SUBMITTED PHOTOThe redesigned 2017 Nissan Pathfinder has majory upgrades and updates from older models.

SUBMITTED PHOTOThe redesigned 2017 Nissan Pathfinder has majory upgrades and updates from older models.

Studies show that only around 15 out of 100 SUV owners take their vehicles off-road, and only around one in 20 do it regularly. So why are auto writers and owners’ forum participants still grumbling about Nissan turning its Pathfinder midsize SUV from a rugged and raw body-on-frame truck into a much more refined and accommodating crossover?

The bellyaching has been going on ever since the unibody Pathfinder first hit the road as a 2013 model. It is reverberating today with Nissan’s major refresh of the fourth-generation Pathfinder for the 2017 model year.

The first Pathfinder debuted in 1986 as an ‘87 model. The SUV class as we know it today was relatively new and starting to heat up. Like most manufacturers, Nissan initially leaped on board with a two-door, truck-based entry into the segment. Over the next few decades, it added doors and features but retained the body-on-frame platform until it eventually became one of the few remaining SUVs constructed that way.

That was in 2012. For 2013, Nissan delivered an all-new Pathfinder built with unibody construction, the way most of today’s SUV/crossovers are built. Unibody vehicles are typically less capable of rigorous off-road duty than body-on-frame models. But they’re also inherently smoother, better-handling and more refined on the paved roads where most SUVs spend nearly all of their time.

Because of those qualities, they’re also more popular with consumers than body-on-frame SUVs. That’s certainly the case with the Pathfinder, which more than doubled its sales the first year the unibody version was offered. Nissan sold 42,621 Pathfinders in 2012, the last model year for the body-on-frame version. It sold 88,632 Pathfinders in 2013.

Sales haven’t exceeded that since, but the 2017 refresh could change that. The revamped Pathfinder, which went on sale in September, gets some significant upgrades and updates, yet starting prices are within a few hundred bucks of the 2016 edition.

The Pathfinder is available in four trim levels with two- or four-wheel drive. Starting prices for 2WD models are $29,990 for the S trim, $32,680 for the SV, $35,700 for the SL and $41,870 for the Platinum. That’s before the ever-present $940 destination/handling fee. AWD is available on all four trim levels for $1,690.

The 2017 Pathfinders get a facelift significant enough to make an aging Hollywood star envious. The front end is all new, accentuated by a redesigned grille and stylish headlights. The changes are more modest in back, where the bumper has been restyled and the taillights get new lenses.

Inside, there is a vivid new 8-inch (1 inch larger than last year) touchscreen display panel and a new driver information graphic display between the speedometer and tachometer.

Suspension components have also been beefed up, according to Nissan.

But the biggest mechanical change occurred under the hood, where Nissan’s popular and highly regarded 3.5-liter V6 – the only engine available on Pathfinder – received a thorough makeover. Nissan says it revised more than half of the engines bits and pieces, giving it direct injection, redesigning its combustion chamber and updating its pistons, intake manifold and intake valve control system.

According to Nissan, the changes enable the engine to generate 284 horsepower and 259 pounds-feet of torque. That’s 24 more hp and 19 more lbs-ft of torque than last year’s Pathfinder engine produced.

The engine upgrade helps the Pathfinder feel as responsive as anything in its class. Highway passing power and off-the-line acceleration are impressive for a vehicle that weighs over 4,500 pounds. According to our stopwatch, the Pathfinder test vehicle launched from zero to 60 mph in around 7.3 seconds.

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