2011 Nissan Xterra Expert Review:Autoblog
There was a time when body-on-frame SUVs dominated American roads, with nearly every major automaker offering some kind of four-wheeling fighter to suburbia's off-road pretenders. Nissan was no different, and at its peak in 2000, the eminently capable Xterra sold some 88,000 copies – the same year our colleagues at Motor Trend crowned it Sport Utility of the Year.
But unlike so many hardened off-roaders that have evolved into unibody crossovers, the Xterra has soldiered on nearly unchanged since its refresh in 2005. And according to our sources, this latest variant – the Pro-4X – could be the last of an orphaned breed. We got our hands on Nissan's most capable SUV for a week of highway drudgery, big-box shopping and even a little time off the beaten path to find out if it deserves to live on.
Continue reading Review: 2011 Nissan Xterra Pro-4X...
Photos copyright ©2011 Chris Shunk / AOL
ThePro-4X is the top-of-the-line Xterra. Typically that would mean plenty of standard features to coddle and cushion. There's a lot of that going on here, but we're not talking about navigation, leather seats or moonroofs. You can't even get a power driver's seat. Instead, the Pro-4X comes strong with Bilstein shocks, hill descent control, an electronic locking rear differential and a trick cargo management system that will keep your gear tethered to the floor even when your Xterra is upside-down.
If you're into coddling equipment, this Xterra isn't your cup of joe. The only pampering we could find was a blissful Rockford Fosgate sound system, which should provide sufficient motivation while crawling over rocks and down steep grades. The only option boxes checked on our $32,725 (a base Xterra X 4X4 comes in at $26,310) tester included leather seats ($1,000), Nevada tow Package ($460), Pro-4X floormats ($115) and an iPod interface ($250).
Any off-roader worth its salt also has to look the part, and the Xterra doesn't disappoint. Its boxy proportions and broad shoulders scream "testosterone booster," while the Xterra's customary roof rack gives this ute an inescapable Panama Jack flavor. That roof rack (accessible with a pair of built-in bumper steps) contains a pair of off-roading lights that most will rarely use, though we found them to be very helpful on a barren stretch of two-lane highway that involved close encounters with both a possum and a deer within a few minutes of each other.
The rough and ready exterior is matched by an equally manly cabin. The nicely upholstered leather seats were plenty comfortable during a five-hour trip we took from Detroit to Indianapolis, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel provided a touch of class in an otherwise utilitarian interior. There are few buttons and knobs adorning the center stack, and dashboard materials are mostly of the hard plastic variety.
Perhaps that's to be expected of such an off-road-biased vehicle, but so are easily accessible vehicle controls. The Xterra obliges with a knob for choosing between two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive high and four low, followed by large buttons for hill descent control and the electronic locking center differential. This Xterra also comes equipped with a first-aid kit affixed to the rear liftgate, just in case your off-road travails lead to a boo-boo or two.
Despite its rough-and-tumble nature, Nissan has managed to squeeze in some technology to make life a bit easier. The Xterra Pro-4X sports Bluetooth, redundant steering wheel audio controls, an optional iPod interface and a standard auxilary input. Perhaps more important is the fact that these features are incredibly simple to use.
The folks at Nissan are fully aware that even the most ardent off-roaders will keep their SUV on pavement most of the time, so space for you and your family or friends is important. The Xterra is about six inches shorter than the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, and the latter is an inch wider, too. That gives the Wrangler the edge in overall passenger volume, though the Xterra still sports a respectable 36.3 cubic feet of space beyond the second row of seats. Those very handy heavy-duty tie-downs we mentioned help secure any cargo you're taking with you. And if your luggage is muddy, the storage compartment is hard plastic and easy to hose off.
An off-road ready interior is only useful if the hardware is willing, so Nissan engineers have packed plenty of technology in spots where the eyes rarely travel. Rugged and uneven terrain is handled by a fully boxed frame made of high-grade steel. The front suspension is comprised of an independent double-wishbone with stabilizer bar, while out back a multi-leaf solid rear axle partners with a beefy rear sway bar to keep the wheels planted on road and off. The Pro-4X is the only Xterra to feature Bilstein performance shock absorbers, giving the top model a bit more street cred on the sand dunes.
The Xterra's powertrain of choice is a 4.0-liter V6 producing 261 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 281 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm, mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. If you're not into the slushbox thing, Nissan is kind enough to offer a six-speed manual transmission across the entire Xterra model range. The big V6 also accelerates hard when you ask it to, with a manufacturer-claimed 0-60 mile per hour time of 6.7 seconds.
That sounds nice, but our experience shows that the Xterra feels burlier than a lot of vehicles in its class. The Xterra's powertrain pulled strongly at all speeds, especially when passing punch was needed on the freeway. In fact, we may have punched the Xterra a few times too many during our week with the ute, managing only 16 miles per gallon. That's within the 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway numbers promised by the Environmental Protection Agency, but we spent the vast majority of our time on the freeway.
Nissan has opted for a variable effort steering system that is well-weighted and provides adequate feedback when working the wheel. Brake feel is similarly solid, with a bit of bite when pushed hard. One (admittedly predictable) annoyance that cropped up on those freeways was an excess of road noise. The Xterra is also a bit on the tall side at 74.9 inches, and its higher center of gravity leads to quite a bit of body roll during harder cornering. But when you're at speed on the highway, the Xterra rides relatively smooth, though it won't challenge most unibody crossovers in terms of ride quality.
Since the Xterra Pro-4X is built for the road less traveled, we figured it was our duty to get it at least somewhat dirty during our time. We took the Xterra on a short but fruitful trip to a nearby trail to see if the big Nissan performed as advertised. The trail featured more water than mud due to the thawing snow, and as hard as we tried to get the P265/75R16 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A rubber to stick, we were never really all that close to succeeding. Heck, we never even had to venture into four low, though we did the crawl anyway just for the experience. We also verified Nissan's claim that the Xterra can shift on the fly into four-wheel high at a maximum of 62 mph. The brakes did feel a bit mushy and unresponsive when the wheels got wet on the trail, but that's to be expected when the rotors are covered in 35-degree mud.
The Pro-4X is the only Xterra that comes stock with skid plates for the oil pan, fuel tank and 4x4 transfer case, in addition to the lower radiator plate that comes with every Xterra. That means we didn't have to worry much about damage to our tester's vital organs, even if we decided to push harder than we did. After our short off-road excursion, the Xterra's underbody was free of any sticks and mud chunks, mainly because the Xterra boasts 9.5 inches of ground clearance, so the underbody was hardly touched. Also important for any off-road-ready rig is a healthy arrival and departure angle, and the Pro-4X doesn't disappoint with 33.2 degrees up front and 29.4 degrees out back. That's nowhere near the 44.5 degree and 40 degree angles of the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, though we're thinking most will never approach the limits of either vehicle.
We almost felt like we let the Xterra down by not providing a more challenging terrain, though we can honestly say we had a blast and the Xterra never missed a beat. We'll try to get one out on some bona-fide trails or at an off-road course sometime soon to see what it really can do.
Those looking at the Nissan Xterra for their next vehicle purchase don't have a whole lot of options left in the off-roading segment. The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and the Toyota 4Runner are alternatives, but both vehicles are larger and pricier than the Nissan. A lightly optioned Grand Cherokee is another – much posher – possibility, though the new Jeep's price tag quickly passes $40,000 when you start checking the more desirable option boxes.
Even with no meaningful updates since 2005, the Xterra is still solid and charismatic enough to compete admirably in its quickly shrinking class. The interior could use a makeover and its fuel economy will become problematic as gas prices rise, but for those looking for an honest all-terrain savant with aggressive styling and simple-but-effective technology, the Pro-4X is a rock-solid choice. But if your daily treks or weekend joneses don't often take you into the muck, or if you're looking for a vehicle well-suited to daily family hauling duties, there are far more modern, better-packaged solutions. The Xterra might be a product from a bygone era, but those looking for off-road capabilities at a competitive price should be pleased that Nissan is still offering this rough-and-tumble utility to the masses.
Photos copyright ©2011 Chris Shunk / AOL
New Car Test Drive
Authentic SUV for the outdoors.
The Nissan Xterra is a true original, and a successful original at that. The Xterra is a sport utility vehicle engineered for serious off-road sport and real utility over suburban shopping duty. It is a truck SUV, not a crossover SUV. Its body is attached to a boxed-in steel ladder frame, and it rides on the same rugged suspension as the Nissan Frontier pickup, with double wishbones up front and a solid axle on leaf springs in the rear.
The 2010 Nissan Xterra comes in four models. Most offer a choice of rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. All are powered by Nissan's award-winning aluminum V6, stroked to 4.0 liters and making 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. With 4WD and the smooth (optional) five-speed automatic transmission, the Xterra achieves 15 city and 20 highway miles per gallon, a bit more with 2WD or the standard six-speed manual transmission.
An Off-Road model is available that will go pretty much anywhere. It comes with Hill Descent Control, heavy duty trail tires, and skid plates. The electronic 4WD system is part time, with three functions available: 2WD, 4WD High and 4WD Low.
Last year (2009) Nissan freshened the Xterra's appearance a bit and, more importantly, made front-seat side-impact and full-length side-curtain airbags standard on all models. The Xterra now rates four of five stars in NHTSA crash tests for frontal impact, and three stars for rollover. For 2010, Nissan has made last year's Gear Package standard on S and SE models, and what was the Technology Package is now standard on SE and Off Road.
The base-level Xterra X 2WD ($22,450) comes with a six-speed manual transmission, cloth upholstery, air conditioning, remote keyless entry, cruise control, six-speaker sound system with single CD, three 12-volt DC outlets, power windows, 60/40 folding rear seat, cargo-area carpeting, roof rails with an air dam, and 16-inch steel wheels. The Xterra X 4WD ($24,500) adds an electronically controlled transfer case with three functions: 2WD, 4WD High and 4WD Low. A five-speed automatic transmission is available, although Nissan lists the X 2WD automatic ($23,250) and X 4WD automatic ($25,300) as separate models. Manual-shift X 4WD's come with BFGoodrich Long Trail tires.
The Xterra S 2WD ($25,420) and 4WD ($27,470) come with the automatic transmission only, and add an eight-way adjustable driver's seat, power mirrors, an interior microfilter, fog lamps, aluminum step rails, roof rack crossbars and gear basket, and alloy wheels with BFG Long Trail tires. The X-model's cargo-area carpeting is replaced by an easy-to-clean plastic cargo floor with two C-channels and four moveable hooks to strap down mountain bikes and things, plus additional hooks in the ceiling and side panels.
The Terri SE 2WD ($28,350) and 4WD ($30,400) upgrade further with leather seats; leather-wrapped steering wheel with Bluetooth and audio controls; Rockford Fosgate audio with 6CD changer, MP3 capability, auxiliary input, and XM Satellite Radio; auto-dimming inside mirror with compass; illuminated vanity mirrors; first aid kit; cargo net; and 17-inch alloy wheels. Mirrors and door handles are body color instead of black.
The Xterra Off-Road comes only with 4WD, but with a choice of manual ($29,200) or automatic ($30,400) transmission. Equipment is similar to SE, except that the Off-Road skips the step rails and leather seats. (It features its own unique red-and-gray rugged fabric upholstery.) Off Road adds roof-mounted driving lights, a front passenger seat that folds flat, an electronic locking rear differential, Bilstein gas shocks, and skid plates for the oil pan, fuel tank and transfer case. The automatic transmission version comes with Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist as well. Either way, Off Road rolls on BFG Rugged Trail tires mounted to 6-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels.
Splash guards ($135) for the X are the only factory option, but port-installed accessories range from a tow hitch ($460) to a dockable DVD player ($495) and Garmin portable navigation. But not all accessories are available on all models, so check with your dealer for details.
Safety equipment on all 2010 Xterra models includes dual-stage front airbags, side-impact airbags in front, roof-mounted airbag curtains with a rollover sensor, and the LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren). Vehicle Dynamic Control and vented disc brakes with ABS and EBD also come standard, along with the government-mandated tire pressure monitor.
One of the six exterior colors offered on the 2010 Nissan Xterra is called Red Brick, a fitting name because if there's any SUV on the market that looks like a brick, it's the Xterra. But that's part of its popularity, if not charm.
This year's remaining color choices are Silver Lightning, Night Armor, Super Black, Navy Blue and Avalanche. You get the idea.
The front end is all very symmetrical and beef. Tidy, no-nonsense headlamps. The lower corners of the front fascia are rugged and massive, although not conspicuously so because they're flat black. The grille is sort of a black egg-crate hole with a floating chrome Planet Nissan logo in the center, surrounded by an inverted isosceles trapezoid (finished in a flat silver plastic Nissan calls Sandblast Aluminum) with wings that look like handles on a loving cup trophy. More Sandblast Aluminum trim wraps up from underneath like a bib, suggesting the skid plate that's real only on the Off Road model.
Our test vehicle was an Off Road, which meant the moldings on the doors were flat black instead of body color, which is kind of ugly especially since there are exposed bolts underneath, apparently where the running boards attach to other models.
Boxy fender flares hang over the wheels: decidedly common six-slot units on the X, and no-more-interesting five and eight-spoke cast-alloy patterns on the S and SE, respectively. At least the dark centers and six machine-finished spokes of the Off-Road's wheels add some interest. Maybe it's just as well, because snazzy wheels might not go with the mud flaps.
The Xterra's distinction comes as much from its roof rack as any vehicle on the road. It was tweaked last year, although how much tweaking can you do to a roof rack? Nissan calls its sloping front surface an air dam, and that's where the Off Road model houses its 50,000-candlepower roof lights. All but X have a 'gear basket' right behind the air dam that's meant to hold wetsuits and ski boots and muddy mountain-biking clothes; it's covered by a lid held down with a sloppy plastic latch.
The back half of the Xterra is the part that people mostly notice. The brick has big windows. What's that lump on the tailgate? They might ask. That's where the First Aid kit goes. That kind of thing is what the Xterra has been all about, successfully, ever since it was introduced. And other things, such as the side steps that make it easy to climb up on the bumper and reach the roof rack.
2009 brought some small changes to the interior of the Xterra: a new center instrument panel cluster with new HVAC switches, new fabric upholstery for the X and S models, and unique rugged fabric with red stitching for the Off-Road. Except for the new standard equipment noted above, there have been no further changes for 2010.
The driver and front passenger seat recline way back, although when we tried to take a nap at a rest stop we couldn't line up our butt, the gap between the seat and seatback, the small of our back, the back of our head, and the headrest. The reclined seats might better fit six-footers.
The center console is deep, with coin holders and two cupholders and the emergency brake handle. Nice tray forward of the shift lever, glovebox of decent size, steering-wheel controls on most models. Good visibility out the rear liftgate window and big side rear windows.
The rear seat, split 60/40, folds flat with a few steps. Some SUV seats fold easier, some with more difficulty. Good grab handles over the rear doors, one map pocket on the driver's seatback, two 20-ounce bottle holders. Legroom in the rear seat is a bit lacking, at a mere 34.4 inches, although a person can fit their knees in there, even behind the driver with his or her seat slid back.
The cargo area is where the Xterra comes into its own. All but the base model have an Easy Clean surface, like hard vinyl, making your wet dog no problem. There's a nice deep hidden compartment under the floor, and no less than 10 utility hooks on the floor, sides and ceiling. Space and nets to carry jugs. We were intrigued by the adjustable track system in the cargo floor, similar in design to the Utili-track system offered on the Nissan Titan and Frontier pickups. Like the Easy Clean surface, it's standard on all but the base-level X.
The Nissan Xterra is built on a truck chassis. Its body is attached to a boxed-in steel ladder frame and uses a rugged suspension, double-wishbone front and solid axle with leaf springs in rear. It's the same chassis as the Nissan Frontier pickup truck, although the Xterra has a higher center of gravity that you can feel in the ride, which is reasonably comfortable thanks to a longish wheelbase.
During our week in the Xterra, including 40 miles on gravel and dirt roads, we didn't encounter any harsh spots in the ride, which is saying a lot, although the side-to-side motion is a bit more pronounced than with crossovers.
We took a few runs on a rough off-road course, and the Xterra met every traction and crevice challenge it faced, using 4WD HI and 4WD LO, easily switchable with one knob on the dash. Also, with short overhangs front and rear, things don't easily drag in the gulleys. You can take it hunting or dirt biking to the top of rugged mountains with no worries.
We tested Hill Descent Control on the off-road course as well. Provided only on Xterra Off Road with automatic transmission, Hill Descent Control (HDC) allows you to travel down a steep hill and rely on electronics (raising both feet off the pedals) to keep the Xterra safe and steady at 5 mph, with throttle control and ABS applied by the truck's tiny brain and feet, better in this circumstance than your own big ones. If you live in a place that has snowy and icy hills in winter, HDC, available on some other SUVs (that don't have to be off-road equipped), could save your life or the life of another, for example a passenger on the sidewalk. It also helps the driver keep the rear from sliding out on a steep, muddy descent, so you don't slowly slide off the trail and into a tree.
Hill Start Assist also comes only on the Xterra Off-Road with automatic transmission, though that seems strangely misplaced. Hill Start Assist allows you to start moving forward on a steep uphill, without drifting back, useful off road and in San Francisco. But with an automatic transmission, that's not a problem, because you have two feet and there are only two pedals. It's needed with the manual transmission Xterra, if anything, but Nissan didn't design HSA to work on that one.
The 4.0-liter V6 that's used in the Xterra is a great engine, a stroked version of the award-winning 3.5-liter that's used in the 350Z sports car and other Nissans. It has all the right stuff: aluminum block and heads, Teflon-coated pistons, Continuous Valve Timing Control (CVTCS), Nissan variable Induction Control System (NICS), silent timing chain and microfinished camshaft and crankshaft surfaces, digital knock control system, and 105,000-mile spark plugs.
Fuel economy for the Xterra is an EPA-estimated 15 city and 20 highway miles per gallon with 4WD, a bit more with 2WD. It would get more, if the body wasn't such a brick.
The engine certainly has plenty of horsepower and torque, 261 hp and 281 pound-feet, but its torque curve, peaking at a high 4000 rpm, is more suited to a sports car than a truck. As a result, the automatic transmission kicks down a lot at casual speeds, even 35 mph, from fifth gear to fourth; but because it's so smooth, you hardly notice it. However you do notice that the Xterra doesn't feel terribly powerful. Until you boot it, and then it blows you away. When you let it run, you find yourself driving a truck SUV that wants to be a Nissan 350Z. There will be no problem passing on two-lanes, or running with the hot sedans up long freeway slopes.
The Nissan Xterra maintains its steady course on the road and off, as a popular SUV that can do it all and then some, with a fold-flat cargo area that's rugged and easy to clean, and built-in channels on the floor with 10 hooks or eyelets to tie things down. Side-impact airbags in front and full length airbag curtains were added last year as standard equipment and, for 2010, most versions come with more standard conveniences. The fabric upholstery is attractive and rugged, and there are plenty of cubbies. The Xterra is user friendly, has a comfortable ride for a truck, and wears well. In 4WD it achieves 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway, using an exceptional 4.0-liter V6 engine and smooth five-speed automatic transmission.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses reported from California.
Nissan Xterra 2WD X ($22,450); 4WD X ($24,500); 2WD S ($25,420); 4WD S ($27,470); Off-Road ($29,200); 2WD SE ($28,530); 4WD SE ($30,400).
Options As Tested
Floor mats ($115).
Nissan Xterra Off-Road automatic ($30,400).
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