The fourth-generation Nissan Pathfinder has been unveiled in concept form at the Detroit Motor Show.

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The big news for the Pathfinder, which has found more than 1.2 million buyers since 1986, is the 2013 model returns to a unibody [car-like] platform. The current model sits on the body-on-frame underpinnings of the Navara ute.

Nissan says the new Pathfinder is substantially lighter (227kg) than the existing vehicle as a result, and is better suited to everyday urban needs with improved aerodynamics and interior space.

From the outside it’s still recognisable as a Pathfinder thanks to its tough exterior design, though the new Pathfinder does away with its utilitarian look for a more traditional SUV shape.

Nissan says the stable stance and its muscular fenders portray an “adventure-ready” SUV set to take on the new challenges of modern family lives. Despite its aggressive look, the use of a front and rear spoiler, rear tyre deflectors and suspension fairings add up to deliver one of the best aerodynamic footprints in the segment.

The Pathfinder concept also gets a wide chrome grille and door handles plus massive headlights and rear combination lights. Interior specifications are still sketchy, with the Japanese company keeping us waiting for more details. We already know the concept sports a rather large, dual-panel moonroof.

We also know that it will be available as a seven-seater and include a range of advanced entertainment and technology systems.

Specifications of the engine range are still unconfirmed at this stage but the concept is equipped with a V6 petrol engine coupled to Nissan’s new Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). With CarAdvice having recently tested the system in Japan, we can say it’s a significant improvement over the current CVT systems in use.

Of course, the biggest benefit will be the expected 25 per cent increase in combined fuel economy (compared with the existing V6-equipped Pathfinder, which is not sold in Australia). Australian customers currently only have access to a 2.5-litre or 3.0-litre turbo diesel.

Nissan Australia boss Dan Thompon said the 3.5-litre V6 engine will make it to Australia as one of the main variants of the new Pathfinder.

The Pathfinder’s legendary four-wheel drive and towing capability is expected to remain relatively unchanged despite the move away from body-on-frame design. However the Japanese company will also offer 2WD variants of the Pathfinder to attract buyers after the vehicle's practicality and not necessarily off-roading ability.

Nissan's Executive Vice President of Global planning, Andy Palmer, told CarAdvice that the move to monocoque “was a hard decision in the first instance” but Nissan recognised the importance of fuel economy and CO2 reduction. He also said that he expects the Nissan brand to excellent ride & handling easier.

The next-generation Nissan Pathfinder is expected to arrive in Australian showrooms in 2013. Nissan Australia expects to go head to head with the Toyota Kluger and Ford Territory with sales projections of around 10,000 units per year.