2009 Nissan Xterra

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The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
July 26, 2009

Buying tip

Both the family-oriented Nissan Pathfinder and Nissan Frontier pickup are mechanically related to the Xterra in their 4.0-liter V-6 engine and their dimensions.

features & specs

2WD 4-Door Automatic S
2WD 4-Door Automatic SE
2WD 4-Door Automatic X
15 city / 21 hwy
15 city / 21 hwy
15 city / 21 hwy

The handsome 2009 Nissan Xterra is one of the best choices for active people to go off-road and haul or tow a lot of toys.

TheCarConnection.com has driven the Nissan Xterra and presents its expert opinion in this Bottom Line. For even more information, TheCarConnection.com has researched available road tests pertaining to the 2009 Nissan Xterra, with useful and insightful pieces included in this full review.

The Xterra's target audience is young, outdoor enthusiasts, and to keep the SUV fresh in the eyes of its clientele, Nissan restyled the Xterra's front end for 2009 and adorned the SUV with items such as new wheels, seat materials, and colors, and it made side-impact airbags standard equipment.

The Xterra boasts changes to its trim levels, so choosing between the X, S, Off-Road, and SE models will be easier for consumers who want to match the vehicle to their lifestyle. Nissan also simplifies the optional equipment packages to include only two: the Technology Package and the X Gear Package.

Review continues below

The 2009 Nissan Xterra is built on the Frontier pickup's platform, with 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 becomes pitchy on only the bumpiest roads. The engine is the same basic 4.0-liter V-6 (though rated, in this case, at 261 horsepower versus 266 hp in the Frontier); it's mated to either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. 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.

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. 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. The available four-wheel-drive system is a part-time, off-road-oriented setup, with high and low ranges.

All four Xterra models are available in four-wheel drive, and all but the Off Road edition are available with rear-wheel drive. 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. 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 Xterra receives four-star ratings in the federal test for frontal protection and top five-star results for side impact. The insurance-affiliated IIHS tests finds the Xterra "good" for frontal impact, "marginal" for side, and "poor" for rear impact. Standard safety equipment on the 2009 Nissan Xterra includes front active head restraints, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, stability control, and new for 2009, side curtain airbags. The now-standard side airbags improve the side impact results to "good."

The Xterra's cabin includes a 60/40-split folding rear seat, a folding front passenger seat, a double-deck glove box, and a large center console, adding to the overall utility of the 2009 Nissan Xterra. The interior is composed to fit cumbersome sports equipment and keep it secured during off-road adventures. The cargo floor surface is easily cleaned of mud. Seating isn't completely an afterthought, though; front seats allow good space even if they aren't that supportive, and there's enough room in back for adults. The front passenger seat can be folded forward to horizontal for very long items.


2009 Nissan Xterra


The 2009 Nissan Xterra receives rave reviews for its bold, perfectly appropriate exterior styling and functional interior look.

The front of all Nissan Xterras receive a new look for 2009, along with new wheels, seat material, and colors, while Off-Road models also get roof-mounted lights and SE models come equipped with leather seats.

Strong, purposeful exterior styling hides a well-planned interior on the 2009 Nissan Xterra. 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 2009 Nissan Xterra boasts a "sturdier, muscular appearance, helped in part by the wider fender bulges." Kelley Blue Book muses that the Nissan Xterra "looks as if it were born to be a long way from pavement."

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." Edmunds says, for Nissan, 2009 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.

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. Cars.com approves of the Nissan Xterra's "large numerals on the tachometer and speedometer" that "help make the gauges easy to read." ConsumerGuide praises the "high-set" audio controls that "are easy to reach," but they 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." Kelley Blue Book likes the "clean and purposeful interior.”

Review continues below

2009 Nissan Xterra


The 2009 Nissan Xterra is a supremely capable off-road machine, but when returning to the rest of civilization, it's hardly civilized.

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."

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2009 Nissan Xterra

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Nissan Xterra rates highly for usable space, but a plasticky cabin and noisy interior push its comfort ratings south.

The 2009 Nissan Xterra offers plenty of room, but the execution suffers.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com agree that the 2009 Xterra features ample cabin space. Up front, the Nissan Xterra provides "good headroom and legroom," says ConsumerGuide. Cars.com asserts that "five occupants fit inside the Xterra" and rear comfort isn't all that bad, and Kelley Blue Book concurs that the Nissan Xterra offers "ample headroom and legroom for every passenger, front and back."

All that space, however, doesn't help the uncomfortable front seat the 2009 Nissan Xterra is equipped with. ConsumerGuide would like "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."

In terms of practicality, Edmunds notes that the 2009 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." 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."

Reviewers rate the materials inside the 2009 Xterra as an overall minus, with Edmunds warning that "there's more hard plastic than [they'd] like" and ConsumerGuide commenting that the interior looks "especially cut-rate." Materials quality and assembly are a visual reminder of both the price range and the intended use of the 2009 Nissan Xterra. Cars.com testers notice "a few large gaps between the panels" of the interior, and "like the Dodge Nitro, the dash is made of hard plastic." Build quality issues also arise on the ConsumerGuide test models, which "suffered rattling front-door windows and an irritating squeak from the cargo area."

Rattles and squeaks aren't the only noises emanating from the Xterra. Car and Driver mentions that the "noisy rear suspension" can become tiresome and irritating. And 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."

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2009 Nissan Xterra


With the addition of standard curtain side-impact airbags, the 2009 Nissan Xterra has a competitive feature set.

The 2009 Nissan Xterra increases its safety rating with the addition of standard curtain side-impact airbags and a new rollover sensor.

The 2009 Nissan Xterra earns the highest possible rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS): "good," for frontal offset impacts and for side-impact protection. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the government agency responsible for issuing crash safety ratings, gives the Nissan 2009 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.

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."

The 2009 Nissan Xterra comes equipped with all the expected safety features, along with some extras for the off-road bunch. Kelley Blue Book notes that "the Xterra Off Road model includes electronic Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist.” And Edmunds reviewers state that "all Xterras come equipped with stability control and antilock disc brakes.” 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."

Car and Driver, in particular, raves about the "unimpeded view from commanding driving position" offered by the 2009 Nissan Xterra. However, ConsumerGuide claims "visibility is hampered by the rear roof styling and wide-base windshield wipers.”


2009 Nissan Xterra


The Nissan 2009 Xterra emphasizes utility in an impressive list of features—and doesn't forget about some comforts.

The 2009 Nissan Xterra offers quite a bit of high-tech gadgetry to go with its off-road capabilities.

The second-generation Xterra boasts changes to its trim levels, so choosing between the X, S, Off-Road, and SE models should be easier for consumers who want to match the vehicle to their lifestyle. Edmunds reports 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."

ConsumerGuide recommends the top-of-the-line SE trim for those who want a little luxury with their Nissan Xterra. The SE 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 simplifies the optional equipment packages for 2009 to include only two: the Technology Package and the X Gear Package. Mentioned most frequently in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com is the Technology Package, available on the Nissan Xterra Off-Road trims; Cars.com says it "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 mentions that a "DVD entertainment system" can be added to all trims for $1,250, and Edmunds reports that the Nissan 2009 Xterra offers "an available built-in first aid kit" as stand-alone options.

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