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The Nissan Xterra isn't the perfect family vehicle, but it does manage to maintain just enough daily-driving practicality to keep weekend warriors happy enough on the weekdays. At the same time it's true to its tough look: with its big off-road tires, safari-style roof rack, high stance, skid plates and straightforward SUV silhouette, the 2013 Xterra looks (and is) built for outdoor gear, rugged trails, and weekend-warrior utility.
While the Xterra's exterior never fails to overtly communicate its intent, from any angle, it's a mixed bag inside; while the 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, its instrument panel, shared with the Frontier pickup is past its prime design-wise.
The Xterra keeps it simple, with a platform that's shared with the Frontier--using a version of the frame and underpinnings employed in the full-size Nissan Titan trucks. While most utility vehicles have gone to a uni-body build, the Xterra's body-on-frame layout is up for regular trail clambering, while its 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. The Xterra's ride can be pitchy at times, because of its solid axle and leaf springs in back, although on-the-road handling is decent.
All 2013 Xterra models but the Off-Road trims are available with rear-wheel drive, but 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. It's a part-time, off-road-oriented 4x4 setup, with high and low ranges, but Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist, and the electronic stability control system all help keep it in check and make the most of its traction.
Simply put, it gives up some passenger comfort in the name of all-around usefulness--and particularly, usefulness in ways that a car or crossover probably can't deliver. For cargo and gear, Nissan has found ways to hone the Xterra's abilities, making it something of a Swiss Army knife. There's a double glovebox, a large center console, and a generous 35 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat up—expandable to nearly 66 cubic feet with it folded forward. And to fit especially long items, like cumbersome sports equipment, the front passenger seat can fold forward to a horizontal position.Trims and panels tend to be made of hard plastic, but that's understandable given this vehicle's purpose (you'll want those easy-wipe surfaces).
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. A rearview camera has been added to the 2013 PRO-4X model.
The 2013 Nissan Xterra remains offered in a lineup of X, S, and that off-road-focused PRO-4X model--with the latter getting additional skid plates, a locking differential (on 4x4 versions), Bilstein shocks, and 16-inch off-road wheels and BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires. This year, PRO-4X models get contrast stitching and seat embroidery, plus auto headlamps, an outside temperature display, a navigation system with rearview monitor, and a new DIsplay Audio system with auxiliary input, USB port, and Sirius satellite radio compatibility.
- Trail prowess
- Gear-friendly interior
- Strong, smooth powertrain
- Tough, yet charming
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- Choppy ride
- Poor gas mileage
- Lackluster front seats