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The Nissan Xterra is a rugged, off-roadable SUV that's ideal for a fairly small set of drivers: weekend warriors that need something not as rough as a Wrangler or FJ Cruiser, but still able to delve deeply into the woods with its big tires, high stance, and skid plates. It's specifically for those active-lifestyle drivers you see more in commercials than you do on the road, and for good reason.The interior of the car is built with tough upholstery, extra store spaces, tie-downs for gear and easy-to-clean surfaces–borrowed from the Frontier pickup–making it look and feel just as utilitarian as the SUV's exterior. 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 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 2014 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.
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 was added to last year's PRO-4X model.
The 2014 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.
- Strong, smooth powertrain
- Tough, yet charming
- Trail Prowess
- Gear-friendly interior
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- Lackluster front seats
- Poor gas mileage
- Choppy ride