With 25 years in the U.S. market under its belt, the Nissan Pathfinder will now change tactics and morph from the rugged body-on-frame SUV it is today into a three-row crossover. Previewing that change is the Pathfinder Concept debuting at the 2012 Detroit auto show, which itself is likely a barely-different version of the actual vehicle planned to go on sale fall of this year.

The Pathfinder Concept looks much like its Infiniti JX35 platform-mate dimension-wise, but features an edgier front end. A pair of large headlights angle in toward the redesigned chrome grille, while a character line that begins at the edge of the grille flows across the hood, through the doors, and ends at the corner of the taillight. Though the fenders aren't nearly as pronounced as on previous models, Nissan calls them muscular and "wheel-oriented." A relatively low beltline and thin D-pillars, which lack the characteristic kink of the JX, help to further differentiate the Pathfinder from the Infiniti.

Nissan says the Pathfinder's transition to a unibody platform (the first time since the second-generation model's introduction in 1996), gave its designers more flexibility with interior packaging and allowed them to sculpt a more aerodynamic exterior. The Pathfinder concept makes use of front and rear spoilers, one mounted on the hatch and one integrated into the front valance, along with rear tire deflectors and suspension fairings. Nissan expects these upgrades to place the Pathfinder up there with the best in the segment when it comes to aerodynamic performance. Another benefit of the Pathfinder's unibody construction is an expected weight reduction compared to the outgoing body-on-frame design. Both changes should help improve the 2013 Pathfinder's fuel economy numbers.

Also helping the Pathfinder in the efficiency department is its drivetrain, which is comprised of Nissan's next-gen Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) and a more refined V-6 engine, likely the same 3.5-liter unit to be offered in the JX. Details on the exact engine are slim at this point, though Nissan says the displacement will be lower than the current 4.0-liter V-6 with nearly the same horsepower. The JX35's V-6 is rated at 265 hp and 248 lb-ft, so you can expect output figures for the Pathfinder to be in that ballpark. Nissan projects that the new drivetrain will deliver 25 percent better fuel economy over the previous V-6 Pathfinder, and says the crossover will also have competitive towing capacity.

Though the Pathfinder is swapping platforms and going the crossover route, Nissan says the vehicle will balance capability, technology, and of course increased comfort to meet the needs of ever-changing SUV customers. Nissan also says the Pathfinder will retain its ability to haul recreational gear, and can navigate through unfavorable weather thanks to all-wheel drive. Like the JX, the Pathfinder will likely also be offered in front-wheel drive.

Most of the ruggedness of the outgoing model was sacrificed to make way for a more comfortable and versatile interior. Nissan hasn't revealed many details just yet, but says it will offer full-size roominess, excellent legroom in all three rows, and sufficient cargo room behind the third row. A panoramic dual-panel moonroof with sliding front panel will be available. From the front seat, the upscale treatment of the new Pathfinder is immediately apparent, with a thick four-spoke steering wheel, large instrument cluster with central information display, pushbutton start, and large flanking touch-screen display. The center stack is laid out neatly, with lots of wood trim surrounding the buttons and just a hint of chrome. Wood accents can also be found in the front doors, though the rest of the interior has a conservative, monotone feel. Second-row occupants get headrest-mounted entertainment displays, along with A/V inputs and power outlets.

While the new Pathfinder is forsaking its off-road capability in the name of better passenger- and stuff-hauling ability, Nissan believes this is what its customers want. While there's certainly a place for a seven-passenger crossover in Nissan's lineup, the decision to call that primarily pavement-bound vehicle a Pathfinder will likely be controversial. We'll have to wait until the production model makes its way into our garage to see if the nameplate has lost its identity completely.