First introduced in 1986, the venerable Nissan Pathfinder undergoes only its third major redesign for 2005. But it’s a huge change, starting with its F-Alpha platform, which it shares with the full-size Armada SUV and Titan pickup, and the all-new Xterra. Unlike the 2004 unibody Pathfinder, the 2005 is body-on-frame construction.

The 2004 Pathfinder’s 3.5-litre V6 has been replaced with a 4.0-litre version. American customers can buy a rear-wheel-drive version, but Canadians are restricted to the part-time four-wheel-drive with two-speed transfer case on the XE, SE and Off-Road version, or the All-Mode 4WD with 2WD/Auto/4H/4LO modes and electronically-controlled transfer case on the LE. The sole transmission is a five-speed automatic.

Unlike the five-passenger 2004 Pathfinder, all 2005 models are seven-passenger seating; Nissan claims the three rows of seats can be configured into 64 different seating choices. The 50/50 split third row can be folded down into the floor. The 2005 has an increase of 454 kg (1,000 pounds) towing capacity over the previous model, up to 6,000 pounds. More a seriously-capable luxury people-hauler than bare-bones rock crawler, the Pathfinder can be optioned with power-adjustable pedals, a navigation system and rear-seat DVD entertainment system.

The base XE comes with air conditioning, power windows, heated power mirrors, cruise control, cloth seats, CD player with six speakers, trip computer, floor mats, 16-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass, variable intermittent front wipers and intermittent rear washer/wiper.

The mid-line SE adds dual-zone climate control, rear air conditioner, rear heater, rear secondary ventilation controls, power-adjustable driver’s seat, upgraded cloth seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and fog lights.

The SE Off-Road package includes BFG Rugged Trail tires, protective underbody skid plates, hill descent control and special shocks.

The upper-line LE includes power sunroof, leather interior, Bose six-CD/MP3 system with nine speakers, heated seats, power-adjustable pedals, driver’s position memory and 17-inch wheels.

The Pathfinder is remarkably civilized, with an excellent ride, gutsy engine and more agile steering than expected for its size. The new styling is in line with Nissan’s big-truck corporate face; the Pathfinder looks like a scaled-down version of the Armada, and its bold grille bars and bumper treatment are echoed in the Xterra, as well as in the Frontier and Titan pickup trucks. If Nissan wants beefy and brawny, it has succeeded, but it hasn’t forgotten that all the stuff on the outside doesn’t matter if it isn’t worthwhile on the inside.

The Pathfinder is assembled in Smyrna, Tennessee.

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