New & Used Nissan Xterra: In Depth
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The Nissan Xterra is an SUV that can hold up to five passengers and features off-roading capability made for the weekend warriors who want to enjoy some off-road fun.
Head over to our review of the 2014 Nissan Xterra for more details.
The U.S.-built Xterra is derived from the Nissan Frontier pickup, and it's one of the few sport-utility vehicles left of its kind--the kind expressly built for off-road toughness, and sacrificing a bit of on-road fluency in the process. If your interests almost always keep you on pavement, you're going to be almost certainly better-suited for the Nissan Murano crossover, while the Jeep Wrangler or Toyota FJ Cruiser are worth a look if that off-road ability is necessary.
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 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 of these first-generation Xterras have a very simple interior layout, which some will call cheap and plasticky, along with rather flat, unsupportive seats, but the emphasis is clearly on utility over comfort. Tie-down hooks were included on the ceiling, along with interior mountain-bike mounts, and a first-aid kit was included in back, while numerous accessories were offered for whatever the activity.
With a complete redesign, for 2005, Nissan presented an Xterra that looked much like the former version but was a little larger and more filled out, with flared fenders and a chunkier front-end appearance. Instead of the added-on rooftop airdam, the 2005 model added a unique two-step roof design, with the backseat positioned a bit higher. 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, and as of 2013 (after the formerly related Pathfinder was redesigned as a crossover), the Nissan Xterra remains 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 new DIsplay Audio system with auxiliary input, satellite-radio capability, and a USB port.