2010 Nissan Xterra Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 2, 2010

If you have a lot of gear to haul to tough-to-reach places, the 2010 Nissan Xterra is a good choice for weekend adventurers.

The editors of TheCarConnection.com have driven the Nissan Xterra and bring you their expert opinion on how it fits into the market, along with firsthand driving impressions, here in this Bottom Line. TheCarConnection.com has also researched available road tests with information relating to the 2010 Nissan Xterra, with the adjacent Full Review including highlights and other viewpoints.

After getting a slight refresh for 2009, the Nissan Xterra is carried over to 2010 with few changes. A restyled front end, new wheels, seat materials, and colors are among the changes for last year, and side-impact airbags are added to the standard-equipment list.

You can tell that the Xterra is a serious off-roader from the outset, with its high physical stance, externally mounted spare, and prominent brush guards and skid plates on some variants. Inside, too, the look is universally rugged, with tough-looking upholstery, easy-to-clean cargo surfaces, tie-downs, and extra storage spaces as part of the package.

The engine in the Xterra is the same basic 4.0-liter V-6 found in the Frontier pickup, rated here at 261 horsepower, and it's mated to either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. The smooth-shifting automatic transmission works particularly well with the engine, and the combination offers plenty of low-rpm torque good for off-roading or towing. The 2010 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.

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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.

A 60/40-split folding rear seat, a folding front passenger seat, a double-deck glove box, and a large center console, all add to the overall utility of the 2010 Nissan Xterra, with decent space for adults in the backseat and plenty of places to put stuff. The front seats allow good space even if they aren't that supportive, and there's enough room in back for adults. On top of this, the front passenger seat can be folded forward to horizontal for very long items, and the Xterra makes it easy to fit cumbersome sports equipment and keep it secured during off-road adventures.

When it comes to safety, 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, "good" for side, and "poor" for rear impact. Standard safety equipment on the 2010 Nissan Xterra includes front active head restraints, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, stability control, and side-curtain airbags.

The 2010 Xterra is offered in four different trim levels, including X, S, Off-Road, and SE models. The trim level will largely determine what sort of features you’ll be getting, as Nissan has eliminated options for the 2010 model year. The S model now claims fog lights, roof-rack crossbars, and a gear basket as standard. The Off-Road model adds to the S model with 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 standard for 2010, but an in-dash navigation system isn't offered. SE models add more luxurious trim and appointments, plus fog lamps, roof rack crossbars, five 17-inch tires and alloys, a first-aid kit, a leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio controls, standard Bluetooth, and an upgraded Rockford-Fosgate sound system.

9

2010 Nissan Xterra

Styling

The 2010 Nissan Xterra impresses all around with its chunky, purposeful looks and functional interior styling.

You can tell that the 2010 Xterra is a serious off-roader from the outset, with its high physical stance, externally mounted spare, and prominent brush guards and skid plates on some variants. Kelley Blue Book asserts that the 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 Nissan Xterra boasts a "sturdier, muscular appearance, helped in part by the wider fender bulges."

Cars.com declares that "if you like your SUV to look tough, the Xterra has toughness in spades," detailing that "the Xterra offers a chiseled appearance," thanks to "its large grille, with its angular slats," and the "flared fenders and stepped roofline." Between the several trim levels offered, the Xterra looks quite differently because of wheels and tires; 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 rides on "off-road tires," according to Edmunds.

Inside, too, the look is universally rugged, with tough-looking upholstery, easy-to-clean cargo surfaces, tie-downs, and extra storage spaces as part of the package. Kelley Blue Book likes the "clean and purposeful interior.” 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 also 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 rather difficult to read in most lighting conditions."

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2010 Nissan Xterra

Performance

The 2010 Nissan Xterra offers supreme off-road performance, though on-road handling suffers a bit at its expense.

The 2010 Nissan Xterra is perfectly at home off-road, but on-road driving performance is compromised as a result. TheCarConnection.com noticed in surveying various review sources that the type of driving they partook in usually determined their driving impression.

The engine in the Xterra is the same basic 4.0-liter V-6 found in the Frontier pickup, rated here at 261 horsepower, and it's mated to either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. Edmunds says that the engine's numbers are "generous figures for this class." Despite this, 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. Cars.com reviewers deem it "a strong performer" that "can accelerate the Xterra with surprising quickness." Although ConsumerGuide agrees that low-speed performance is commendable, they find "passing at highway speeds can be a bit labored."

The smooth-shifting automatic transmission works particularly well with the engine, and the combination offers plenty of low-rpm torque good for off-roading or towing. Most reviewers are impressed with either of the transmissions available on the Nissan Xterra, though, 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."

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. ConsumerGuide reports that "Off-Road models are 4WD only." 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.

Several electronic aids, including Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist, help maintain poise in precarious situations and boost the Xterra’s overall off-road performance. Physically speaking, the 2010 Nissan Xterra has very impressive off-road credentials, with 9.5 inches of ground clearance and an approach angle of more than 33 degrees.

When it comes to fuel economy, the 2010 Nissan Xterra drinks an average amount of gas if you compare it to other off-road-worthy rigs. The EPA estimates that the 2010 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 guise with a manual transmission.

The 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. It's not surprising; as a formidable off-road vehicle, the Xterra has to compromise its on-road demeanor somewhat. 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."

Braking performance, meanwhile, is not quite up to scratch in the 2010 Xterra. ConsumerGuide says that "stopping control is unexceptional,” while Car and Driver asserts that the Xterra has a "mushy brake pedal.”

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2010 Nissan Xterra

Comfort & Quality

The 2010 Nissan Xterra has plenty of room for occupants and their luggage, but the cut-rate interior and noisy operation may turn off some.

The 2010 Nissan Xterra offers plenty of room, but materials quality leaves reviewers with a sour taste in their mouths.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com agree that the 2010 Xterra features ample cabin space. A 60/40-split folding rear seat, a folding front passenger seat, a double-deck glove box, and a large center console all add to the overall utility of the 2010 Nissan Xterra, with decent space for adults in the backseat and plenty of places to put stuff. 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."

The front seats allow good space even if they aren't that supportive, and there's enough room in back for adults. On top of this, the front passenger seat can be folded forward to horizontal for very long items, and the Xterra makes it easy to fit cumbersome sports equipment and keep it secured during off-road adventures.

Despite plentiful space, the front seats are described by several reviewers as lacking support. ConsumerGuide would like "a bit more padding for optimal long-distance comfort." Comments regarding the backseat tend to be more positive, though it might be a result of lower expectations. Cars.com reviewers warn of "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."

Weekend outdoor warriors are going to find ample space to stow and secure their gear. Edmunds notes that the 2010 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."

While room is ample, material quality is where things begin to unravel. Reviewers rate the materials inside the 2010 Xterra as an overall minus, with Edmunds disappointed that "there's more hard plastic than [they'd] like" and ConsumerGuide warning 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 2010 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. 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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2010 Nissan Xterra

Safety

The 2010 Xterra offers respectable—though not class-leading—safety. However, several off-road aids might be welcomed on the trail.

When it comes to safety, the Xterra performs respectably but isn't near the top in a class that tends to receive a lot of high scores.

It wins four-star ratings in the federal test for frontal protection and top five-star results for side impact, and the insurance-affiliated IIHS tests finds the Xterra "good" for frontal impact, "good" for side, and "poor" for rear impact.

Standard safety equipment on the 2010 Nissan Xterra includes front active head restraints, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, stability control, and side-curtain airbags.

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 2010 Nissan Xterra also receives some safety extras—Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist—that will be appreciated by those who like to go off-road. Kelley Blue Book notes that they're included in the Xterra Off-Road model.

When it comes to visibility around the vehicle, Car and Driver is particularly impressed by the "unimpeded view” from the “commanding driving position" offered by the 2010 Nissan Xterra. But "visibility is hampered by the rear roof styling and wide-base windshield wipers,” ConsumerGuide counters.

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8

2010 Nissan Xterra

Features

With a generous and simplified feature list and no factory options, the 2010 Nissan Xterra looks like a stronger value than before, though you won't be able to mix and match.

The 2010 Nissan Xterra rounds out its solid off-road ability with a reasonable level of interior features. A new development for 2010 is that Nissan is not offering any factory options for the Xterra, instead including all items as standard dependent on what trim level is chosen.

The 2010 Xterra is offered in four trim levels, allowing buyers to choose between the X, S, Off-Road, and SE models. 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 multi-adjustable 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."

The 2010 Xterra S and SE now include the previously optional X Gear Package content as standard, including fog lights, roof rack crossbars, gear basket, and for SE models only, a first aid kit and cargo net.

Both the SE and Off-Road models now include a standard Rockford Fosgate-powered audio system with an in-dash 6-CD changer, 8 speakers, a subwoofer, steering wheel audio controls, XM Satellite Radio, an auxiliary input, and Bluetooth.

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