The Nissan Xterra is a holdover from the days when SUVs were tough, truck-based machines that backed up their rugged looks with genuine off-roading abilities. It can't match the refinement or fuel economy of more modern, car-based crossovers, but this compact ute's spacious interior, willing engine and all-terrain capabilities should prove endearing for buyers more interested in hitting the trails than heading to the mall.
For the latest model year, the Xterra S models benefit from a new "Display Audio" system with Aux and USB inputs, while PRO-4X models receive a navigation system with a backup camera, new seat trim, auto on/off headlights and an outside temperature display.
First launched way back in 2005, the current Xterra is underpinned by the same "F-Alpha" body-on-frame platform used in Nissan's Frontier pickup. This sturdy, old-school foundation, along with a live rear axle and 8.2 inches of ground clearance, gives the SUV impressive capabilities when the pavement ends - especially in Pro-X form (detailed below). Only hard-core, purpose-built machines like the Jeep Wrangler are better in this regard.
The trade-off for the rock-climbing prowess comes in the form of distinctly truck-like on-road handling that isn't as smooth or precise as that of similarly-sized crossovers. The Xterra is, however, much more powerful than most of the competition, offering a standard 4.0-liter V6 that produces 261 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque.
Enthusiasts will enjoy the six-speed manual transmission (available only with four-wheel-drive models), which improves fuel economy and acceleration. A five-speed automatic can also be spec'd for those seeking two-pedal simplicity.
Rear-wheel-drive is standard on the Xterra, while a four-wheel-drive system with a low-range transfer case is optional. Maximum towing capacity is rated at 5,000 lbs.; notably, most comparable crossovers max out at just 3,500 lbs.
Unsurprisingly, a large-displacement engine and a heavy truck structure don't add up to exemplary fuel economy: RWD, automatic-transmission Xterras are good for 16/22 city/highway, mpg, while 4WD auto- and manual-equipped models check in at 15/20 mpg and 16/20 mpg, respectively.
The Inside Story
One of the places where the Xterra shows its age is inside, where there are hard, cheaply-grained plastics instead of the soft-touch materials found in many competitors. Upscale it isn't, but the cabin's controls are easy to use and logically arranged, and there's a simplicity and honesty to the overall design that fits well with the SUV's old-school feel.
The Xterra excels as a pack mule, featuring 36.3 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats upright and 65.7 cubes with them folded down. An available "Utili-track Cargo Channel System" maximizes interior flexibility by adding two channels in the ceiling and two in the floor, both with eight adjustable sliding cleats that can be used to secure cargo in place.
Other nifty touches include an under-floor storage area for stashing extra gear, "Easy-Clean" cargo area surfaces and a roof rack built from construction-grade aluminum that's capable of carrying up to 150 pounds. Even better, the rack is easily accessible thanks to side steps located in the rear bumper.
The Xterra is available in X, S and PRO-4X trim levels.
The Xterra X comes standard with A/C, full power accessories, remote keyless entry, cruise control, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system and 16-inch steel wheels.
The Xterra S adds the Utili-track Cargo Channel System, Easy Clean cargo area, back body side moldings, dual power exterior mirrors, a first-aid kit, a 4.3-inch color display for the audio system AUX and USB inputs, SiriusXM satellite radio and 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels.
Intending on taking your Xterra off the beaten path on a regular basis? The model to get is the PRO-4X, which is fitted with standard 4WD in addition to a locking rear differential, fuel tank and transfer case skid plates, Bilstein shocks, roof-mounted off-road road lights and 265/75R16 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A off-road tires mounted on 16-inch wheels.
The PRO-4X is also the best-equipped Xterra, building on the S model's features with a navigation system with a 5.8-inch display and a rearview camera, an eight-speaker Rockford Fosgate premium audio system, Bluetooth smartphone connectivity with streaming audio, unique interior upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto on/off headlights and an outside temperature display.
All Xterra models feature dual front, front-side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
The list of true competitors for the Xterra is a shrinking one as many SUVs continue to migrate over to unibody (crossover, or CUV) platforms for improved fuel economy and on-road ride quality, leaving the off road-minded SUVs to fend for themselves. Remaining rivals include the Jeep Wrangler, the Jeep Cherokee and the Toyota FJ Cruiser.