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As consumers continue their passionate affair with crossovers of all sizes, SUVs like the Nissan Xterra are returning to the niche status they held before the genre exploded in the 1990s. Unlike today's preferred family haulers, the Xterra still rides high atop a truck frame and beefy suspension designed for rolling over boulders. It's not a logical choice for hauling groceries and kids, and that's the essence of its enduring appeal for a certain ilk of buyer.
The Xterra is a classic midsize SUV: four doors, strong V6, truck-like towing ability, and a four-wheel drive system that can actually take you on an off-road adventure. This ruggedness comes with natural tradeoffs, like a somewhat stiff ride, extra weight, and precarious maneuverability in tight spaces.
Acceleration, however, should please everyone thanks to the standard 4-liter V6 with 261 horsepower and plenty of low-end torque for swift takeoffs. Zero to 60 mph occurs in 8 seconds, quite commendable for a truck-based 4x4, especially at this price point. The Xterra delivers about 17 mpg in combined city and highway driving -- much less than you would get in a crossover of similar interior dimensions.
The interior is subdued and utilitarian, with matte-finish trim and seating available only in gray. The controls are crisp and easy to operate, but most surfaces are clad in hard plastic. The theme here is go-anywhere durability, not refinement. Folks used to driving pickups and 4X4s will feel right at home. That's not to say the Xterra is a brute; it offers plenty of interior space and four-door convenience, though no one would ever mistake it for a passenger-pleasing crossover. It's more of the same on the outside, with matte lower-body cladding, a box-like profile, and a complete absence of chrome except for the Nissan logo.
It's hard to imagine wanting a vehicle like the Xterra without four-wheel drive, which is why it's a ubiquitous option on the base X and midrange S models, and standard on the line-topping Pro-4X. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard across the board, and a six-speed manual is available on the upper two trims, no doubt aimed at off-roaders rather than folks who want to save on gas. The Xterra's rugged looks and utility are enhanced by tubular roof rails, rear privacy glass, and footholds built into the rear bumper ends that give you boost while loading gear on the roof.
The Pro-4X is a serious off-roader, blessed with go-anywhere features like an electronic locking rear differential, hill-descent control, Bilstein shock absorbers, skid plates, roof-mounted driving lights and upgraded tires. It also gets trim-specific cloth or leather seat trim, a rearview camera display, navigation, an upgraded audio system, and other assorted conveniences.
All Xterra models have a rugged truck frame and heavy-duty suspension, but the Pro-4 takes things to a higher level. In addition to standard four-wheel drive, you get an electronic locking rear differential, hill-start assist, hill-descent control, Bilstein off-road shock absorbers, skid plates front and rear, roof-mounted driving lights, and all-terrain tires.
Other standard features include automatic headlights, fog lamps, an auto-dimming mirror with compass, navigation, a rearview camera, and a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system with a six-disc CD changer, satellite radio, and Bluetooth compatibility. The interior receives specific cloth or leather seat trim with PRO-4X identification, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and white-face gauges. The passenger seat on cloth models folds forward to provide a table-like surface. A five-speed manual transmission is available in place of the standard automatic.
The midrange Xterra S offers a host of useful equipment: easy-to-clean cargo area surfaces, a cargo channel system, off-road tires mounted on 16-inch alloy wheels, a first aid kit, and black body-side moldings. The optional four-wheel drive system comes with a gear basket and roof rack with crossbars.
The interior gets height and lumbar adjustments for the driver seat, and an upgraded audio system with satellite radio and auxiliary jacks. Buyers choose between a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission.
Available with two- or four-wheel drive, the Xterra X carries a 4-liter V6 hooked to a five-speed automatic transmission and a heavy-duty suspension. Equipment is somewhat limited, but all the necessary features are present: power windows and locks, air conditioning, cloth upholstery, split-folding rear seat, cruise control, tilt wheel, and a six-speaker stereo with CD. Standard exterior touches include 16-inch steel wheels, roof rails, rear privacy glass, and footholds built into the rear bumper for loading gear onto the roof.
Legendary off-road ability, potent V6, lacking in passenger comfort
Comfortable ride and interior, but limited off-road and towing ability
Efficient and affordable, one class down in size and capability
Distinctive and capable, but tight on passenger space