We recently returned from Hollister Hills, where we put our long-term Xterra to work for a week as a support mule at Top Truck Challenge, hauling food, drinks and radio gear for our judges and video crew. We also spent a little downtime doing some low-range crawling on some of Hollister's many spur trails, and the Xterra's Off-Road package-selectable rear locker, Bilstein shocks, and 32-inch BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires-was put to good use throughout the week in numerous deep and washed-out ruts and on loose, dry dirt. We've said it before, and we'll say it again: there's no other IFS rig in its class and price range that's as out-of-the-box wheelable as the Xterra, save perhaps a Hummer H3.
On the flat paved stuff, the Xterra is a jack of all trades that does everything competently without excelling in any one area. The 4.0L V-6 pulls strong at all altitudes and in virtually any gear, though the engine prefers to rev above three grand-which pretty much eliminates the need for Sixth gear for all but borderline-legal speeds, and the big gap in ratios between First and Second will tempt you to turn the six-speed into a four-speed in everyday driving. For a boxy, upright vehicle, it's perfectly stable in crosswinds, and while the bucket-seat bolstering isn't the most supportive for long drives, it won't induce back spasms, either. The Nissan's upholstery and plastics are a bit on the "bare-bones" side, and the interior trim and switchgear are starting to look dated. Then again, this is a vehicle that's purposely designed to get dirty and wet, so we'll keep the leather package in our Pathfinder LE while we hose out the Xterra's rubber-matted rear cargo hold, guilt-free.
The Xterra's versatility came to the fore on our drive home from Moab last spring, when we ran smack into a gnarly late-winter storm in the Wasatch Mountains and spent the better part of two hours in white-out conditions on I-15. Lacking chains and much practical experience, we slowed down to 20 mph, shifted into 4-Hi, hunkered down behind a slow-moving big rig, and hoped for the best. The Xterra, however, showed no reticence; its BFG tires delivered sure-footed traction whether plowing through fresh powder, brown sludge, or across icy bridges, and our ride remained stable and controlled throughout the storm. Before we knew it, we were back at the posted speed limit, confidently passing just about everything on (or buried alongside) the slushy road. We'd like to take a little credit for making such a potentially unnerving experience seem so humdrum, but we gotta admit, even the most skilled driver on the planet (which does not = us) needs a capable and well-tuned vehicle to showcase his talents properly, and the Xterra is surely that.
We reported last time about what we thought were some weird electrical gremlins that had rendered our Xterra's swing-up rear hatch inoperable. On closer inspection, it turned out that the rear cargo retention netting had somehow gotten snagged in the latch mechanism during a recent cross-country trek. We had to take a scissors to a small piece of net, but once cleared of nylon, the hatch was again fully functional. The "door open" indicator light now operates normally, too. Since our Xterra has performed otherwise flawlessly during our test period, we'll know better than to question the vehicle the next time something goes amiss.
Report: 3 of 4
- Previous reports: Jan. '10, Aug. '10
- Base price: $28,340
- Price as tested: $30,575
- Four-wheel-drive system: Two-speed, part-time electronic, shift on the fly
- Miles to date: 14,395
- Miles since last report: 3,728
- Average mpg (this report): 18.06
- Test best tank (mpg): 20.07
- Test worst tank (mpg): 15.71
- This period: None
- Problem areas: IQ-challenged editor who couldn't see the cargo net caught in the rear hatch lock
What's Hot, What's Not
Hot: Tons of interior storage space, rear locker is awesome in the dirt, BFG Rugged Trails a superior tire
Not: Dated interior, too-wide ratio gap between 1st and 2nd gears, BFG All-Terrains would be even better
- "Build integrity feels very solid, like a real truck should"
- "First 20mpg tank-highway mileage getting better?"
- "Chassis tuning a bit stiff for serious rockcrawling"
- "Rugged Trails spin a little in the loose stuff-could use a squarer shoulder"
- "Good tires, a rear locker, a low First gear-what more can you ask for?"
- "She's ready for a refreshening inside"