First shown at the 1999 Detroit auto show and introduced for the 2000 model year, the original Xterra was an instant hit, attracting young, active buyers with an excellent blend of toughness, style, and on- and off-road performance. It won Motor Trend's 2000 Sport Utility of the Year award.
The Xterra, now in the sixth year of a second generation, employs a 261-horsepower V-6 engine, truck-like construction, and bold design highlighted by standard rear side steps and a roof rack with storage. Essentially the same vehicle that won a second Motor Trend Sport Utility title back in 2006, the 2012 Xterra continues to offer outdoorsy consumers an alternative to such rugged rivals as Jeep Wrangler and Toyota FJ Cruiser.
The Xterra shares platform pieces with the Titan pickup, plus the Armada and Pathfinder sport/utility vehicles, and boasts a short 106.3-inch wheelbase for superior off-road capability. The Xterra's second-row seats fold flat, pushing cargo capacity to a voluminous 65.7 cubic feet.
Engine: 4.0-liter V-6
Transmissions: six-speed manual, five-speed automatic
Models: X, S, PRO-4X
In 2011, Nissan simplified its model lineup for the Xterra, carrying the X over as its base model but dropping the uplevel SE and Off-Road models in favor of the PRO-4X. Base X models come standard with a five-speed automatic while X and PRO-4X models both come standard with a six-speed manual and a host of off-road upgrades. Additionally, Xterras with the manual transmission feature a Dana rear axle optimized for traversing rough terrain. PRO-4X models come loaded with most every feature in the Xterra's portfolio and are the only models available with leather seating surfaces. Two new colors are available for 2012: metallic blue and brilliant silver.
The Xterra's rugged styling cues include a built-in tubular roof rack with closable storage, rear side steps for roof access, and available roof-mounted fog lamps. Oversized fender flares and high-mounted rear door handles integrated into the C-pillars round out the stout look along with unpainted bumpers and door moldings that look robust enough to survive whatever the trails can throw at them.
With a built-in first-aid kit, tie-down channel system, and "easy clean" cargo area with ten cargo hooks, the Xterra treats further with keyless entry, tilt steering column, under-floor cargo storage, a 60/40-split rear seat, and available leather trim with the PRO-4X and available automatic transmission. Top-trim models also come standard with a 300-watt, eight-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system. Satellite radio and Bluetooth connectivity are also available.
Performance & Handling
Every Xterra utilizes a 4.0-liter V-6 that delivers 261 horsepower. A six-speed manual is standard on X and PRO-4X, with a five-speed automatic fitted to the S and optional on the X and PRO-4X. A front control-arm/rear live-axle suspension underpins Xterra, with towing capacity coming in at 6000 pounds. In addition to a skid plate for the radiator, the PRO-4X gets protection for the oil pan, fuel tank, and transfer case.
Nissan equips every Xterra with front, front-side, and side curtain airbags, the latter for outboard occupants in both rows. The Xterra also receives front-seat active head restraints, stability control, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
EPA Fuel Economy
Four-wheel drive (manual): 16 mpg city/20 mpg highway
Four-wheel drive (automatic): 15 mpg city/20 mpg highway
Rear-wheel drive (automatic): 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway
- Available four-wheel drive
- Low-range gearing for off-road traveling
- Available manual transmission
- Rugged looks
- Good power
You Won't Like
- Bouncy ride
- Gas mileage
- Heavy low-speed steering
- Cheapish (but durable) interior materials
Good all around, great off-road
If You Like This Vehicle
- Jeep Wrangler
- Land Rover LR2
- Toyota FJ Cruiser