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Off-road ruggedness is the 2011 Nissan Xterra's reason for being, and it shows it in a very cohesive package that looks the part, provides focused trail ability, and offers enough interior comforts for weekend warriors but not too much to scare the purists away.
You can tell that the Xterra is a serious off-roader from the outset, with its high physical stance, externally mounted spare, and prominent brush guards and skid plates on some variants. Inside, too, the look is universally rugged, with tough-looking upholstery, easy-to-clean cargo surfaces, tie-downs, and extra storage spaces as part of the package.
In some ways the 2011 Nissan Xterra is a flash from the past—a throwback to a time when most SUVs were, as it is, body-on-frame ute with a simple layout. The engine in the Xterra is the same basic 4.0-liter V-6 found in the Frontier pickup, rated here at 261 horsepower, and it's mated to either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. The smooth-shifting automatic transmission works particularly well with the engine, and the combination offers plenty of low-rpm torque good for off-roading or towing. The Xterra is built on the Frontier pickup's platform, with a solid axle and leaf springs in back but a multilink setup in front for more responsive handling. The ride is actually quite smooth and settled, and it becomes pitchy on only the bumpiest roads.
All four Xterra models are available in four-wheel drive, and all but the Off-Road edition are available with rear-wheel drive. The Xterra makes a lot of sense as a 4x4, as it offers 9.5 inches of ground clearance and an approach angle of more than 33 degrees. The available four-wheel-drive system is a part-time, off-road-oriented setup, with high and low ranges. Additionally, several features that are included with the optional stability control system, such as Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist, use electronics to help maintain poise in precarious situations.
A 60/40-split folding rear seat, a folding front passenger seat, a double-deck glove box, and a large center console, all add to the overall utility, with decent space for adults in the backseat and plenty of places to put stuff. The front seats allow good space even if they aren't that supportive, and there's enough room in back for adults. On top of this, the front passenger seat can be folded forward to horizontal for very long items, and the Xterra makes it easy to fit cumbersome sports equipment and keep it secured during off-road adventures. Off-road purists who want to get muddy will like the simple surfaces and materials., too.
Those who plan to use the Xterra off-road, as it's intended, will want to go for the PRO-4X model, adds to the S model with 16-inch off-road wheels and tires, Bilstein shocks with off-road tuning, a locking differential (with 4x4), and skid plates.
Beginning last year, Nissan simplified trim levels and builds for the Xterra, and with most options eliminated, what trim level you get rather strictly determines the equipment you get—unless of course you decide to go for one of the dealer-installed options.
The Xterra is offered in three different trim levels: including X, S, and off-road-focused PRO-4X models. The S model now claims fog lights, roof-rack crossbars, and a gear basket as standard. PRO-4X models add 16-inch off-road wheels and tires, Bilstein shocks with off-road tuning, a locking differential (with 4x4), and skid plates. Automatic-transmission Xterras also include Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist.
An in-dash navigation system remains unavailable in the Xterra, but a Bluetooth hands-free phone setup is standard, and PRO-4X models include a Rockford Fosgate premium audio system with auxiliary input, an in-dash 6-CD changer, 8 speakers, a subwoofer, steering wheel audio controls, and XM Satellite Radio.
- Rugged good looks
- Off-road performance
- Gear-friendly interior
- Responsive powertrain
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- Choppy on-road ride
- Unsupportive front seats
- Disappointing fuel economy