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New attitude: With 2014 makeover, Nissan Pathfinder joins the crossover crowd

And another one bites the dust.

Queen’s Freddie Mercury obviously wasn’t referencing the Nissan Pathfinder in the band’s 1980 worldwide hit song, but it sure fits.

After 28 years of its off-road-worthy sport utility, Nissan decided that for 2014 the Pathfinder was overdue for a new direction. In a nod to the explosive growth of models and sales of car-based, crossover utility wagons, the Japanese company joined the stampede.

It’s just the latest to admit the shrinkage in sales of a once-vast market for hard-core off-roaders. Besides, Nissan still offers the truck-based Xterra for those types of outdoorsy adventurers.

For some time the trend has been toward vehicles that offer elevated seating and above-the-traffic visibility, family-friendly cargo space and utility, and (usually optional) all-wheel drive for occasional forest-road forays and added confidence on snow-coated or rain-slicked roadways.

So manufacturers have met the challenge with tall, wagonesque vehicles that offer the look of SUVs but deliver the driving ease and highway comfort of a car.

The new Pathfinder, built on a chassis shared with Nissan’s front-drive midsize Altima family sedan, is just such a vehicle. And it could prove to be one of the most successful.

The exterior is sleek and attractive, bearing all the hallmarks of Nissan’s current design ethos.

2013 Nissan PathfinderInside our midlevel SL model is leather-swathed seating for seven. Seats are generously sized and adult-friendly, even in the third row.

The dash’s design is a study in hard plastics, the only letdown in an otherwise upscale and logically laid-out cabin.

Powering the Pathfinder is a 3.6-liter, twin-cam V-6 churning out a healthy 260 horsepower. Nissan’s latest continuously variable automatic transmission delivers smooth performance with virtually none of the sensation of slippage that plagued earlier versions of CVTs.

The Pathfinder’s carlike handling and stable highway ride would make it a fine choice for a cross-country family holiday or the weekly trip to Target.

Fuel economy is a respectable 19 mpg in town and 25 mph on the open road – and that’s with all-wheel drive.

Pathfinder’s metamorphosis should prove to be a profitable move for Nissan.

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