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.