Best Nissan 4x4 SUV Models Ever
Top of the Off-Road Heap at Nissan
The name Nissan isn't always the first to pop to mind when it comes to capable off-road 4WD SUVs, but the truth of the matter is that Nissan has been a go to vehicle for off-road enthusiasts around the world for nearly 70 years. Around the world, there are several 4WD Nissan SUVs ranging from the early Nissan Patrols, which are fairly shameless and basic copies of the first civilian Jeeps, up to modern fully independently suspended and computerized luxury 4WD SUVs of the currently available Nissan Armada with everything in between. We give you our take on Nissan's SUVs, focusing on those that are or were available in the U.S., and we even name our first place North American Nissan 4x4 SUV choice, as well as second, and third placed North American Nissan 4x4 SUV competitors (and an honorable mention).
Nissan Patrol 4x4
Between 1962 and 1969 Datsun dealerships around the U.S. sold a few 60 Series Nissan Patrols. These midsized SUVs had ladder style frames, 3- and 4-speed transmissions, and a two-speed transfer case behind a 241-cubic-inch inline 6-cylinder gasoline powered engine. Front and rear solid axles make the 60 series the only Nissans available in the US that have solid axles all the way around. Patrols thrived and evolved outside of the U.S. and have quite a reputation for durability in Africa and Australia through six generations. Sadly, the few Patrol 60 Series that were sold stateside—or other Patrols that have been imported—will be hard to maintain as parts availability is dubious at best. Nissan Armadas sold since the 2017 model year share a chassis with the sixth generation of the Nissan Patrol. These large luxurious SUV's with fully independent suspension and a two-speed transfer case are surprisingly capable off-road. That's surely due to their inheritance from the off-road potent Nissan Patrol. Thus, the Patrol gets our honorable mention.
Nissan Pathfinder 4x4
First Gen Pathfinder 1986-1995 (WD21)
With its blocky and futuristic wheels, ladder frame, and bold body lines, the Nissan Pathfinder hit the burgeoning world of SUVs with an upper cut to the jaw. The Pathfinder won Petersen's 4x4 of the Year in 1987 and again in 1990 when the four-door model was introduced. The 3.0-liter engine, shared by the peppy Maxima and downright fast 300ZX of the same era, was backed by a four-speed auto or five-speed manual transmission and a two-speed transfer case. Several companies make suspension lift components for the 1987-1995 Pathfinders, including www.calmini.com, which sells suspension lifts, solid axle conversion kits, steering upgrades, and even lower than factory t-case gears. Because of its durability and iconic look, the first generation Nissan Pathfinder receives our third-place North American Nissan 4x4 SUV.
Second Gen Pathfinder 1996-2004 (R50)
The second generation of Nissan's Pathfinder carried on some of the earlier model's capabilities and even dabbled in uni-body construction. The venerable 3.0L was dropped in favor of the more potent 3.3L V-6 that also could be found in the Frontier and Xterra. With either four-speed auto or a five-speed manual, two-speed transfer cases, and just under 200lb-ft of torque, the second generation of Pathfinder carried the peppy edge of its predecessor. www.rocky-road.com/nissan-pathfinder-lift-kit.html has some suspension lift products for these 4x4s.
Third Gen Pathfinder 2005-2012 (R51)
The third-gen Nissan Pathfinder regained the body-on-frame construction but lost the solid rear axle for independent rear suspension. The 3.3L V-6 was dropped in favor of Nissan's potent 4.0-liter V-6 yielding 266 hp and 288 lb-ft. Later, a few Pathfinders got the 5.6L V-8 from the Titan boasting 310hp and 388 lb-ft. Calmini and Rocky Road both have suspension products for the third-gen Pathfinder.
Nissan X-terra 4x4
First Gen Xterra, 1999-2004 (WD22)
Nissan's Xterra jumped onto the scene as an SUV with everything you need and nothing you don't, including a first-aid kit aimed at the outdoor enthusiast. The off-road edge of this new SUV was palpable. The 3.3L V-6 engine with a two-speed transfer case—and either a four-speed auto or five-speed manual transmission—scooted along just fine. With the 2002 Xterra, the 3.3-liter V-6 was bumped up to 210 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque for the automatically shifted Xterras. With the edgy, off-road feel of the first-gen Xterra and an available supercharger, we name the WD22 our second-place North American Nissan 4x4 SUV.
Second Gen Xterra 2005-2013 (N50)
The second generation of Nissan's Xterra carried its edgy persona into the next century with more power, more off-road capability, and a larger size. The 3.3L V-6 was dropped in favor of a potent 4.0L V-6 making 260 hp. Add in a five-speed automatic, an available six-speed manual, ladder frame, and an optional Modified Dana 44 rear axle with an 8.5-inch ring gear and a selectable locking differential (with the Off-Road package), and it's easy to see why the 2006 Nissan Xterra won Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road 4x4 of the Year. The truth is, both generations of Xterra have support from several aftermarket suspension companies, including solid front axle swaps, and aftermarket support in drivetrain, body armor and more. These things are made to be modified and used by the end user. We now also name the second-generation Nissan Xterra—with the optional Off-Road Package—our champion of North American Nissan 4x4 SUVs. We think this thing has the chops to be modified and used off-road extensively for years to come. By leading the Nissan charge, it is leaving a mark on the U.S. 's off-road aftermarket.
Nissan Armada 4x4
First gen 2004-2016 (WA60) and second gen 2017-present (Y62)
Although not exactly ripe for modification with fully independent suspension all the way around, we were absolutely amazed at how capable the 2017 Nissan Armada was during that year's SUV Of the Year testing and have no reason to believe the earlier iteration of the Armada is any softer of an SUV. Granted, with its close relationship to the internationally available Nissan Patrol, the second-generation Armada has big off-road shoes to fill. With either generation of the Armada, we're going to guess that some major modification would be necessary to build them into a regularly used and abused off-road rig. Still, given their platform similarities to the Nissan Titan, Frontier, Patrol, Xterra, and so on, we're guessing solid axle conversions won't be completely impossible or unheard of as the world continues to turn. That 5.6L from Nissan is no slouch, and this platform has potential if the owner is willing to devote the time to the necessary conversions.