When the Xterra was introduced in 1999, we described it as "built the old-fashioned way," that is, a truck- (not car-) based SUV. The all-new 2005 Xterra is still built that way but now uses Nissan's F-Alpha (Titan/Pathfinder/Frontier) truck architecture. On top of the new frame is a body that retains much of the trademark Xterra look, with a stepped roof, a bulge on the tailgate, and an assymetrical rear window.
A big upgrade is the Xterra's 4.0-liter V-6 engine, which produces 265 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque. It's mated to a five-speed automatic or, unusual for this segment, a six-speed manual transmission. The four-cylinder is history, but we don't mourn its passing.
Inside, we find an optional fold-down front passenger seat, the better to carry the skis, surfboards, and other "active lifestyle" gear of the Xterra's target buyers. The plastic-lined cargo area is touted as easy to clean, which sounds great, but our luggage went sliding every time we braked or turned a corner. There's a channel system to tie down large items, but a removable piece of carpet might be nice, too.
Upgraded steering (now with engine-speed-sensitive power assist) and brakes (four-wheel discs with ABS) contribute to an improved driving experience. On paved surfaces particularly, the new Xterra displays better manners than its predecessor, which would bob and weave when the road was less than smooth. The Xterra also willingly navigates craggy up-country trails, thanks to improved approach and departure angles, 9.5 inches of ground clearance, and an optional part-time four-wheel-drive system that includes low range. Further off-road enhancements such as hill-descent control and hill-start assist are optional.
The Nissan Xterra always has been distinctive, with unique styling and a range of old-fashioned attributes (off-road prowess, affordability, packaging versatility) that help it stand out. For 2005, Nissan retained the Xterra's original concept while refining, rather than reinventing, those positive features. Sometimes, being a little old-fashioned isn't a bad thing.