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Tuesday, Sep 16, 2014

Nissan’s Pathfinder is a smoothie


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My teeth are still chattering and my eyeballs jiggling from driving a Nissan Pathfinder. But that was the original 1986 version: the one that was basically a pick-up truck with four doors.

Back then, SUVs were crude and rude. They bounced like an old door towed down a dirt road, and could be fixed by any shade-tree mechanic with a set of Craftsman wrenches and a hammer.

Boy, how times have changed. The 2014 Pathfinder I’ve been trying for size came with front-wheel drive, a continuously-variable transmission and Bluetooth.

All it needed was a furry steering wheel cover to complete the softie transformation.

These days, SUV buyers want their trucks to be much less truck-like and more like a minivan in disguise. Hence the reason for this new Pathfinder boasting three rows of seats to hold the family of seven.

But I have to say this latest Pathfinder — priced from $29,495 — is one fine machine, and one that nicely balances old with new.

That thrusting front-end with a no-nonsense black mesh grille is old-style sport-ute. The swoopy roofline, chrome-ringed lights and curvy rear fenders is pure designer-SUV.

Naturally, the old-style frame chassis has been jettisoned. Now this Tennessee-built Pathfinder rides on a car-style unibody platform.

The advantage here is a much smoother ride, sharper, more responsive handling and 500 fewer pounds to tote around.

Inside, the cabin feels bigger than a hangar at MacDill. Those seated in row two are treated to outstanding legroom made more flexible by 5.5 inches of fore-and-aft sliding for the split seats.

Whereas the last Pathfinder came with a 4-liter V-6 that probably had its origins in farm machinery, this latest model uses Nissan’s margarine-smooth 3.5-liter V-6 packing 260 horses.

On the road, the V-6 delivers oodles of get-up-and-go for swift passing and easy freeway merging.

And it’ll cruise at 75 mph on Interstate 75 with hardly a murmur from under the hood while averaging 26 miles to the gallon.

Four Pathfinder flavors are on offer: base S, best-selling SV (from $32,755), well-equipped SL (from $35,695), to fancy-pants Platinum (from $38,345).

Thankfully, teeth-chattering is no longer a standard feature.

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