by: NISSAN MOTOR COMPANY - The all-new 2014 Nissan Pathfinder is better suited for most buyers now.With a name like Pathfinder, you'd expect Nissan's SUV to cross the widest streams and climb the steepest mountains with ease. And at one time, you'd have been right. The earlier Pathfinders were based on trucks, which gave them good ground clearance and a tough enough frame to handle serious off-road driving. But the downside was a compromised ride on pavement, poor fuel economy and limited interior space. And beside that, hardly anyone actually drove them off road very much.

So for 2014, Nissan is shifting gears and building the Pathfinder on its own specially-designed chassis. This technically makes it a crossover, although the term was originally used to describe SUVs based on cars. But more and more manufacturers are now building crossover SUVs, which offer several advantages to the average owner. They include a car-like ride on pavement, improved fuel economy and more usable interior space.

Our test 2014 Nissan Pathfinder hit all these notes. It drove like a large car, got reasonably good mileage, and featured a third row of seats that increased its seating capacity to seven passengers. It was also the Platinum model, which came with a premium entertainment package and dual panoramic moonroof. Added to the leather seats and navigation system with rear view camera, all the options helped create a decidedly upscale feels.

The downside was, we were reluctant to take our Pathfinder very far off paved surfaces, even though it came with the optional all-wheel-drive system. That's the case with most SUVs these days, however. But Nissan has not completely abandoned the off-road market. It still makes the midsize Xterra and full-size Armada SUVs, both of which are truck based. Of the two, the Xterra is the best choice for rough terrain because of its smaller, more maneuverable size. It can also be ordered with heavy-duty options.

A hybrid version of the Pathfinder is reportedly in the works. But for now it only comes with one engine, a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 260 horsepower. That is delivered through a standard Continuously Variable Transmission, which improve mileage at the expense of responsiveness. Acceleration was good in most conditions, however, including going up steep hills. It lagged slightly when sudden bursts of speed were needed, however. Because of that, some thought needs to be given when merging into freeways or passing on them.

The Pathfinder's ride was so smooth it almost lacked character. The steering was precise but numb, while the handling was predictable. That's an improvement over truck-based SUVs, which can be choppy and sloppy. But it lacks almost all road feel, making the driver and passengers feel isolated from their surrounding. That will probably be seen as positive by most potential owners, however.

The interior was very roomy, especially for passengers in the second row of seats. They slide on track to increase leg room or allow easier access to the third row of seats, which, as expected, are best suited for children. But families will appreciate them, and they fold down to substantially increase the cargo capacity.

The dash included a balanced mix of buttons and knobs to control the climate, entertainment and navigation systems. Some manufacturers are move as many controls as possible onto the display screens, with mixed results. We liked the ability to easily adjust the heat and stereo without having to take our eyes off the road.

The overhead view offered along with the rear view backup camera was also a welcomed feature. It made parallel parking a breeze, despite the vast space behind the front seats.

Most large crossover SUVs look a lot alike these days. They are mostly distinguished by their grills and tail lights, while the flanks are mostly the same — smooth with only slight fender flares. The 2014 Pathfinder is pretty much the same. While not unattractive, t's not designed to turn heads.

Shoppers in the market for a seven-passenger crossover SUV should definitely include the Pathfinder among their test drives. It may not be as rugged as before, but it does a better job of meeting the real world needs of its likely owners. Our fully-loaded Platinum version penciled out at around $45,000, which is a very reasonable price, considering everything it came with. Most seven-passenger crossover SUVs cost more — sometimes a lot more.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2014 Pathfinder Platinum 4X4.

• Manufacturer: Nissan.

• Class: Full-size crossover.

• Layout: Front engine, front and all-wheel-drive.

• Style: Five-door SUV.

• Engines: 3.5-liter V6 (260 hp, 240 ft-lbs).

• Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission.

• Fuel Economy: 20/26/22 (FWD); 19/25/21 (AWD - as tested).

• Price: Starting around ($44,545 as tested).

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