Nissan's marketing campaign for the new Pathfinder is more space, bigger engine, better stories, a trio of theories that are accurately portrayed in one of the most loyal nameplates in the automotive industry. Taking on the toughest of critics with a totally redesigned SUV, Nissan added the best in off-road technology, a complete list of comfort features, and Nissan-family styling, making it one of the most balanced vehicles in its market. On a recent trip to Seattle, we tested the Pathfinder on surface roads, freeways, and a serious off-road course, with a pleasant feel of security and safety present in each test.

Tackling the 37 SUV nameplates currently available, the redesigned Pathfinder garnered high marks for the new VQ 4.0L DOHC V-6, smooth shifting five-speed automatic transmission, and new third-row seating availability. Using technology currently in place for the award-winning 3.5L VQ engines, Nissan lengthened the stroke to 92mm, which provides the extra displacement. The Electronic Throttle Control and the Continuous Valve Timing Control on the intake valves provide instant throttle response and give the upper rpm a boost-like feel. These enhancements result in 270 hp at 5,600 rpm and 291 lb-ft at 4,000 - 80 percent of that torque available under 2,000 rpm. Horsepower and torque figures are actually higher than those of the 4.7L V-8 Durango and the same figure as the 4Runner's 4.7L V-8 with only 29 fewer lb-ft of torque. This powerful engine and transmission combination brings 0-60 mph times under 8 seconds, and when properly equipped, the Pathfinder can tow a maximum of 6,000 pounds (4x4). Now that the bigger engine aspect is covered, take a look at the better stories area.

One of the biggest stories is the absence of a unibody construction and the resurrection of a body-on frame based on the F-Alpha platform used on the Titan and Armada. This feature on the Pathfinder has a virtual flat underfloor, which makes it ideal for serious off-roaders typical of the Pathfinder owners. New Pathfinders will also be equipped with an independent rear suspension that allows more clearance for the rear cargo area and a third-row seat. Pathfinder purists, don't worry, Nissan made sure the new '05 stayed true to its off-road roots with a bevy of 4x4 technologies. The alphabet soup of these are known as HDC (Hill Decent Control), HSA (Hill Start Assist), 4WLS (Four-Wheel Limited Slip), TCS (Traction Control System), and VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control). Hill Decent Control is an awesome option that will, when activated, automatically take over descent of the Pathfinder under needed circumstances. Keeping the SUV at a stable 3 mph and continuously activating the brakes, the HDC will keep the Pathfinder stable, making you look like a professional.

Hill Start Assist proved to be a wonderful feature while driving in Seattle as well as off-road when driving required switching pedals or gears in slow situations. HAS keeps the vehicle stopped for 2 seconds while still in gear and continuously monitors the pedal input. After two seconds, the vehicle will slowly roll backward so the driver will not get out and think it is in Park. This is a smart and very functional feature.

Traction control, Vehicle Dynamic Control, and Four-Wheel Limited Slip are also offered on the Pathfinder. Ground clearance is also exceptional with the average trim clearance coming in at 8.9 inches. We can attest to the off-road prowess of the Pathfinder with several instances leaving one wheel and tire in the air while maneuvering over obstacles and not once getting stuck in four-wheel low gear.

There is also now more space. With the IRS in place, the Pathfinder finds itself with an extra row of seats that brings the people-carrying capacity up to seven. Each rear seat conveniently folds flat, providing a truck-like cargo area with 79.2 cubic feet of storage. Passengers will also find new amenities available inside, including a DVD-based navigation unit, a 7-inch flip-down rear entertainment system with headphones, a power sunroof, heated front seats, and a Bose nine-speaker audio system with dual-subwoofers. Leather is available, as well as 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels and the standard complete instrumentation.

While driving the new Pathfinder, we were impressed with the upgraded interior materials that are normally a Nissan weak point, as well as the overall tight fitment of interior panels and trim pieces. Road vibrations are down and the new 4.0L is a definite class-leader. Released mpg estimates seem a little high with city around 16 and highway at 23. Complete pricing is not currently available, but look for a well-equipped SE 4x4 to sell for $30-$32,000. Look out 4Runner, TrailBlazer, and Explorer, Nissan has done its homework and is ready to compete against the big guns. We will be able to tell you how good it is in two months when we receive one for our SUV of the Year test.