Take one of the best family-size crossover utility vehicles on the market, and add a gasoline-electric hybrid drive system to it, and you'll have the best of both worlds: versatility and efficiency.

That's the theory behind the all-new 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid, a great people hauler that also offers decent fuel economy: up to 26 mpg combined city/highway. That's for a vehicle that can carry up to seven adults in comfort, with no compromises.

Prices begin at $35,300 for the entry-level SV front-wheel-drive version.

It's the first in a line of new hybrid models on the way from Nissan. Also planned are hybrid versions of the redesigned Rogue compact crossover, as well as the redesigned 2015 Murano midsize crossover and the Altima sedan, which plays in the same class as the Accord, Camry, Fusion, Sonata and Optima hybrids.

Nissan's crossover product planner, Scott Pak, confirmed that the new Murano, unveiled at the New York auto show, will get a hybrid version, although when it will arrive has not yet been determined.

Likewise for the Rogue and Altima, although the Rogue model probably is closer to launch. Nissan introduced the second generation of the Rogue last fall, and began production of it in the Nissan plant in Tennessee, which also makes the Pathfinder (including the hybrid) on the same assembly line. That plant also makes the Leaf electric car, and the lithium-ion batteries for it.

The Pathfinder got a complete redesign last year that turned it into a roomy, full-size crossover. It took another big leap this year with the addition of the hybrid version.

Under the hood of the hybrid is a supercharged 2.5-liter gasoline engine coupled with a 15-kilowatt electric motor, which gets its power from a compact lithium-ion battery.

Together, they provide nearly the same power as the gasoline-only Pathfinder's 3.5-liter V-6. The hybrid has a total of 250 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque, compared with 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque for the 3.5-liter.

I've tested both vehicles, and the power of the hybrid feels quite similar to that of the gasoline model, although there seemed to be more pep on take-off with the hybrid. That's because the electric motor kicks in with all of its torque right away.

At highway speeds, the hybrid has plenty of power left in reserve for passing, also thanks to the boost provided by the electric motor.

EPA ratings for the front-drive hybrid are 25 mpg city/28 highway/26 combined, compared with 20 city/26 highway/22 combined for the two-wheel drive gas model. With four-wheel drive, the hybrid gets 25/27/26, compared with 19/25/21 for the four-wheel drive gas model.

Nissan targeted the Toyota Highlander Hybrid with the design of the Pathfinder Hybrid, Nissan said. The hybrid is priced just $3,000 more than a similarly equipped gasoline-only Pathfinder, while Toyota charges a $7,000 premium for the Highlander hybrid.

Regular Pathfinder prices for 2014 begin at $28,850 for the base S version with two-wheel drive, and run as high as $41,350 for the top Platinum model with four-wheel drive.

Pathfinder hybrids have the same interior space as the gasoline versions, including ample legroom, and cargo capacity. We packed six adults into our test vehicle – including two in the third row – and everyone acknowledged having decent leg and knee room.

New for 2014 is a technology package that adds a 13-speaker Bose premium audio system with navigation, voice recognition, XM NavTraffic and NavWeather capability, Zagat Survey restaurant guide, Bluetooth streaming audio and an 8-inch color touch screen.

Our tester was the Platinum four-wheel-drive hybrid with a Platinum Package that brought a rear entertainment system. It also had roof cargo cross bars, carpeted floor mats and illuminated kick plates.

The newest Pathfinder has a unibody-style design, rather than the traditional body-on-frame arrangement of the model it replaced. It's now a top competitor in its class, which includes such stalwarts as the Highlander and Honda Pilot, thanks to its best-in-class passenger space, fuel economy and standard towing capacity.

Other competitors include the big crossovers from General Motors: the Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia; and both the Ford Explorer and Ford Flex.

Riding on the same architecture as the new Infiniti QX60 (formerly JX) crossover, the Pathfinder has the same passenger capacity and a similar drivetrain as the Infiniti. The main differences between the two are the styling and the levels of standard equipment. The QX60 also got a hybrid version for 2014.

There are now five crossovers in the Nissan lineup: the subcompact Cube and Juke, compact Rogue, midsize Murano and full-size Pathfinder. All but the Pathfinder and new Rogue have five-passenger capacity. Nissan also is continuing to sell the previous generation of the Rogue for 2014, renamed the Rogue Select, starting at just over $20,000.

Our Pathfinder's optional dual panoramic moon roof extended all the way to the third row, and would have been great for viewing the recent lunar eclipse – if it hadn't been raining at the time.

Standard on our Platinum version were leather upholstery; heated and cooled front seats and heated second-row seats; heated steering wheel; power tilt-and-telescopic steering column; and keyless entry with pushbutton start.

All seating positions are suitable for adults, unlike many crossovers whose third row is intended for children or very small adults. Getting into and out of the rear and middle seats was made easier by the large rear door openings and the EZ Flex seating system, which allows the second-row seat to slide forward up to 5.5 inches, and to tilt, as well, for access to the third row.

The middle seat had a 60/40 split feature that allows a child-safety seat to remain in place on the curb side while the other side is moved forward to let the rear passengers in or out. With the third seat in place, there is 16 cubic feet of cargo space behind it. It has a 50/50 split-folding design, so either side, or both sides, can be folded down to increase cargo capacity.

Second- and third-row seats can be folded to create a completely flat load floor from the tailgate to the back of the front seats, giving the vehicle nearly 80 cubic feet of cargo space.

The tailgate flips up in one piece, and on the Platinum model, it's power-operated. A small storage area under the rear cargo floor provides a good place to hide valuables when the vehicle is parked.

Also included on our tester was the Nissan AroundView monitor, which shows up on the nav screen next to the rearview-camera display. Around View gives the driver a 360-degree bird's-eye view around the vehicle, using front, rear and side mini-cameras.

Pathfinders also come with a tire-pressure monitoring system with Nissan's Easy Fill Tire Alert, which beeps the horn when a tire being filled with air reaches its proper inflation level.



–Type of vehicle: Large, five-door, seven-passenger, four-cylinder gasoline-electric hybrid, front- or all-wheel-drive crossover utility vehicle.

–Rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10).

–Highlights: Completely redesigned for 2013, the Pathfinder adds a hybrid version for 2014. With last year's makeover, the vehicle evolved into a crossover, with three rows of seats. It has plenty of power – hybrid or gasoline only – and lots of standard and optional features.

–Negatives: Can get pricey when options packages are added.

–Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder with electric motor

–Transmission: Continuously variable automatic

–Power/torque: 250 horsepower/243 pound-feet (hybrid, total)

–Length: 196.9 inches

–Curb weight range: 4,417-4,714 pounds

–Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock

–Cargo volume: 16 cubic feet (behind third seat); 79.8 cubic feet (second and third row seats folded down)

–Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds

–Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; roof-mounted side-curtain for all rows

–Electronic stability control: Standard

–Fuel capacity/type: 19.5 gallons, unleaded regular

–EPA fuel economy, city/highway/combined: 25/28/26 (front drive); 25/27/26 (AWD)

–Base price: $35,300

–Price as tested, including destination charge: $48,285



G. Chambers Williams III has been an automotive columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1994. He can be reached at chambers@star-telegram.com.


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