The world seems to be running out of no-nonsense SUVs that are capable of hauling a few people and some gear off-road. Perhaps that's a good thing for those of us who enjoy driving sports cars and can't see around these monstrous vehicles, but there will always be a place in my heart for off-road vehicles. Before I was ever interested in driving fast cars on a track, I was out crawling along muddy trails in my Wrangler and learning about how engines, transmissions, and differentials worked. Some of the most beautiful places I've ever seen have been along a trail that's inaccessible without four-wheel drive and a good pair of boots.
Nissan's Xterra is a very competent SUV for the sort of people who enjoy moderate off-road driving and want to bring along some friends, a cooler, and other niceties without moving up to a huge vehicle. The Xterra doesn't ride or handle like a crossover and it shouldn't be confused with one. The original Xterra wasn't as comfortable and didn't offer as many modern conveniences as this one does. Satellite radio is great when you're out on an open trail and also makes for a much more enjoyable ride to and from the trail. Leather seating may be a bit less interesting than the neoprene seat covers Nissan offered when the Xterra launched, but it was quite nice nonetheless.
- Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Nissan's been on a decade-long roll when it comes to building niche cars, from the 350Z and GT-R to the Cube and Juke, and it can all be traced back directly to the Xterra. It's easy to forget that at the beginning of the millenium, Nissan was a rather bloated and boring company with a lineup of anonymous looking cars. Along came the Xterra, with its high-volume styling and real off-road capability. Cue videos of young hip people fording streams and climbing rocks to Lenny Kravitz music. It even came with a first aid kit. It definitely was an image changer for Nissan at the time, at least to this impressionable young person.
Ten years later, the evolved Xterra naturally has lost some its visual shock value, but still looks good in the parking lot. Its steering and handling, as others note, are good for an SUV but will never be confused with that of a car or crossover. For that reason, there are better vehicle choices if you're merely interested in posing as an active lifestyle person - in fact Nissan sells several of them. The Xterra, though, is the real deal, along the lines of a Jeep Wrangler.
- David Zenlea, Assistant Editor