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2012 Nissan Xterra Performance

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There's only one engine offered in the Xterra, and it's a strong one. It's a 4.0-liter version of the company's mainstay six; in this application, it puts out 261 horsepower, which give the relatively lightweight Xterra considerable zip off the line. With either the five-speed automatic or the standard six-speed manual, the drivetrain has a well-sorted feel, set up ideally for the kind of low-speed grunt work its owners probably have in mind. We're particularly inclined toward the automatic here, since its gears are spaced a bit better to take advantage of the engine's adequate passing power.

Sophisticated isn't what you'd call the Xterra's suspension, but it's built with rugged driving in mind. It's an independent setup in front, with leaf springs and a solid rear axle in back, which creates dueling personalities. The Xterra rides quite smoothly most of the time, though it does have a split personality, showing a harsh and pitchy side on the bumpiest roads. Overall, it's by no means nimble, but it does better on the road than its tall appearance might suggest.

Strong six-cylinder power and great off-road capability are granted with the Nissan Xterra; on-road handling is decent.

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.

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