Pathfinder Follows Explorer’s Lead, Ditches Truck Frame… 4Runner Next?

The Nissan Pathfinder Concept, set to replace the current Pathfinder, might be better suited with a new name. I’m thinking something like the Nissan Paved-Road-Finder or Nissan Open-Road-Highway-Finder.

The current vehicle uses a truck frame and has earned its moniker as a path-finder, because it can easily traverse off road and discover untrodden paths to undiscovered locations. The concept follows the lead set by the new Ford Explorer and uses a unibody  frame for better fuel economy, which may only lead to drivers finding previously undiscovered Costco locations.

Is this an example of how the mighty have fallen, or just a natural evolution into a new future? We still have the Toyota 4Runner and Chevrolet Tahoe as truck-based SUVs, but how long before they succumb to the lure of the unibody?

Stay true, Toyota...

I admit, the Pathfinder Concept looks fantastic. Its V6 engine, paired with a CVT transmission, should get 25 percent better fuel economy than the current SUV. That sounds great, but only equates to about 17 mpg in the city, which doesn’t seem worth the sacrifice of driving a car with a continuously variable transmission.

I know that the government is forcing automakers to get better fuel economy, and that buying a car that gets 14 mpg doesn’t make any sense unless you’re hauling massive amounts of grapefruit across the country, but I find it just a little disheartening to see another SUV stalwart become a shell of the beast it once was.

Buyers don’t seem to mind, though, as the redesigned Explorer has only picked up sales steam since the transition to a unibody. I’d imagine Nissan will see similar success, which I assume means Toyota won’t hold out much longer on the 4Runner. We can hope that Toyota stays true to the brand of its legendary SUV, but dollar signs have a way of changing minds real quick.

If Toyota ever does transition the 4Runner to a car-based frame, I hope it retires the 4Runner name and christens the crossover with a new name, as Nissan should have done with the new Pathfinder and Ford should have done with the Explorer.

Should carmakers retire the names of cars that evolve into vehicles completely different than what made them famous?


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  1. Just bought a 2012 4Runner and love it. Two of my brothers also have 4Runners, a 3rd generation and a 4th generation. Hopefully Toyota will leave the 4Runner alone, especially now that it has such little competition in it’s category and the Highlander will hopefully keep Toyota from changing anything and keep the 4Runner true to it’s legacy.

  2. …and don’t forget that probably 90% of the buyers don’t even understand the difference between a full frame and unit frame.

  3. True, Randy. And if they changed the name, buyers wouldn’t be as open to buying it. The old name lends credibility, even if its an all new car.

  4. I think the real reason for these changes is that the marketing departments understand that 99% of the customers for these platforms NEVER take them off the road voluntarily, and the full frame is not needed. In fact, real off road four wheelers are a pretty rare breed with specialized needs, and Ford and Toyota can no longer compromise their fleet fuel efficiency by overbuilding vehicles that don’t need it.

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