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You need only give a quick glance at the 2012 Nissan Xterra to understand its purpose. Nearly every aspect of its very cohesive, tough package is focused around off-road ruggedness and weekend-warrior utility. Simply put, the Xterra straddles a middle ground that gives off-road purists enough to work with, yet it has just enough daily comfort for those weekend warriors.
The Xterra's tall stance, externally mounted space, and prominent brush guards and skid plates (in its most focused Off-Road edition) overtly communicate that this is a serious trail vehicle. Inside, too, the 2012 Nissan Xterra looks rugged by most criteria, with tough upholstery, easy-to-clean cargo surfaces, extra storage spaces for gear, and tie-downs for gear.
The 2012 Xterra remains a throwback in some respects—to a time when most SUVs carried body-on-frame layouts that could be seen as shared with pickups. In that way, the Xterra keeps it simple, looking to the Frontier's platform and building some ruggedness onto its basics. A 261-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 engine provides plenty of torque for off-roading or towing and works well with the smooth-shifting automatic transmission. With a solid axle and leaf springs in back, the Xterra can be pitchy on rough roads—even though it's pretty soft most of the time—but a multi-link setup in front helps keep handling up to par with most other vehicles in this class.
All Xterras but those with the Off-Road package are available with rear-wheel drive. The available four-wheel-drive system is a part-time, off-road-oriented setup, with high and low ranges. Overall, the Xterra makes sense as a 4x4, as it offers 9.5 inches of ground clearance and an approach angle of more than 33 degrees. 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.
If you want passenger comfort, the Nissan Xterra isn't the ideal choice; however the Xterra does give you space for hauling gear in to that remote trail head or launch point. 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. 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. There's enough room for adults, front and back, but none of the seats are all that supportive.The Xterra is unremarkable within its class for safety, with less-than-top ratings in the IIHS rear impact and roof strength tests but 'good' results otherwise. 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.
There are no significant changes on the Xterra for 2012, and Nissan now offers it in three simplified 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, plus Rockford Fosgate premium audio with a subwoofer, steering-wheel audio controls, and XM satellite radio. An in-dash navigation system remains unavailable in the Xterra, but a Bluetooth hands-free phone setup is now standard.
- Serious trail ability
- Gear-friendly interior
- Strong powertrain
- Tough yet charming appearance
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- Busy on-road ride
- Poor gas mileage
- Unsupportive front seats