It’s this genuine SUV character that differentiates the high-riding, boxy Xterra from today’s slew of softer-riding, pavement-loving SUVs that have become popular with mainstream buyers.
To be sure, the five-seat Xterra, with its fully boxed ladder frame and rear suspension with solid axle and leaf springs, harkens back to the SUV basics – even if buyers can opt for leather-covered seats instead of cloth in the top model. Xterra offers iPod connectivity these days, too.
Still, to SUV purists, the five-door Xterra can be a refreshing vehicle that provides an old-school ride along with a new-car warranty.
Consumer Reports says Xterra reliability has been above average.
Just don’t expect to get great fuel economy. The best rating the Xterra receives from the federal government is 16 mpg in city driving and 22 mpg on the highway. The four-wheel-drive test model averaged 15.6 mpg in combined, city, highway and off-road travel.
The starting price, including destination charge, for a base Xterra X with two-wheel drive and automatic transmission is $26,035. The lowest price for a 2012 Xterra with four-wheel drive is $28,085 for a base X model that comes with automatic transmission.
The Xterra has one engine only – a 261-horsepower six-cylinder – and can be ordered with a manual transmission that some off-roaders prefer.
The tester was the top-of-the-line Pro-4X with fog lights at the bumper, a light bar on the roof and skid plates protecting the lower part of the engine in case it hits a rock or tree stump off-road.
Like all Xterras, the tester featured noticeable, large flared wheel wells, a hood that’s chest high and flat metal sides devoid of decoration. There’s a step built into the side of the Xterra, near the rear bumper, that helps driver and passengers access items stowed on the roof during those off-road excursions.
Nissan also offers a tent that connects the cargo area to a tented sleeping and living area once a day’s travels are over.
In contrast to softer SUVs, the Xterra carries around under the rear cargo floor a full-size spare tire. A small, temporary spare would never do in the wilderness.
Small people have to scramble to get up onto the front seats of the Xterra, which has a minimum ground clearance of 8.2 inches in the base model and up to 9.5 inches in the Pro-4X.
Nissan does, however, offer a mind-blowing Rockford Fosgate audio system with eight speakers and a subwoofer. Satellite radio is available, too.
The 4-liter, double overhead cam V-6 is a longtime, award-winning power plant at Nissan and moves the heavy vehicle along in sprightly fashion. The Nissan merged well into traffic. But wind noise became noticeable at just over 40 miles per hour, and even at stoplights, sounds from nearby cars entered the passenger compartment.
There’s no refined ride. On uneven pavement, passengers felt a bounciness, and a sensation of heaviness at the four wheels was evident. In turns and sweeping curves, passengers felt “head toss” in the tall 4,200-plus-pound vehicle as weight shifted from one side to the other.
Fit and finish on the Tennessee-built Xterra was excellent, with body gaps outside consistent and interior plastic materials lined up just so.
The Pro-4X came with an attractive cloth upholstery that looked to have a cloth netting, in contrasting color, over it.
The ceiling material looked cheap, and none of the windows came with a power-up function. The driver’s window had power-down only.
The 2012 Xterra has been the subject of one safety recall involving bolts holding the engine oil filter and engine cooler in place.