Introduced in 1999 with the slogan "everything you need, nothing you don't," Nissan's Xterra quickly struck a harmonious chord with outdoor enthusiasts looking for a highly functional vehicle sporting just enough creature comforts to shape a rolling base camp for a spectrum of beyond-the-pavement adventure. The Xterra platform received upgrades for the next several model years through the '04 production run.
For the '05, Nissan peered through the analytical viewfinder and made key changes that make the Xterra one of the best choices in a compact SUV, with an accent on function and value. The second-generation Xterra is built on what Nissan terms its F-Alpha platform, which is another way of saying that the Xterra's frame uses the same-size tubing and plate as that found in the fullsize Armada's chassis. Frame weight is saved by using a combination of high-tensile and super-high-tensile steel. The stronger grades of steel mean that less material is required to achieve the strength of a heavier frame built using conventional mild steel.
Filling the new engine bay is a 4.0L V-6 rated at 265 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque. Downstream, buyers can choose between a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual tranny. The Xterra is offered in both two- and four-wheel-drive models. To add trail prowess, Nissan equipped the '05 Xterra with 2 additional inches of wheelbase, making for better high-speed stability. Engineeringless overhang at both ends of the Xterra has improved approach and departure angles. We peered underneath the sheetmetal and found nothing protruding below the framerails, an unheard-of OEM feature. Skidplating is generous, giving confidence when negotiating trails full of truck-grabbing rocky anchors.
Nissan also took a cue from the Dodge Power Wagon and the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon by offering options on the Xterra that can make the SUV a trail-capable vehicle straight off the dealer's lot. The rear axle, a version of the tried-and-true Dana 44, equipped with a selectable electronic-locking rear differential tops the list and combines the full-force, off-pavement traction of a locker with the smooth on-road operation of an open differential. Optional Hill Descent Control selectively pulses the brakes down steep inclines to keep forward motion comfortably in check. Optional Hill Start Assist prevents rolling backward on uphill starts by holding the brakes on auto-tranny Xterras until the SUV moves forward. For manual Xterras, optional Clutch Start Cancel means that the Xterra can be started in gear without pushing in the clutch, all the better to start-up on hills with
What do we really think? We're big fans of the OEM trend toward factory-built trail-ready vehicles. It means we get a head start when we choose a new truck to build into an off-road machine capable of taking us there and back. "Everything you need, nothing you don't" is just as meaningful in 2005 as it was in 1999.