The all-new version of Nissan's rolling multitool, the Xterra, appears very similar to the previous version. But, in fact, the '05 model is completely new. It's more compact than a true family SUV, with more practical equipment. It's better equipped than the previous Xterra, but remains true to the concept, with few non-essential features to add weight and cost.
First offered in 1999 as an accessorized version of the compact pickup, the Xterra has been re-engineered with evident insight into what a high-utility vehicle ought to be. In the process, the Xterra has clearly become Nissan's most focused design for dealing with anything steep, wet, or dirty.
Evidence that Nissan consciously intended the Xterra to be its best-performing SUV can be confirmed by glancing at the basic shape, size, and component choices. It has the shortest wheelbase, most ground clearance, and best angles of approach and departure. It has a solid rear axle (Dana 44 variant) with an electronic locker available as part of the Off-Road option package, which we would definitely recommend. The package includes 265/75R15 BFGs on 16-inch wheels, foglamps, Bilstein shocks, skidplates, and a number of thoughtful features, including the signature first-aid kit.
Electronic traction enhancements have recently become much more applicable to real-world off-highway driving, and the Xterra Offroad is clearly up to date. There is four-wheel limited slip, in which wheelspin is controlled by braking any single wheel that loses traction. In addition, there is an electronically selectable locker in the rear axle. In low-range, revised throttle mapping enables much more careful progress with less surging when crawling is required. Hill Descent Control (HDC), which keeps downhill rolling speeds controllable, can be switched off, and speed is selectable by using the accelerator pedal. And Hill Start Assist (HSA) holds the vehicle in place on a hill start without rolling back for up to two seconds, monitoring the driver's pedal input to permit smooth advancement from a stalled position in tricky situations.
Ground clearance is listed at 9.5 inches, which we did not get a chance to measure, but we could see that the undercarriage is completely clean and free of low-hanging impediments, including the exhaust.
Unlike the Pathfinder, the Xterra can be had with a six-speed manual transmission, which also has a clutch-start cancel switch to permit key-starting. Probably most Xterras will be ordered with the electronic five-speed automatic, but we prefer the manual transmission ourselves. The six-speed is sweet, with lower ratios pulling strongly and taller ratios cruising smoothly, effortlessly at speed. With the manual, crawl ratio is better than 40:1. With the automatic, crawl ratio is 31.25:1 and the overdrive gear is not as tall, meaning there is a tad more driveline noise and vibration at higher speeds.
The engine is the same V-6 as in the Pathfinder and Frontier: 3.5L stroked to 4.0, and fitted with variable induction and continuous valve timing control. Because it runs on regular unleaded, the torque and horsepower ratings are slightly lower than the Pathfinder's, at 284 lb-ft and 265 hp. Official tow capacity rating has not been determined, but we expect it will be 6,000 to 6,500 pounds.
During a day of trail driving around Sedona, Arizona, we negotiated bumpy, red-dirt trails leading to sandstone stair step climbs, some of which were close to the Xterra's maximum capability. Compared to the previous Xterra, wheelbase is 2 inches longer, but the body is only 0.03 inches longer, meaning that overhang has been reduced by nearly 2 inches. With the Off-Road Package and BFG tires, the angle of approach is 33.2 degrees, and 29.4 degrees of departure angle. These numbers make the Xterra better than the Pathfinder or Frontier when it comes to tight up-and-down terrain. The suspension flexes reasonably well, especially in terms of rear droop, enhanced by the solid-axle/leaf-spring design. There were muddy spots and patches of standing water, but nothing really deep, and we found it easy to point the Xterra up hill and rely on traction control to sling us forward.
The rest of the time, we were on the move across two-lane Arizona highways. One exercise, driving from Williams, Arizona, took us to through Hualapai tribal land down a loose, sandy, nearly washed-out trail to the Colorado River, where we embarked on some river rafting down the Grand Canyon. The highway miles went quickly and, in the Xterra, cruising is easy. We appreciated low-effort steering, due to a variable-rate, rack-and-pinion design. Wind noise remains subdued until higher passing speeds are achieved, due in part to extensive redesign work smoothing the overhead roof rack.
Some mention should be made of the interior design, which is endowed with no fewer than 10 tie-down hooks, 60/40 folding seats with removable cushions, and a Utili-Trak channel system similar to the Titan bed, with two channels on the luggage floor. The hard plastic rear storage bay is clearly easy to clean and flexible, but we found our stuff tended to slide around in the back. There is a cargo net available, which we think we would end up using regularly if we owned a new Xterra.
Overall, the interior is 2 inches wider, with 2 inches more rear legroom. The front passenger seat folds flat for long loads, meaning you could sleep inside, if you had a mind to. There are useful stash recesses everywhere, including in the door, a large center console, and double-deck glove compartment. Safety considerations have also been updated by the addition of front side-impact and side-curtain airbags.
Nissan uses words like "authentic," "aggressive," and "functional" to describe the Xterra's design philosophy. Another word Nissan uses is "affordable." As of press time, no pricing has been announced, but we know the Xterra will be available at dealers in February. We expect pricing will be settled by late January, and will probably be available on www.nissanusa.com by the time you read this.
Vehicle model: '05 Nissan Xterra
Base price: N/A
Type: VQ40 V-6, aluminum block
Displacement (liter/ci): 3.954/241
Bore x stroke (in.): 3.76x3.62
Valve actuation: DOHC 24-valve
Intake: Nissan variable induction
Mfg's power rating @ rpm (hp): 265 @ 5,600
Mfg's torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft): 284 @ 4,000
Mfg's suggested fuel type: Regular unleaded
Transmission: Five-speed automati Six-speed manual
First: 3.842 4.368
Second: 2.353 2.518
Third: 1.529 1.743
Fourth: 1.000 1.283
Fifth: 0.839 1.000
Sixth: N/A 0.769
Axle ratio, manual/auto: 3.583:1/3.13:1
Transfer case: Two-speed part-time
Low-range ratio: 2.596:1
Crawl ratio, manual/auto: 40.62:1/31.25
Frame: F-Alpha fully boxed steel
Body : Body-on-frame
Front: IFS, double wishbone with stabilizer bar
Rear: Live-axle, leaf-spring with stabilizer bar
Type: Power rack-and-pinion
Ratio: Engine speed-sensitive
Type: Four-wheel ABS with HDC, HSA, EBD,four-wheel LSB
Wheels: 17-inch; 16 with Offroad Package
Tires: P265/75R16 BFGoodrich
City/highway: 15/21 (estimated)
Wheelbase (in.): 106.3
Overall length (in.): 178.7
Overall width (in.): 72.8
Height (in.): 74.9 with roof rack
Head room, front/rear: 39.9/39.3
Leg room, front/rear: 42.4/34.4
Hip room, front/rear: 55.9/46.1
Shoulder room, front/rear: 58.3/58.3Minimum ground clearance (in.): 9.5
Approach/departure angles (deg.): 33.2/29.4