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PERFORMANCE | 7 out of 10
passing at highway speeds can be a bit labored
acceptable trade-off given the Xterra's above-average ability off-road
Insatiable appetite for all things dirty and boulder-strewn
Kelley Blue Book
The 2009 Nissan Xterra is perfectly at home off-road, but on-road driving performance suffers as a result. The type of driving reviewers are engaged in determines their impression of overall performance on the Xterra.
Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate a strong appreciation for the capabilities of the V-6 that rests under the hood of the Nissan Xterra, and Cars.com reviewers deem it "a strong performer" that "can accelerate the Xterra with surprising quickness." ConsumerGuide agrees that low-speed performance is commendable, but they find "passing at highway speeds can be a bit labored." The 2009 Nissan Xterra doesn't offer much in the way of engine choices; Edmunds notes "all Nissan Xterra models feature a 4.0-liter V6 that makes 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque," which they say are "generous figures for this class."
Most reviewers are impressed with the transmissions available on the Nissan Xterra, and Motor Trend, in particular, raves about the "exceptional" gearing in the manual that, "when combined with the clutch defeat and locking differential" in the Off-Road trim, "is almost unstoppable." Cars.com remarks that "the automatic is also impressive" and "exhibits negligible lag." Edmunds says that, "on all models except the SE, a six-speed manual transmission is standard and a five-speed automatic is optional," while on the SE, "the automatic is standard and the manual is optional."
Several features included with the stability control system—Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist—use electronics to help maintain poise on precarious situations. ConsumerGuide reports that "X, S, and SE offer rear-wheel drive or part-time 4-wheel drive," while the "Off-Road models are 4WD only." Physically, the 2009 Nissan Xterra has very impressive off-road credentials, with 9.5 inches of ground clearance and an approach angle of more than 33 degrees.
The 2009 Nissan Xterra drinks an average amount of gas if you compare it to other off-road-worthy rigs. The EPA estimates that the 2009 Nissan Xterra will return 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway as a 2WD automatic, while the numbers change to 16/20 mpg as a 2WD manual, 14/20 mpg in 4WD mode with the automatic, and 16/20 mpg in 4WD mode with a manual transmission.
As formidable as the Xterra is off-road, its shortcomings are noticeable when traveling on smooth surfaces. ConsumerGuide points out that the "Xterra's off-road-ready suspension and short wheelbase make the ride choppy except on the smoothest roads," and "there's some truck-like bounding over even moderate humps and ruts." Aside from ride quality, however, the Nissan Xterra exhibits "solid steering feel and a lack of excessive body roll," according to Edmunds reviewers, who add that the rough ride is "an acceptable trade-off given the Xterra's above-average ability off-road." Kelley Blue Book offers that their experience in the Nissan Xterra shows it "handles even higher-speed sweeping turns as calmly and confidently as a solid sedan."
Unfortunately, one more ding against the Nissan Xterra appears when you try to end your drive: Car and Driver asserts that the Xterra has a "mushy brake pedal," and ConsumerGuide says "stopping control is unexceptional."
The 2009 Nissan Xterra is a supremely capable off-road machine, but when returning to the rest of civilization, it's hardly civilized.