Pity the poor Nissan Pathfinder. It gets no respect.

When the midsize Pathfinder debuted in the U.S. in the mid-1980s, the Big Three had a few SUV offerings, most notably the Jeep brand, but importers had yet to launch their invasion. Today, with myriad SUV and cross/utility vehicle offerings on the market, the Pathfinder has been lost in the crowd.

To make matters worse, parent Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. has stolen Pathfinder's withering thunder with the recent introduction of the shapely Murano luxury CUV and fullsize Armada SUV. The two join the aging midsize Xterra SUV, itself due for a well-deserved makeover early next year.

The '05 Pathfinder, however, beats the Xterra out of the gate with a major redo, its first since 1997 and only the third since the vehicle's introduction in 1986.

Returning to body-on-frame construction and adding third-row seating positions the new Pathfinder as a worthy competitor in a field of fierce opponents that includes the Ford Explorer and Dodge Durango, both of which grew bigger and better in the current generation.

But issues remain. The Pathfinder has lost its understated front grille in favor of the same in-your-face V-shaped grille gracing all of Nissan's new light trucks.

And despite Nissan's recent dropping of the Pathfinder moniker from the Armada's nameplate to better distinguish the larger SUV model, Pathfinder's identity remains skewed, reduced to a smaller but almost exact copy of the Armada, which shares its F-Alpha platform.

The two vehicles least resemble each other from the rear, where Pathfinder's back window is curved at the bottom vs. the Armada's squared-off design.

Dimensionally, the Pathfinder has grown, with its wheelbase expanding from 106 ins. (270 cm) to 112.2 ins. (285 cm). Overall length is increased about 5 ins. (12.7 cm) — to 188.6 ins. (477 cm) for '05 compared with 183 ins. (464 cm) for '04.

Pre-production Pathfinders driven at a media preview in Seattle revealed various fit-and-finish issues, as might be expected. Company officials assure the quality will be right when the vehicle hits dealer showrooms Oct. 13.

Pre-production issues aside, the Visteon Corp.-designed instrument panel has a clean, uncluttered appearance, with large, easy-to-read controls.

But the new-generation Pathfinder's most outstanding feature is its engine — the latest in Nissan's VQ series, which spawned the award-winning 3.5L V-6 that powered the '04 Pathfinder.

The new 4L V-6, mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission, is impressively responsive, producing 270 hp and 291 lb.-ft. (395 Nm) of torque.

The Pathfinder, with its independent double-wishbone front and rear suspension, handles well, especially in highway driving.

As of press time, pricing had not been announced, but Nissan says to expect the SE 4WD with comfort and premium option packages to fall into the $30,000-$32,000 range, excluding destination and handling fees.

'05 Nissan Pathfinder LE (4WD)

Vehicle type: Front-engine, four-wheel-drive, 5-passenger 5-door SUV

Engine: 4L (3,954 cc) DOHC V-6, aluminum block/aluminum heads

Power (SAE net): 270 hp @ 5,600 rpm

Torque: 291 lb.-ft. (395 Nm) @ 4,000 rpm

Compression ratio: 9.7:1

Bore × stroke (mm): 95.5 × 92

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 112.2 ins. (285 cm)

Overall length: 187.6 ins. (477 cm)

Overall width: 72.8 ins. (182 cm)

Overall height: 69.7 ins. (177 cm)

Curb weight: 4,815 lbs. (2,185 kg)

Market competition: GMC Envoy; Jeep Grand Cherokee; Mercury Mountaineer; Toyota 4Runner; Volkswagen Touareg