Derived from the same front-wheel-drive platform as the Altima sedan, the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder bears little resemblance to its boxy predecessors, which featured rear-wheel-drive platforms and available low-range gearing.

Although we've got a soft spot for those old Pathfinders, we understand that they weren't compelling for most families. The 2014 Pathfinder features standard 3-row seating and plenty of technology features, as well as improved driving dynamics and gas mileage. Nissan throws in a smooth ride and a high-quality interior, too. Indeed, we think the Pathfinder is appealing enough to steal some sales from its uptown sibling, the pricier Infiniti JX. A hybrid model debuts later this summer. It promises improved fuel economy without sacrificing interior space to the hybrid's battery packs and components.

With a 5,000-lb tow rating, the Pathfinder can still perform some of the duties expected of a vehicle dubbed an SUV, but its 6.5 inches of ground clearance and car-based platform (not to mention the lack of a proper hi/low transfer case) distance it from the rock-crawling, trailblazing reputation of Pathfinders past. Still, as most families don't require such attributes, we think the majority will find the 2014 Pathfinder a modern, thoroughly competent 3-row crossover. It's a must-drive in this popular segment.

What's New for 2014?

A hybrid model joins the Pathfinder family and offers improved fuel economy and reduced emissions. Also new is the SL Tech Package, which includes Bose audio and Nissan navigation.

What We Like

Flexible 3-row layout; high-quality interior; smooth transmission; carlike underpinnings improve ride and handling

What We Don't

Modest maximum cargo capacity; engine labors with a full load; no longer an off-road champ

How Much?

$29,560-$44,600

Fuel Economy

All Pathfinders are powered by Nissan's venerable 3.5-liter V6, which is rated at 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque in this application. A gearless continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is mandatory. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional on every model.

Fuel economy is average-plus at 20 miles per gallon city/26 mpg highway with front-wheel drive. All-wheel-drive models drop to 19 mpg city/25 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The 3-row 2014 Nissan Pathfinder is offered with either front- or all-wheel drive in four trim levels: S, SV, SL and Platinum.

The S ($29,560) starts with 18-inch alloy wheels, tri-zone automatic climate control, electroluminescent gauges, push-button ignition, cruise control, two 12-volt outlets, a tilt-telescopic steering column, a 4-in color driver information screen, manual front seats with adjustable driver lumbar support, cloth upholstery and a 6-speaker audio system with a 6-CD changer, an auxiliary input jack and steering-wheel-mounted controls.

Note that neither iPod/Bluetooth integration nor towing preparation is offered on the Pathfinder S, the only trim deprived of these features.

The SV ($32,820) adds automatic headlights, roof rails, keyless entry, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a central 7-in information display, a rearview camera with rear parking sensors, two more 12-volt outlets, a power driver's seat, a leather steering-wheel and shift-knob trim and a single-CD audio system with a USB/iPod jack and auxiliary video inputs.

The SL ($35,760) tacks on fog lights, a power lift gate, chrome exterior accents, leather upholstery and door trim, wood-tone inserts, a power passenger's seat, heated front and rear seats, remote start, a universal garage-door opener, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and welcome lighting.

The Platinum ($40,460) tops the range with exclusive 20-in alloy wheels, a heated steering wheel, a hard-drive-based navigation system with an 8-in touchscreen, the Around View 360-degree parking camera system, cooled front seats, a 120-volt outlet, a power tilt-telescopic steering wheel, driver memory functions, a 13-speaker Bose audio system, Bluetooth streaming audio and DVD playback capability.

All-wheel drive adds about $1,600 to the bottom line.

Some higher-end standard features are available as options on cheaper trims. Notable extras, depending on the model and package, include a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, Bose 9 speaker audio, Nissan navigation, towing preparation and an entertainment system with twin 7-in screens in the front headrests.

Cargo space measures a handy 16 cu ft behind the third row, 42 to 48 cu ft behind the second row (depending on equipment level) and 79.8 cu ft with both back rows folded down. Given that the similar Highlander offers over 95 cubes of maximum space, we're not blown away by the Pathfinder's practicality, but 80 cubes is still a lot of stuff.

Safety

The Pathfinder comes with 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and six airbags, including side airbags for front passengers and full-length side-curtain airbags. Electronic traction and stability control are also standard, as is Hill Start Assist.

Happily, every Pathfinder comes standard with Nissan's nifty Easy-Fill tire alert, which activates while you're adding air and honks the horn when you've reached the recommended pressure reading. Proper tire pressure is a significant factor in vehicle control, so we consider this a very welcome safety feature.

The Pathfinder earned a 4-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety, with five stars in the side impact test and four stars for front impact and roof strength. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Pathfinder ratings of Good in the moderate front overlap and side impact tests, but only a Marginal rating for roof strength.

Behind the Wheel

Unless rock-crawling ability is a must, you'll probably find the 2014 Pathfinder a very likable crossover SUV. Like the JX and more distant relatives such as the 2-row Murano, the new Pathfinder pairs a supple ride with good cabin insulation, making for comfortable highway cruising and urban commuting alike. The eerily smooth CVT does its best to keep the V6 in its sweet spot, and it usually succeeds. If you're like us, you'll only wish for more grunt with a full load aboard.

Not surprisingly, the handling is tuned more for safety than for smiles, but the new Pathfinder puts forth a reassuringly carlike stability at speed. Off-road performance is, of course, limited by the Pathfinder's clear preference for pavement, but at least the 4WD LOCK mode helpfully fixes front/rear power distribution at 50/50 for escaping unusually sticky spots.

Other Cars to Consider

Ford Flex -- Days go by and still we think of Ford's gracefully aging 3-row shaggin' wagon. If the Pathfinder's demure V6 gets you down, a Flex with Eco Boost may be the antidote.

Hyundai Santa Fe -- The stylish Santa Fe is available with either two or three seating rows in multiple drivetrain configurations. Its base trims also include Bluetooth as standard equipment.

Toyota Highlander -- Toyota's bread-and-butter crossover has clear advantages under the hood, with either the all-world 3.5-liter V6 or the expensive but rewarding Hybrid power system.

AutoTrader's Advice

The Pathfinder SV has got the best mix, in our opinion. Unless navigation is a must-have, consider saving a bundle and going with this well-equipped, reasonably-priced trim level.

AutoTrader

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