With new SUV buyers flooding into Nissan showrooms over the past six months, the new Xterra can only be described as a runaway success. Initially Nissan only planned to sell about 60,000 of the budget-priced Xterras this year.
However, after a few months on sale, it was obvious that demand would exceed supply. In fact, Nissan figures it will sell nearly 85,000 Xterras this year--the maximum it can produce at the Smyrna, Tennessee, plant that also manufactures the Frontier pickup. And the Xterra has garnered praise from the automotive media as well. Not only did it finish well in our Four Wheeler of the Year competition (Feb. 2000), but it was named SUV of the Year by our sister magazine Motor Trend and took the North American Truck of the Year award as well.
Regardless of these recent accolades, Four Wheeler recognized the Xterra as one of the best 4WD values on the market the moment we shifted the transfer case into 4-Lo. As such we decided the Xterra would be a great addition to our long-term test fleet.
Early on in its stay with us, our Xterra was subjected to some fairly high-stress mileage. In fact the 1,000-mile 2000 Four Wheeler of the Year competition served as the break-in period for the vehicle. But we didn't let up after that trip. Quite a few staffers were impressed with this vehicle, and it has become a favorite for commuting as well as for four-wheeling and camping adventures. Four Wheeler art director Greg Smith and his better half piled on more than 400 miles exploring some sites in the eastern Sierras and the White Mountains over a short two-day trip this past winter.
After a short visit at the Laws Railroad Museum in Bishop, our intrepid travelers drove our Xterra (terrestrial) to the Owens Valley Radio Observatory near Bishop to check out the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (S.E.T.I.) radio-telescopes. Some of these monstrous intergalactic ears are up to 130 feet in diameter and some day may pick up our first real contact with aliens. Until then, we'll just have to live with Four Wheeler's own resident alien, Jimmy Nylund.
On long trips, we find our logbooks scribbled with notes pertaining to nearly every aspect of a long-term vehicle's performance. On this trip, our travelers clearly appreciated Xterra's top-level CD sound system as well as the easy-to-read gauges and function of the switchgear. Minor squabbles centered around the front seats, which seemed a bit too soft and squishy for the longer trips as well as the 3.3L's torque delivery on the steeper hills, which required the transmission to downshift to Third to maintain 70 mph. Given the altitude climb, the downshifting didn't surprise us.
Underneath, the Nissan Xterra is built on the same chassis as the Frontier pickup. That means it has a real frame as well as a two-speed transfer case.
These are the distinguishing factors that we use to separate the true 4WD vehicles from the slew of unibody all-wheel-drive wagons that compete in the Xterra's price class. Like the Frontier, the Xterra has independent double-wishbone torsion-bar front suspension and leaf-sprung solid-axle rear suspension. Nissan has tuned this suspension to ride on the soft side, which we really appreciate for both slow-speed trail crawling as well as for our daily pothole-pounding commute. We also like the 15-inch wheels and 265/70R15 tires; we found the sidewalls do a better job of absorbing road irregularities than some SUVs wearing a taller wheel/shorter sidewall combination. A 2.02:1-geared, lever-operated transfer case and automatic hubs come standard on 4WD Xterras without an optional push-button system. That's fine with us, we prefer the simplicity of levers. Our only nit-pick here is that we'd like to see low-range gears in the 2.7-3.0:1 range for better crawl-ability. And coincidentally, we've heard rumors that Nissan is working on just that very issue.
Our Xterra is equipped with the company's 3.3L, 170hp V-6 coupled to the optional four-speed automatic. While that is certainly sufficient in the power department, we would like to see a more powerful optional engine become available. And that might happen for the 2002 model year, because Nissan already has a new 210hp supercharged V-6 slated for the 2001 Frontier pickup.
Over the past 8,200 miles, we averaged 16.52 miles per gallon combined over city streets, freeways, and four-wheel-drive adventures. Our best tankful was 17.4, the worst--15.9. Our best tankful gave us 285.2 miles before we obliged the fuel-low light and stopped for gas. We would expect a five-speed-equipped unit combined with more conservative gas pedal pressures would result in mileage closer to 18 or 19 average miles per gallon.
Despite a rather thorough thrashing during our Four Wheeler of the Year competition, our Xterra has encountered no mechanical problems. We had anticipated the need for a frontend alignment after the competition. However, 8,000 miles later our truck tracks straight and feels just as tight as the day we took delivery. We did perform the recommended service at 7,500 miles (actually it was closer to 8,000) and had the oil changed, the chassis lubed, and the tires rotated. Interestingly, during that rather long duration before the oil change our Xterra burned no extra oil. With (at least) another six months left in our test evaluation, the Xterra is sure to face many more rough miles. FW