The Nissan Pathfinder concept, revealed today at the Detroit auto show, demonstrates the possibility for a lighter, more aerodynamic version of Nissan’s midsize three-row SUV. The concept uses unibody construction, rather than the body-on-frame setup of the current Pathfinder -- which is hardly new to the model, as the second-generation Pathfinder also was built on a unibody chassis.
Nissan executive vice president Andy Palmer admits that although it is labeled a concept, the Pathfinder on display here in Detroit is very close to the production car. He says the 2013 Pathfinder will be as much as 500 pounds lighter than the current model, due in part to the switch to unibody construction.
Whereas the Pathfinder has traditionally been one of Nissan's tough, burly off-road-capable machines, the new model is designed almost exclusively for on-road use. Nissan has found that most customers don't actually use their SUVs for serious-duty performance, but simply enjoy high ground clearance and rugged styling. Instead, Nissan Design America vice president Alfonso Albaisa says customers really want fuel efficiency and a comfortable ride.
"The role of an SUV doesn't really fit the customer," Albaisa said. "I think we have a sort of fantasy about rock-hopping."
Even so, Palmer and Albaisa say the new Pathfinder's towing and payload capacities should be on par with those of the current model, likely with a tow rating around 5000 pounds. The new SUV should still be able to manage "light" off-roading -- think rural or snowy trails, rather than rock-hopping adventures.
The new design creates a notably big and airy greenhouse, thanks to a low beltline, relatively skinny pillars, and a big panoramic glass roof. By virtue of the switch to unibody construction, Nissan says the Pathfinder’s interior offers more and more-usable space. The dashboard layout is fairly familiar from other current Nissan SUVs, and the concept car’s three-row, seven-seat interior shows features like touch-screen navigation and rear-seat DVD players. Outside, chrome is used to dress-up the door handles, front grille, and roof rails.
As to what is under the new metal, Nissan has said only that the Pathfinder concept has an “advanced” V-6 engine and continuously variable transmission. That combination is said to provide about 25-percent better fuel economy than the current Pathfinder. Despite the svelte, more curvaceous design, the concept is promised to retain the same sort of towing and off-road performance that has been offered by the Pathfinder model since it first launched in 1986. It goes without saying that all-wheel drive will be available.
The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder will go on sale in fall 2012.
For more on the Nissan Pathfinder concept, check out our First Look here. For more on the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, including videos, the latest photos, and more information, click here to visit our Detroit Show homepage.