Recognizing the boxy, burly SUV trend is waning, Nissan, like other auto makers with these models in their lineup, has remade its venerable body-on-frame Pathfinder into a sleek, car-based cross/utility vehicle.

And the results are pretty good.

While it’s true it won’t tow a monster camper or boat  (and not that many buyers of the old SUV did that anyway), the ’13 Pathfinder, on sale now at U.S. Nissan dealers, still boasts plenty of utility for family adventures.

With the U.S. government requiring that auto makers improve fuel economy year after year, the heft of a truck frame, as well as the non-aerodynamic boxy SUV shape of the old model, just didn’t suffice anymore, Nissan says.

In the transition from SUV to CUV, the Pathfinder loses 500 lbs. (227 kg), shaving 106 lbs. (48 kg) alone by switching to the Altima midsize car platform. Advances in lighter-weight, high-strength steels made in the eight years since the model’s last full redesign play a key role in that figure; lighter seats, drivetrain and transmission also account for weight savings in the new Pathfinder.

The CUV’s weight loss comes despite an increase in dimensions.

The ’13 model is 4.6 ins. (11.7 cm) longer and 4.3 ins. (10.9 cm) wider than the outgoing SUV, and with 8.0 more cu.-ft. (227 L) of interior volume.

Although it is 2,000 lbs. (907 kg) below the maximum tow rating of the old Pathfinder, Nissan is betting the new model’s standard rating, a best-in-class 5,000 lbs. (2,268 kg), will appease enough loyalists. If it doesn’t, Nissan notes the larger Armada SUV still can tow 9,000 lbs. (4,082 kg).

Powering the new Pathfinder is Nissan’s workhorse 3.5L V-6 VQ engine, replacing the old model’s 4.0L V-6 and 5.6L V-8. With 260 hp and 240 lb.-ft. (325 Nm) of torque, the 3.5L is plenty powerful to move the Pathfinder up a gravel road to the lake or along a paved drive to Target.

The continuously variable transmission in the ’13 Pathfinder is a poor match for the mill, however, due to its continuous hunting for the proper “gear.”

The Pathfinder’s weight loss and shift to a smaller engine greatly improves fuel economy, to 22 mpg (10.7 L/100 km) for front-wheel-drive models and 21 mpg (11.2 L/100 km) for all-wheel-drive versions. Both figures are a 5-mpg (2.1 km/L) improvement from ’12 Pathfinder averages.

The ’13 model is estimated to achieve a best-in-class 26 mpg (9.0 L/100 km) highway in FWD configuration and, at worst, 18 mpg (13.1 L/100 km) city in AWD models. Real-world testing of FWD models in California’s Napa Valley and of an AWD model in Detroit returns 18 to 27 mpg (8.7 L/100 km).

Fatigue is common to both drives due to the ’13 Pathfinder’s light-feel, high-ratio steering. As the new Sentra compact car also has this arm-tiring calibration, we hope it isn't slated for every new Nissan.

On-center feel is middling in the Pathfinder, somewhere between that of the ’12 Ford Explorer (best) and ’12 Honda Pilot (worst) also tested in California.

The two FWD Pathfinders driven in Napa Valley have a smooth and forgiving ride, while the AWD model moderately jostles occupants on metro Detroit’s notoriously pitted roads.

The Pathfinder goes from independent double wishbones front and rear in ’12 to MacPherson-strut front and multilink rear independent suspensions. Dampers with integrated rebound springs also are new for ’13.

The Nissan CUV’s interior has many quality interior materials and an overall more luxurious feel that the utilitarian Explorer cabin or hard-plastic-filled Pilot’s interior.

New Pathfinders get a circular-knit headliner, a soft-touch instrument panel and a nicely designed center stack that puts most controls within easy reach of the driver.

Objectionable is the patternless hard-plastic pillar trim. It’s OK in a compact or subcompact but not in a vehicle pushing $40,000.

Pathfinders tested have above-par fit-and-finish, although we find un-tucked headliner fabric atop the passenger-side A-pillar in a Platinum-grade FWD model.

Front seats are comfortable, but the Pilot’s bigger thigh bolsters make it slightly more supportive.

The Pathfinder’s reclining second- and third-row seats are well-executed, and getting into and out of the third row is easy. Nissan’s Latch-and-Guide system, controlled by a beefy vertical latch on second-row seatbacks, enables second-row seats to slide forward easily, and with a child-seat installed.

The third row isn’t roomy by any stretch, but it’ll suffice for kids.

Nissan claims best-in-class passenger volume of 157.8 cu.-ft. (4,468 L). With the second- and third-row seats folded down, cargo space tops out at 79.8 cu.-ft. (2,260 L).

The ’13 Pathfinder is neither a beauty nor a beast, but rather a paint-by-numbers design of a CUV. Low ride height for easy ingress/egress? Check. Sharply rounded corners to direct airflow? Check. Forward raked C-pillar? Check.

But kudos to Nissan for not being afraid to rile those who think the new look besmirches the old Pathfinder's truck-driven legacy.

The ’13 Pathfinder is comparable with competitors in price, starting at $28,270 for an S-grade FWD model with tri-zone air conditioning and 18-in. alloy wheels. It hits $40,770 for an AWD Platinum model with navigation and Nissan’s Around View Monitor, which simulates an overhead view of the vehicle, useful for backing out of parking spaces.

Options include a $2,300 premium package for Platinum models, with independently controlled rear-seat entertainment screens, and a $2,650 premium package for SL-grade Pathfinders, with a 13-speaker Bose audio system and a Class III tow-hitch receiver.

While 3-row CUVs someday may be seen as dinosaurs like body-on-frame SUVs before them, they still are desired by a segment of the population who want “all that space just in case.” The Pathfinder has the room and features a family needs to keep the kids happy and occupied, but is easy enough on fuel, that it won’t visit the pump every day.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com

'13 Nissan Pathfinder FWD Platinum
Vehicle type 4-door, front-wheel-drive, 7-passenger cross/utility vehicle
Engine 3.5L DOHC V-6, aluminum block/head
Power (SAE net) 260 hp @ 6,400 rpm
Torque 240 lb. (325 Nm) @ 4,400 rpm
Bore x stroke (mm) 96 x 81
Compression ratio 10.3:1
Transmission Continuously variable
Wheelbase 114.2 ins. (290 cm)
Overall length 197.2 ins. (501 cm)
Overall width 77.2 ins. (196 cm)
Overall height 69.6 ins. (177 cm)
Curb weight 4,330 lbs. (1,964 kg, FWD Platinum)
Base price $41,850 as tested (range $28,650-$43,450)
Fuel economy 20/26 mpg (11.8/9.0 L/100 km) city/highway, FWD
Competition Buick Enclave, Chevy Traverse, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, VW Touareg
Pros Cons
Sleek new look Loyalists may not like
Good highway mpg City FE so-so
Luxury-like interior Hard-plastic pillar trim