The Nissan Xterra is one of the most popular SUVs on the market. With aggressive styling, a low price, and a real 4WD chassis with low range, the Xterra has the potential to be a fairly competent rig in the dirt. And that potential was explored when HKS, a leading Japanese engine performance tuner, teamed up with Rancho.
HKS performed some mild tweaks to the stock 3.0L V-6 to deliver a bit more power in addition to a nice throaty exhaust note. The HKS Super Mega Flow intake replaces the stock airbox with a free-flowing air filter element, while the HKSuv after-cat exhaust system replaces the stock muffler with a less restrictive unit. These parts combine with the HKS Super Fire Racing Iridium spark plugs and Vitek wires to produce an honest 10 rear-wheel horsepower bump over stock. While not earth-shattering, these mods were noticeable during our seat-of-the-pants testing and helped compensate for the larger 285/75R16 tires.
One of the biggest complaints we hear from Nissan owners is the relative lack of aftermarket support when compared with the domestics or Toyota, especially in the suspension category. As if anticipating the Xterra's popularity, Rancho had a prototype 2.50-inch lift available before the vehicle went on sale. This system consists of longer upper control arms to lift the front along with Rancho RS 5000 shocks; the rear uses a replacement add-a-leaf for the spring pack along with matching RS 5000s. This setup is fairly close to the production version that Rancho should have on the market by late fall. Additionally, it should fit 4WD Frontier pickups as well as 2WD Xterras and Frontiers. With a bit of fender trimming up front, HKS was able to fit 285/75R16 Yokohama Geolander M/Ts (33-inch) on 16x8-inch American Racing Python wheels into the fenders. We found, during full steering lock and suspension compression, that these tires rub. Once Rancho comes out with a production version of the system, we surmise 31x10.50R15 or 265/75R16s would be a better choice for maximum tire clearance; however, a 2-inch body lift along with the fender trimming may just be enough for 33s on a 15-inch wheel or the 285s on a 16-inch wheel.
While the axle gear ratio remains stock (lower gears are not yet available), the five-speed combined with the motor mods made gearing issues on the street a relative nonissue. The truck seemed to have enough power under most circumstances, with the exception being the longer freeway grades, which required a downshift to Fourth. And though we expected mileage to suffer due to the larger tires, we were rewarded with an average mpg for our 700-mile test of 16.1, nearly identical to a stock Xterra's. When it came time to address the brakes, HKS decided to upgrade the stopping power to match the larger tire size. The combination of the cross-drilled front rotors and high-performance brake pads really made the already sufficient Xterra brakes noticeably more responsive and less prone to fade. External modifications were kept on the mild side with a Smittybilt Outland Sport bumper guard, Smittybilt taillight bars, and a set of PIAA off-road lights.
Overall, we are pleased with the modifications to this new Xterra, and, possibly more important, we applaud the aftermarket manufacturers involved with this project for responding so quickly to a vehicle line we think deserves the attention. For any questions regarding the suspension on this vehicle contact Rancho. For any other questions about the HKS engine performance or the HKS Xterra, contact HKS directly. FW