2008 Nissan Xterra

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The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
July 6, 2008

Buying tip

Nissan sells two other vehicles--the Frontier pickup and the more family-oriented Pathfinder--that are about the same size as the 2008 Nissan Xterra and have similar capabilities, all offering the excellent 4.0-liter V-6 engine.

features & specs

2WD 4-Door Automatic S
2WD 4-Door Automatic SE
2WD 4-Door Automatic X
15 city / 20 hwy
15 city / 20 hwy
15 city / 20 hwy

For active people who need to tow or haul a lot of gear or go off-road, the 2008 Nissan Xterra is one of the best—and best-looking—choices.

As the experts at TheCarConnection.com put together this review on the 2008 Nissan Xterra, they read through the observations of some of the most respected review sources. Then TheCarConnection.com’s editors, who have driven the Xterra, added their own insights based on firsthand experience with the vehicle.

The back-to-basics, mid-size Xterra sport-utility vehicle appeals to active younger people who need to go off-road or haul clunky accessories such as kayaks, snowboards, or diving equipment. The 2008 Nissan Xterra is built on the Frontier pickup's platform and comes with the same basic 4.0-liter V-6 engine (though rated, in this case, at 261 horsepower vs. 266 hp in the Frontier); it's mated to either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission.

The 2008 Nissan Xterra is configured with hardy, traditional truck underpinnings, including a solid axle and leaf springs in back but a multilink setup in front for more responsive handling. The ride is actually quite smooth and settled, and it only becomes pitchy on the bumpiest roads. The V-6 works especially well with the smooth-shifting automatic transmission and has plenty of low-rpm torque good for off-roading or towing.

The interior is very ruggedly styled and versatile. It includes an adjustable channel system in the cargo hold for securing bike racks and sports gear, as well as a total of 10 utility hooks. A 60/40-split folding rear seat, folding front passenger seat, double-deck glovebox, and large center console add to the overall utility of the 2008 Nissan Xterra. And the cargo floor surface can be sponged off. Seating isn't completely an afterthought, though; front seats allow good space even if they aren't that supportive, and there's enough space in back for adults. The front passenger seat can be folded forward to horizontal for very long items.

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The available four-wheel-drive system is a part-time, off-road-oriented setup, with high and low ranges. Several features included with the optional stability control system--Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist--use electronics to help maintain poise on precarious situations. Physically, the 2008 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 2008 Nissan Xterra is offered in four models: X, S, Off Road, and SE. All four are available in 4x4 models, and all but the Off Road edition are available with rear-wheel drive. This year, the Xterra adds power windows/locks/mirrors to all versions, along with remote keyless entry, cruise control, and a standard auto-dimming rearview mirror. SE models add more luxurious trim and appointments, plus fog lamps, five 17-inch tires and alloys, the first-aid kit, a leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio controls, and an upgraded Rockford-Fosgate sound system. The Off Road model adds to the S 16-inch off-road wheels and tires, Bilstein shocks with off-road tuning, a locking differential (with 4x4), and skid plates. As an automatic, it also includes Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist. A Bluetooth hands-free phone setup is now optional, but an in-dash navigation system isn't offered.

Standard safety equipment on the 2008 Nissan Xterra includes front active head restraints, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, and stability control; side curtain airbags and front side bags are available optionally. The Xterra received four-star ratings in the federal test for frontal protection and top five-star results for side impact. The insurance-affiliated IIHS tests found the Xterra "good" for frontal impact, "marginal" for side, and "poor" for rear impact. The optional side airbags improved the side impact results to "good."


2008 Nissan Xterra


Strong, purposeful exterior styling hides a well-planned interior on the 2008 Nissan Xterra.

The 2008 Nissan Xterra receives rave reviews for its bold, perfectly appropriate exterior styling and functional interior look.

The exterior of the 2008 Nissan Xterra screams off-road utility. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com unanimously agree with Kelley Blue Book, which writes that the Nissan Xterra "looks as if it were born to be a long way from pavement." Motor Trend reviewers note that this second-generation Nissan Xterra, which debuted in 2005, "stays true to the more industrial, squared-off lines of the previous generation," but the 2008 Nissan Xterra boasts a "sturdier, muscular appearance, helped in part by the wider fender bulges." Edmunds says that, for Nissan, 2008 brings an Xterra that comes in "four trim levels--X, S, SE and Off-Road," though the external differences are minimal. While the X, S, and Off-Road all offer 16-inch wheels, the SE comes with "17-inch alloy wheels," and the Off-Road model sports "off-road tires," according to Edmunds. Cars.com reviewers find that "the Xterra offers a chiseled appearance," thanks to "its large grille, with its angular slats," and the "flared fenders and stepped roofline." They conclude, "If you like your SUV to look tough, the Xterra has toughness in spades."

The interior of the 2008 Nissan Xterra is, above all else, designed for maximum utility. Kelley Blue Book likes the "clean and purposeful interior,” while ConsumerGuide praises the "high-set" audio controls that "are easy to reach," but they also add that the "steering wheel cruise and radio controls have tiny black markings on a gray background, rendering them nearly unreadable in most lighting conditions." Cars.com approves of the Nissan Xterra's "large numerals on the tachometer and speedometer" that "help make the gauges easy to read."

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2008 Nissan Xterra


The 2008 Nissan Xterra is perfectly at home off-road, but on-road driving performance suffers as a result.

Impressions of the overall performance on the 2008 Nissan Xterra vary widely depending on the type of driving you are doing. The 2008 Nissan Xterra is a supremely capable off-road machine, but some of its driving characteristics when returning to the rest of civilization are hardly civilized.

The 2008 Nissan Xterra doesn't offer much in the way of engine choices, as 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." 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 write that it "is a strong performer" that "can accelerate the Xterra with surprising quickness." ConsumerGuide agrees that low-speed performance is commendable, but they find that "passing at highway speeds can be a bit labored."

The singular V-6 that powers all of the Nissan 2008 Xterras is coupled with a pair of transmission options. 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." 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 adds, "the automatic is also impressive," and finds that it "exhibits negligible lag."

In addition to the transmission options, ConsumerGuide writes that "S, S, and SE offer rear-wheel drive or part-time 4-wheel drive," while the "Off-Road models are 4WD only." Several features included with the stability control system--Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist--use electronics to help maintain poise on precarious situations. Physically, the 2008 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 2008 Nissan Xterra is thirsty, but not anything out of the ordinary for its class. The EPA estimates that the 2008 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.

For all of the exceptional capabilities of the Nissan's 2008 Xterra, some complaints are bound to surface when a vehicle that is designed to be taken off-road moves onto the pavement. ConsumerGuide notices 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."

For other driving impressions, 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, as Car and Driver writes that the Xterra has a "mushy brake pedal," and ConsumerGuide says "stopping control is unexceptional."

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2008 Nissan Xterra

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Nissan Xterra offers plenty of room, but the execution suffers.

The 2008 Nissan Xterra rates highly for usable space, but a plasticky cabin and noisy mechanicals push its comfort ratings south.

When it comes to seating, Cars.com finds that "five occupants fit inside the Xterra," and rear comfort isn't all that bad. Up front, the Nissan Xterra offers "good headroom and legroom," says ConsumerGuide, and other reviews read by TheCarConnection.com agree. However, aside from the generous amounts of space, the 2008 Nissan Xterra suffers from uncomfortable front seats, which ConsumerGuide says need "a bit more padding for optimal long-distance comfort." In the rear of the vehicle, Cars.com reviewers say to expect "a small door opening when entering and exiting," but "once situated, the rear bench seat is OK, thanks to a nicely reclined backrest, and headroom is plentiful." Kelley Blue Book adds that the Nissan Xterra offers "ample headroom and legroom for every passenger, front and back."

As a practical vehicle, the Nissan 2008 Xterra excels when it comes to available storage space. Cars.com mentions that the Nissan Xterra's "cargo area measures 35.2 cubic feet, which is a sizable amount of space," while "folding the second-row bench seat nearly doubles the total cargo area to 65.7 cubic feet." ConsumerGuide adds that "good space becomes generous with the rear seats folded," and an "available fold-flat right-front seat allows carrying objects up to 9 feet long," although the "lack of opening tailgate glass is a minus." On another practical note, Edmunds writes that the 2008 Nissan Xterra features "an easy-to-clean floor and a total of 10 utility hooks." Inside the cabin, ConsumerGuide reviewers find "useful small-item storage."

Materials quality and assembly are rather Spartan, a visual reminder of both the price range and the intended use of the 2008 Nissan Xterra. Cars.com testers noticed "a few large gaps between the panels" of the interior, and "like the Dodge Nitro, the dash is made of hard plastic." Other reviewers mention the materials as an overall minus as well, with Edmunds writing that "there's more hard plastic than [they'd] like" and Consumer Guide saying that the interior looks "especially cut-rate." Build quality issues arise on the ConsumerGuide test models as well, as one "suffered rattling front-door windows and an irritating squeak from the cargo area."

Those build-related noise issues on their vehicle aren't the only sounds you'll notice when driving the Nissan 2008 Xterra. ConsumerGuide says that "the V6 has a gruff, fairly loud growl at full throttle, plus an annoying bellow between shifts with the manual transmission," and "wind rush and road rumble sometimes annoy." Car and Driver also mentions that the "noisy rear suspension" can become tiresome and irritating.

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2008 Nissan Xterra


The 2008 Nissan Xterra requires the optional airbags to reach its full safety potential, but when properly equipped, it is an impressively safe vehicle.

The 2008 Nissan Xterra has been tested by both the NHTSA and IIHS for crashworthiness, and the two agencies award the Nissan Xterra above-average crash safety scores.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the government agency responsible for issuing crash safety ratings, gives the Nissan 2008 Xterra four out of a possible five stars for occupant protection during front impacts, while the Xterra receives a full five stars for side impact occupant protection. The one lagging score is the rollover rating, where the Xterra scores only three out of five stars.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) affirms the NHTSA ratings, for the most part. The Nissan Xterra earns the highest possible rating from the IIHS, "good," for frontal offset impacts. When equipped with the optional array of side airbags, the Nissan Xterra also receives a "good" rating for side-impact protection. However, the absence of these airbags drops the rating to "marginal," the second-worst of the IIHS ratings. Some reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, including the one by Cars.com, note that "despite the fact that the Xterra has active head restraints--which are designed to decrease the chance of whiplash in a rear-end collision--the SUV received a Poor overall score in an IIHS rear crash test."

Aside from crash-test ratings, the scores in the safety category reflect the available safety features on a vehicle. In the case of the Nissan 2008 Xterra, all the expected safety features are present, along with some extras for the off-road bunch. Edmunds reviewers write "all Xterras come equipped with stability control and antilock disc brakes," while Kelley Blue Book notes that "the Xterra Off Road model includes electronic Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist." Other standard safety features as listed by Cars.com include "electronic brake-force distribution, an electronic stability system and active head restraints for the front seats," while they say that the optional safety features list begins and ends with "side-impact and side curtain airbags" that "are bundled together in an option package that's offered on all trim levels."

Another vital aspect of the safety rating is driver visibility, which is commendable on the 2008 Nissan Xterra. While ConsumerGuide writes, "visibility is hampered by the rear roof styling and wide-base windshield wipers," other reviewers disagree. Car and Driver, in particular, raves about the "unimpeded view from commanding driving position" that the 2008 Nissan Xterra offers.


2008 Nissan Xterra


The 2008 Nissan Xterra offers quite a bit of high-tech gadgetry to go with its off-road capabilities.

Buyers will be pleasantly surprised to discover that the Nissan 2008 Xterra lineup offers an impressive list of both standard and optional features.

Standard equipment on the 2008 Nissan Xterra varies across the trim levels, but all Xterras leave dealer lots with tons of features. Edmunds writes that "the base X comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, cruise control, remote keyless entry and a CD player," easily what you would expect, given the sticker price. They add that moving up the trims to the S brings "alloy wheels, step rails, a multiadjustable driver seat and an easy-to-clean cargo area," while the Nissan Xterra "Off-Road model includes high-performance gas shock absorbers, off-road tires on special wheels, skid plates," and "a fold-flat front passenger seat."

For those who want a little luxury with their Nissan Xterra, ConsumerGuide recommends the top-of-the-line SE trim, which also includes a "leather-wrapped steering wheel w/radio controls" and "Rockford Fosgate AM/FM radio w/in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 changer," along with "digital-media player connection, satellite radio, wireless cell phone link, [and] trip computer."

Nissan has typically offered its options in packages as opposed to stand-alone upgrades, and that trend continues on the 2008 Nissan Xterra. Mentioned most frequently in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com is the Technology Package, available on the Nissan Xterra Off-Road trims, which Cars.com says "includes a Rockford Fosgate audio system with a six-CD changer, an auxiliary input jack, steering-wheel stereo controls and a Bluetooth-based cell phone system," all of which are standard in the SE.

ConsumerGuide lists the other major package offering as the Protection Package, which is available on all but the X trim, and includes an "emergency road kit, rubber floormats," and "wheel locks."

In terms of stand-alone options, Edmunds writes that the Nissan 2008 Xterra offers "an available built-in first aid kit," and ConsumerGuide mentions that a "DVD entertainment system" can be added to all trims for $1,250.

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