‘Kickin’ it old school’ and ‘Keepin’ it real’ are two much abused phrases today, but in the case of the Nissan XTerra, these are absolute truths. The first XTerra saw the light of day as a 2000 model, followed by a second generation bowing in 2005, and that is essentially the same XTerra you will find at a Nissan dealer lot in 2014. So yes, change with the Xterra tends to move at a glacial pace, but you need to understand what the XTerra is about to understand why that is perfectly acceptable.
The XTerra is based off of the Nissan Frontier pick up truck, the way every car company did its SUV’s before the crossover existed. In appearance, the XTerra is upright, purposeful, and most of all, dead serious. With an imposing front fascia, knobby tires, over the top roof rack and sharply sculpted fender flares, the XTerra in stock form almost looks as if it do duty as a Dakar Rally support vehicle. Backing up that persona are roof mounted off-road lights, roof mounted air dam gear basket, rear side bumper steps and a front tow hook. From the outside, the XTerra puts the ‘U’ in Utility, and the overall look is classic SUV, looks terrific, and oozes character in a growing sea of wishy-washy crossovers. Put another way, this is not a vehicle you will spot your typical suburban housewife flitting between Starbuck’s and her mani/pedi appointment.
Climb inside, and the utility theme continues. There is nothing superfluous or fancy to be found here. No nod whatsoever to style. In fact, the XTerra’s dashboard and controls are so simple compared to its contemporaries it is almost shocking. To some, the minimalism shown here may be extreme, bordering on the austere, but pause here for a moment, and look again. Acres of unforgiving hard plastic and a lack of gimmicks all add up to an interior that is ready to be beaten up. The XTerra’s cabin was designed to be abused. Yet for as primitive the XTerra’s interior appears, all the tech features one would expect to find on a current SUV are accounted for.
All XTerra’s share the same engine, a 4.0L V-6, rated at 261hp. You can order your XTerra as a 4×2 or 4×4. Rear-wheel drive only XTerra’s are only available with a five-speed automatic. Go for the 4×4 (honestly, if you are committing to this car, why wouldn’t you?), and you have a choice of a six-speed manual or the automatic. Our 4×4 was fitted with the automatic. Acceleration was more than adequate, and no doubt offers enough grunt in difficult off-road situations. And the XTerra should shine off-road. I know, because I have driven both am XTerra and the Frontier on which it is based at IMPA’s Test Days off-road course, set up and designed by Land Rover, the benchmark of all off-roaders. Trust me, the XTerra has the chops it takes for some brutal off-roading. And it’s fun too.
That’s important to keep in mind, because around town, the XTerra, while fully capable, never lets you forget you are essentially driving a truck ready for severe off-roading. If you’re OK with that, no problem. But if you are contemplating an XTerra, knowing full well you will never subject it to anything harsher than a dirt road, you should really ask yourself if you are willing to live with the compromises an SUV with such impressive off-road capabilities comes with. And if your answer is yes, then my next question is who are you trying to impress? There are simply too many other alternatives offering the space and utility of an XTerra that are much easier to live with on a daily basis. Buying an XTerra with the intent of never taking it off-road makes as much sense as buying a Nissan GT-R and never intending to exceed the speed limit.
The XTerra is available in three trim levels: base X, S, and top-spec PRO-4X. Our test car was the PRO-4X. Standard equipment backs up the off-road ability with features such as Bilstein shocks, Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist and OWL rugged trail tires. Other standard features include navigation, Rockford Fosgate premium audio, SiriusXM satellite radio, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, RearView Monitor, First Aid Kit, and multiple 12V DC outlets. Fitted with only a couple accessories, our XTerra rings in at a respectable $31,925USD, including destination charges.
The XTerra is impressive in that it has remained true to its mission since day one as a no-frills, no-nonsense, go-anywhere SUV. That type of vehicle is quickly becoming extinct. Toyota announced that 2014 will be the FJ’s last year, and that pretty much leaves the XTerra and Jeep Wrangler, not to mention stripped versions of the Toyota 4Runner as the last of their kind. Is it the SUV for everyone? No, and it was never intended to be. And to those who own XTerra’s and never ventured further than a dirt path, you owe it to yourself to find a local off-road club and discover all the fun you’ve been missing. You’ll thank me later.