive for complete security. You're not going to win any rock-crawling competitions with this Nissan, but if you're like most family-minded shoppers, you just want sure-footed traction and a little extra height to get you through the winter. In this respect, the new Pathfinder nails it.

5. Attractively Priced

The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder starts at just $28,650, and that includes premium features such as 3-zone automatic climate control. When you consider that the very similar Infiniti JX35 starts at over $41,000, the Pathfinder looks like a real bargain. Also, keep an eye out for the new Pathfinder Hybrid, which gets 20 to 25 percent better fuel economy and should start in the $35,000 range when it goes on sale.

Nissan has broadened the Pathfinder's appeal, and the result is a well-rounded family vehicle that can handle just about any family's needs. We recommend taking the shortest path to your Nissan dealer and forming your own opinion.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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