New & Used Nissan Xterra: In Depth
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The Nissan Xterra is a sport-utility vehicle that shares its underpinnings with the Nissan Frontier pickup. Built in the U.S., the Xterra is one of the few SUVs to have more than all-weather traction in mind: it's truly a rugged utility vehicle that's perfectly at home off pavement.As a result, the Xterra does sacrifice a bit of on-road fluency, though it's capable of carrying up to five passengers. Its rivals include the Toyota FJ Cruiser and of course, the Jeep Wrangler.
MORE: Read our 2015 Nissan Xterra review
With its redesign in 2005, the Xterra carried over the looks of the previous version but grew somewhat larger with a chunky look to its front end and bulging fenders. It replaced the former model's rooftop airdam and rack with a stepped roof design, allowing higher stadium-style positioning of the rear seat for better headroom.
All concerns about power were addressed with the introduction of a 261-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6, which moves this truck well with the six-speed automatic or five-speed manual, and off-road ability was improved with even hardier underpinnings from the Frontier and Titan pickups.
The current Xterra isn't an ideal choice for those who plan to drive mostly on the road, as the solid axle and leaf springs in back aren't always the best for ride comfort, but overall the Xterra handles surprisingly well. Electronic aids including Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist work in concert with a serious truck-style part-time four-wheel-drive system (with high and low ranger) and help maintain poise in precarious situations. And altogether the Xterra does well with towing—the V-6 having plenty of torque to haul a small boat, for instance.
The Xterra received a slight refresh for 2008, only including new wheels, seat materials, and other appearance details, and side airbags were added. Electronic stability control has been offered since the 2005 redesign. Although Xterra equipment remained quite basic, top SE models include standard Bluetooth and upgraded Rockford-Fosgate sound.
Feature changes have been minimal over several model years. The Xterra is offered in X, S, and PRO-4X models, with the PRO-4X being the pick for off-road purists. That model gets additional skid plates, a locking differential (on 4x4 versions), Bilstein shocks, and 16-inch off-road wheels and BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires. Contrast stitching and seat embroidery was added to the PRO-4X, along with auto headlamps, an outside temperature display, a navigation system with rearview monitor, and a Display Audio system with auxiliary input, satellite-radio capability, and a USB port.
Nissan Xterra history
The Xterra has kept the same basic styling theme and details since its original introduction for 2000, but it's had two distinct iterations—both based on the Nissan Frontier pickup.
The first-generation Xterra looked tall and muscular, with a prominent roof rack and side step tubes, high-mounted rear door handles, and dark plastic grille and lower air dam, but it was a little more smoothly styled than the current version.
The original Xterra was offered with a base 143-hp, 2.4-liter four or available 170-hp, 3.3-liter V-6. Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions were offered. With this generation, the base four didn't have enough power for comfortable highway driving, and the optional V-6 could barely do better. Nissan introduced a supercharged version of the V-6 for 2002, but even that version, while stronger from a standing start or around town, felt a little winded on the highway.
All first-generation Xterras shared a utilitarian, basic interior design. Some would call it cheap, as the trim itself was plasticky, but this no-frills approach was by design, as the Xterra was to be Nissan's rugged SUV offering, emphasizing capability over luxury or comfort. To this end, it included ceiling-mounted tie-down rings, interior bike-carrying mounts, and other outdoor-life-enabling accessories, as well as a built-in first-aid kit.