Ever since Nissan was unable to provide us with an Xterra in time for our Four Wheeler of the Year competition, we were anxious to get our hands on one for a couple of weeks and give you our take. After 1,200 miles on and off the pavement, we had a very good understanding of why the Xterra has proven to be a popular choice with the wheeling crowd.
We have always been fond of Nissan's Xterra (we even crowned it the Midsize SUV Best Buy in Four-Wheel Drive in our September 2005 issue), especially when the latest generation was introduced on Nissan's F-Alpha platform (shared with the Frontier and Titan) for 2005, and addressed the shortcomings of the original, including power, or lack thereof. With a new best-in-class 4.0L DOHC V-6 making 265 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque, the Xterra's V-6 puts out numbers more akin to a V-8. While we prefer the six-speed manual to wring out the most from the 4.0L V-6, our tester came equipped with the five-speed automatic, which fired off smooth and quick shifts.
The stiff foundation of the Xterra, which allowed no squeaks or rattles during our test, allowed Nissan engineers to dial in the suspension settings, which utilize coils up front and flexible leaf springs in the rear. The Off Road package includes excellent Bilstein monotube shocks. These shocks help to deliver a fine ride both on the asphalt and off, helping with the Xterra's tossable nature and entertaining experience. However, the brakes, while good, can be a bit touchy, and low-speed steering is about as slow as the contents pouring from a cold Aunt Jemima bottle.
For any sort of wheeling, we recommend the Off Road package, which helps the Xterra get through the dirty stuff with a full complement of skidplates, tow hooks, 32-inch BFGoodrich tires, and a driver-selectable rear locker, which we found useful to free the Xterra from some clingy rocks during our test. Of interest to wheelers, the Xterra's underbody is relatively smooth, as all the engine's vitals are tucked up above the bottom of the framerails.
Inside, the Xterra is a comfortable, quiet place to spend time and, typical of most Nissan trucks, has good ergonomics and legible gauges. However, the materials, such as the mouse-fur headliner and hard plastic dash, aren't as nice as some of the competition. We did appreciate the easily adjusted manual seats and the optional rockin' 380-watt, nine-speaker, Rockford Fosgate stereo with Sirius satellite radio. Also, Nissan provides plenty of nooks and crannies for storage, and the hard reconfigurable plastic load floor with adjustable tie-down cleats is uber-useful, as is the roof rack.
Bottom line, the Xterra is a great wheeler from the factory and is perfect for small families who want to explore the backcountry or an enthusiast searching for a weekend adventure in the same vehicle they drive to work every day.
What's Hot: Good overall size and package, locker and skidplates, strong engine, fun to drive, great cargo and storage options.
What's Not: Slow steering, low-rent interior, a bit pricey.
Our Take: One of the best out-of-the-box wheelers for the money.
Vehicle model: 2006 Nissan Xterra Off Road 4x4
Base price: $27,050
Price as tested: $29,015
Engine type:VQ40 V-6
Bore x stroke (in.): 95.5 x 92
Valvetrain: DOHC, silent chain, two-stage, four valves per cylinder
Mfg.'s hp @ rpm: 265 @ 5,600
Mfg.'s torque (lb-ft) @ rpm: 284 @ 4,000
Transmission: Five-speed Automatic
Transfer case: TX-10 part-time two-speed
Crawl ratio: 32:1
Low-range ratio: 2.625:1
Axle ratio: 3.133:1
Suspension (f/r): Independent, coilover shock/solid axle, leaf sprung
Steering: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Brakes (f/r): Vented disc/solid disc
Wheels/Tires: 16x7 Aluminum/P265/75R16 BFG Rugged Trail T/A
Wheelbase (in): 106.7
Length (in): 178.7
Width (in): 72.8
Height (in): 74.9
Curb weight (lb): 4,402
Ground clearance (in): 9.5
Approach (deg): 33.2
Departure (deg): 29.4
Max towing capacity (lb): 5,000
Interior cargo capacity (seats up/down cu. ft.): 35.2/65.7
Fuel capacity: 21.1
EPA mileage estimates (city/hwy mpg): 16/21
Observed fuel economy (mpg): 16.2
Seating capacity: 5