2013 Nissan Xterra Review

Consumer Reviews
0 Reviews
2018
The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 10, 2013

The 2013 Nissan Xterra has exactly what the most dedicated weekend warriors want--including the goods to get active gear out to hard-to-reach places--but without a lot of frills.

The Nissan Xterra isn't the perfect family vehicle, but it does manage to maintain just enough daily-driving practicality to keep weekend warriors happy enough on the weekdays. At the same time it's true to its tough look: with its big off-road tires, safari-style roof rack, high stance, skid plates and straightforward SUV silhouette, the 2013 Xterra looks (and is) built for outdoor gear, rugged trails, and weekend-warrior utility.

While the Xterra's exterior never fails to overtly communicate its intent, from any angle, it's a mixed bag inside; while the Nissan Xterra looks rugged by most criteria, with tough upholstery, easy-to-clean cargo surfaces, extra storage spaces for gear, and tie-downs for gear, its instrument panel, shared with the Frontier pickup is past its prime design-wise.

The Xterra keeps it simple, with a platform that's shared with the Frontier--using a version of the frame and underpinnings employed in the full-size Nissan Titan trucks. While most utility vehicles have gone to a uni-body build, the Xterra's body-on-frame layout is up for regular trail clambering, while its 261-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 engine provides plenty of torque for off-roading or towing and works well with the smooth-shifting automatic transmission. The Xterra's ride can be pitchy at times, because of its solid axle and leaf springs in back, although on-the-road handling is decent.

Review continues below

All 2013 Xterra models but the Off-Road trims are available with rear-wheel drive, but 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. It's a part-time, off-road-oriented 4x4 setup, with high and low ranges, but Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist, and the electronic stability control system all help keep it in check and make the most of its traction.

Simply put, it gives up some passenger comfort in the name of all-around usefulness--and particularly, usefulness in ways that a car or crossover probably can't deliver. For cargo and gear, Nissan has found ways to hone the Xterra's abilities, making it something of a Swiss Army knife. There's a double glovebox, a large center console, and a generous 35 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat up—expandable to nearly 66 cubic feet with it folded forward. And to fit especially long items, like cumbersome sports equipment, the front passenger seat can fold forward to a horizontal position.Trims and panels tend to be made of hard plastic, but that's understandable given this vehicle's purpose (you'll want those easy-wipe surfaces).

The Xterra is unremarkable within its class for safety, with less-than-top ratings in the IIHS rear impact and roof strength tests but 'good' results otherwise. 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 rearview camera has been added to the 2013 PRO-4X model.

The 2013 Nissan Xterra remains offered in a lineup of X, S, and that off-road-focused PRO-4X model--with the latter getting additional skid plates, a locking differential (on 4x4 versions), Bilstein shocks, and 16-inch off-road wheels and BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires. This year, PRO-4X models get contrast stitching and seat embroidery, plus auto headlamps, an outside temperature display, a navigation system with rearview monitor, and a new DIsplay Audio system with auxiliary input, USB port, and Sirius satellite radio compatibility.

9

2013 Nissan Xterra

Styling

The 2013 Nissan Xterra looks handsomely rough-and-ready for the outdoor outfitter, while the interior hasn't stayed as fresh-faced.

Chances are you won't have any trouble telling the Xterra's reason for being. Boxy and buff, in the way of traditional SUVs--and looking ready for the off-road trail--the Xterra hasn't gone soft or streamlined.

The Nissan Xterra proudly wears its serious devotion to off-road driving in just about every line on its body, and every surface on its dash and doors. The high stance and bulging fenders are appropriate here, not silly add-ons meant for marketing appeal, and things like the big off-road tires and the external spare hanging on the back, makes a lot of sense, as the Xterra probably sees more.

And when you add options like additional skid plates and brush guards, we think the Xterra looks especially fashionable--perhaps fitting in a bit better at the beach than the rock-scrambling Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.

The theme inside is universally rugged as well, with tough-looking upholstery, easy-to-clean surfaces, extra storage spaces and tie-downs all contributing to a look that means business. The only thing a little lacking is the instrument-panel design itself, which looks dated and feels a little more plasticky than it should.

Review continues below
7

2013 Nissan Xterra

Performance

A strong, smooth V-6 and impressive off-road ability are the Xterra's specialties, while on-road handling is just good enough.

What's under the hood of the Xterra says a lot about its personality; the only engine offered in this true SUV is a 4.0-liter version of Nissan's familiar V-6. It makes 261 horsepower here, and it's strong and smooth, churning out plenty of accessible torque without the need to rev high. 

Paired with either the five-speed automatic or standard six-speed manual transmission, the V-6 gives the Xterra plenty of zip off the line, with great drivability whether you're carefully crawling along a trail or towing a small trailer up a highway grade. Shift throws for the manual are quite long, and we tend to think that between the two transmissions, the automatic takes best advantage of the engine's passing power.

With an independent suspension in front and a solid rear axle in back, the 2013 Xterra drives like a truck, with a harsh and pitchy side on bumpy roads yet a reasonably smooth ride over most surfaces. Handling and body control are both better than you might think given the tall body and truck-derived underpinnings.

All 2013 Xterra models but the Off-Road trims are available with rear-wheel drive, but 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. It's a part-time, off-road-oriented 4x4 setup, with high and low ranges, but Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist, and the electronic stability control system all help keep it in check and make the most of its traction.

Review continues below
6

2013 Nissan Xterra

Comfort & Quality

Inside, the 2013 Nissan Xterra makes sense as a weekend warrior's transportation Swiss Army knife; passengers won't be all that comfortable, but the tough, easy-clean surfaces make sense for gear.

The 2013 Nissan Xterra serves as a reminder as to why traditional SUVs weren't a good fit for family duty; built for mud, gear, and off-road adventurers, the Xterra sings a siren song to weekend warrior types and hardcore off-roaders.

Simply put, it gives up some passenger comfort in the name of all-around usefulness--and particularly, usefulness in ways that a car or crossover probably can't deliver. Although the seats in the Xterra aren't as supportive as those you'll find in some of Nissan's other mid-size or large models, there's decent head and leg room in front, and the rear bench, while a bit upright and hard, can fit adults when needed. Its best use is probably flipped forward--to down to expand cargo area.

For cargo and gear, Nissan has found ways to hone the Xterra's abilities, making it something of a Swiss Army knife. There's a double glovebox, a large center console, and a generous 35 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat up—expandable to nearly 66 cubic feet with it folded forward. And to fit especially long items, like cumbersome sports equipment, the front passenger seat can fold forward to a horizontal position.

Trims and cabin appointments in the Xterra, as with the Frontier pickup that it's closely related to, are a bit plasticky. But we wouldn't want leather or delicate trims here anyway; there are plenty of easy-to-clean surfaces. Interior noise could use more of a damper on the highway, especially in PRO-4X models, but otherwise the interior is relatively quiet compared to other off-road-focused vehicles.

Review continues below
7

2013 Nissan Xterra

Safety

Despite its tough outward appearance, the Xterra is no standout for safety.

You might think the tough-looking, tough-performing 2013 Nissan Xterra would be especially protective; but body-on-frame trucks like the Xterra don't always deliver on that expectation.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn't recently tested the Xterra, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives it a mix of ratings. The Xterra earns a top 'good' in frontal and side impact tests, but calls it only 'acceptable' for roof strength and 'marginal' for rear-impact safety. And that roof-strength rating is a bit worrisome considering the Xterra's tall center of mass and its ability to perform on precarious terrain.

Otherwise, the Xterra is well-represented in terms of safety. Front active head restraints, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, stability control, and side-curtain airbags are all standard, and Xterras with automatic transmission get Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist--two electronic aids that may enhance stability.

For 2013, PRO-4X models get a new rearview camera system, although other modern safety conveniences like parking sensors are still unavailable.

Review continues below
8

2013 Nissan Xterra

Features

There are few options on the Xterra, but the standard-equipment list gets even better on the top PRO-4X for 2013.

The 2013 Nissan Xterra remains offered in a lineup of X, S, and off-road-focused PRO-4X models--with equipment for the PRO-4X improving this year. And no matter the model, the Xterra offers a good feature set with relatively few options. 

At the base level, the Xterra X includes power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; an AM/FM/CD player; keyless entry; and cruise control. The Xterra S gets crossbars for a roof rack; step rails; an Easy Clean Cargo Surface; a C-Channel cargo floor with moveable tie-downs; a gear basket; and fog lights--plus a tow hook in 4x4 versions.

The PRO-4X, the off-road specialist-within-a-specialist, gets additional skid plates, a locking differential (on 4x4 versions), Bilstein shocks, and 16-inch off-road wheels and BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires. This year, PRO-4X models get contrast stitching and seat embroidery, plus auto headlamps, an outside temperature display, a navigation system with rearview monitor, and a new DIsplay Audio system with auxiliary input, USB port, and Sirius satellite radio compatibility. A Bluetooth hands-free interface is standard, only on the PRO-4X.

Review continues below
5

2013 Nissan Xterra

Fuel Economy

The You want a fuel-efficient vehicle? Then you may have a tough time stomaching the Xterra's thirst compared to modern crossovers.

The Nissan Xterra isn't all that impressive with respect to gas mileage, but in all fairness it might not be one of your top priorities in a rugged, off-road-capable SUV.

It's something to keep in mind if you're driving long distances, though; with EPA ratings of just 15 mpg city, 20 highway with the automatic transmission and four-wheel drive--and 16/22 mpg at best--there are some much larger SUVs and crossovers that are considerably more frugal on gas.

If you tend to have passengers more than cargo or gear, or if you do most of your driving on the road, rather than off-road, it may be worth considering a somewhat greener pick, in a more carlike crossover.

Review continues below
Continue Reading

The Car Connection Consumer Review

Rate and Review your car for The Car Connection! Tell us your own ratings for a vehicle you own. Rate your car on Performance, Safety, Features and more.
Write a Review
USED PRICE RANGE
$12,129 - $24,995
Browse Used Listings
in your area
7.4
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 9
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety 7
Features 8
Fuel Economy 5
Compare the 2013 Nissan Xterra against the competition
Compare All Cars
Looking for a different year of the Nissan Xterra?
Read reviews & get prices
Related Used Listings
Browse used listings in your area
See More Used