By Sue Mead, Motor Matters

Hot on the heels of winning an award for the 2014 Pathfinder at the Texas Truck Rodeo, Nissan expands its lineup adding the 2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid to the list of 14 available models.

The prize-winning large crossover utility vehicle is noted for its capabilities and its uplevel interior that can carry seven passengers while at the same time toting up to 16 cubic feet of cargo. The all-new hybrid version gets close to 25 percent improved fuel economy over its gasoline-powered stablemate.

The Pathfinder Hybrid starts at $35,110, which is a $3,000 upcharge over a similarly-equipped Pathfinder powered by the 3.5-liter V-6 gasoline engine.

While the exterior styling is the same as the 2014 Pathfinder, the Hybrid version gets unique, efficient LED taillights and Nissan PUREDRIVE Hybrid badges. The crossover's grille is adorned by a large Nissan badge backed by a black honeycomb design that stretches like a pair of wings across the entire front end. Large halogen headlamps wrap around to the sides, with optional fog lamps mounted below.

Pathfinder has moved from a body-on-frame to a unibody and is more aerodynamic, lighter and roomier, and has been crafted with some clever stowage features and technology capabilities that are standouts in its segment. The roof slants sharply down from the shoulders to the back, giving a more coupe-like stance despite its longer, three-row size.

Slipping into the Pathfinder Hybrid, the only difference we observed are the hybrid system information screens that are incorporated into the instrument panel's Advanced Drive-Assist Display. A customizable, easy-to-read 4.2-inch color monitor gives visual power output readings from the electric motor and gas engine, as well as show the amount of power being regenerated back into the battery.

We also found this Pathfinder is roomier than the previous generation version (by 8.4 cubic feet overall), with three rows of seats. Both rear rows can fold flat to accommodate large cargo with 79.8 cu.-ft. of stowage, plus there's under-floor storage behind the third row.

The 2014 Pathfinder Hybrid gets its mojo from a supercharged 2.5-liter gasoline engine and a 15kW electric motor paired to a compact Lithium-ion battery. For the science-minded, this system uses Nissan's Intelligent Dual Clutch System (a one motor/two clutch parallel system) that is the command central to manage power from both the electric motor and the gas engine that Nissan says is equal in performance to the Pathfinder 3.5-liter gasoline V-6 model.

The hybrid system is rated at 250 net horsepower and 243 lb.-ft. of torque, while the 3.5-liter V-6 is rated at 260 hp and 240 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel economy for the new Pathfinder Hybrid is rated at 26 mpg combined, which is an increase of 24 percent over the standard Pathfinder. City is 25 mpg, while highway mileage is rated at 28 mpg (27 mpg for the 4WD). With the Pathfinder Hybrid's 19.5-gallon fuel tank, driving range is estimated at more than 546 miles.

Matched to the hybrid's powerplant is Nissan's next-generation Xtronic CVT, as well as regenerative braking to automatically recharge the battery during braking by converting the vehicle's kinetic energy that is otherwise lost in non-hybrid models. Like the conventional models, it is also the only vehicle in its class with selectable 2WD, Auto or 4WD Lock modes from Nissan's ALL-MODE 4x4-i system.

The dial for operating the 4WD system is located behind the gearshift; it allows the driver to lock into 4WD on rough terrain and in varying weather and pavement conditions with a turn of the switch. The intuitive Auto Mode senses slippery roads or rough terrain and automatically adjusts power to each wheel. When things smooth out it switches back to 2WD. Pathfinder Hybrid's standard towing rating is 3,500 pounds.

We drove both models recently and, like an ever-growing collection of hybrid models in today's market, the Pathfinder Hybrid operation is very similar to its non-hybrid sibling with nearly seamless transition between the engine and battery power. Our drive route included city streets in Nashville, Tenn., as well as bustling freeways over a course of 70 miles; with light-footed driving -- as opposed to heavy throttling -- we were able to achieve an impressive 35 mpg.

Pathfinder's unibody chassis gives a ride quality that is car-like with responsive steering and Nissan's engineers have worked to make the cockpit whisper-quiet. Of note, since the battery is secured under the 3rd row seat, it doesn't decrease passenger seating capacity or legroom in the 2nd or 3rd row or cargo space at the rear.



VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 7-passenger full-size 4WD CUV

BASE PRICE____________________ $35,110 (as tested: $37,710)

MOTOR TYPE___________________supercharged I-4, Advanced Electric Motor

DISPLACEMENT________________ 2.5-liter

HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 230 at 5600 rpm Net 250

TORQUE (lb.-ft.)________________ 243 at 3600 rpm

TRANSMISSION_________________ CVT

OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 197.2 in.

TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb)___ 38.7 ft.

CURB WEIGHT__________________ 4,558 lbs.

FUEL CAPACITY_________________ 19.5 gal.

EPA MILEAGE RATING____________ 25 mpg city, 27 mpg highway