We've always been big on the Nissan Xterra, from the time it was introduced in 2000 to the present day. Based off the rugged F-Alpha chassis since 2005, Nissan's midsize has offered buyers a durable platform in a trail-friendly package for a reasonable price. And after 10,000 miles spent on and off the road in our 2009 Four Wheeler of the Year winner, we're still big believers in this function-oriented 4x4.
We recently loaded up our long-term Xterra with luggage, laptop, camera gear, and cooler for a 1,600-mile round trip to the annual Easter Jeep Safari in Moab. This act alone renewed our appreciation for the thought and care that Nissan designers devoted to this spacious interior, with its 10 rear tie-down points, twin side cubbies with removable netting, Utilitrack-style seatback rails with four adjustable cleats and full-width cargo net, dual 12-volt power points, first-aid kit, and additional storage beneath the fold-up rear deck. If you can't find room to stash and secure a week's worth of travel gear in an Xterra, you don't need a bigger vehicle, you need a copy of Oprah's Uncluttering Tips.
On Moab's trails, the Xterra's independent suspension inhibits its effectiveness over really rough and rocky trails (though full skidplating will help minimize the carnage), but its compact dimensions, BFG Rugged Trail radials, soft-valved Bilstein shocks and electronic rear locker all help to define a vehicle that can navigate the tight, narrow passages of Behind the Rocks and the loose-traction surfaces of Wipeout Hill more capably than just about any vehicle of its type that isn't a Hummer H3.
Before departing for Moab, our Nissan had delivered reliable performance throughout the test period, requiring only two scheduled dealer services, but since we've returned, we suspect it's time for a battery of diagnostics: After spending a week bouncing around in the dirt, our tester's "Door Open" indicator light now remains lit all the time. The rear hatch locked itself shut one chilly morning in St. George and has refused to budge ever since. And the rear overhead cab light now turns itself on and off at night while the vehicle is running unless we manually switch it off. Sounds like a simple ECU reset to us.
Mileage throughout the period has been consistently in the high teens. We still haven't managed to squeeze 20 mpg out of a tankful of 87-octane yet, but we've come close on a couple of occasions, and our tester's V-6 delivers fairly predictable mileage in 17- to 18 mpg range. Even our worst-a trail-mostly tank consumed during our time in Moab-was still a respectable 15.7 mpg.
Report: 2 Of 4
Previous reports: Jan. '10
Base price: $28,340
Price as tested: $30,575
Four-wheel-drive system: Two-speed, part-time, shift on the fly
Miles to date: 10,667
Miles since last report: 6,515
Average mpg (this report): 17.78
Test best tank (mpg): 19.24
Test worst tank (mpg): 15.71
This period: Scheduled 7,500-mile service: $41.34
Problem areas: Perma-locked rear hatch, minor electrical weirdness
What's Hot, What's Not
Hot: Lots of room to store stuff, great mid- to upper-range power, superior all-season tires
Not: Could use some closer gear spacing, interior getting stale, recent infestation of electrical moles
-"Great power, especially around 4,000 rpm"
-"This thing can haul a ton of stuff for a not-large 4x4"
-"Nice to able to shift and not be overridden by a computer"
-"Rockford-Fosgate stereo sounds really good, but only when playing a CD"
-"BFGs = impressive traction in snow and sludge"