Test Drive: Nissan Xterra

With the SUV market transitioning to ?soft roaders? and away from the vehicles designed to climb over rocks and logs or wallow through the mud, the Nissan has remained true-to-course providing a vehicle that is truly designed to blaze its own trails.

The Nissan Xterra was originally designed for the active young people we see in the lifestyle commercials, climbing rocks, racing down dirt roads and fording streams and it still does all those things.

From the rugged, heavy-duty truck-based platform, it shares with the full-size Nissan Titan pickup and Armada SUV to the powerful standard 4.0-liter DOHC V-6 engine, the Xterra is designed for going into the woods or up the mountains.? The 261-horsepower engine is an enlarged displacement version of the same powerful VQ V-6 engine used in the Nissan 370Z, Maxima and Altima.

The EPA rates the Xterra at 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway.? We averaged 17.1 mpg during our week of driving.

Xterra is available in three 4×2 trim levels: X, S and SE with prices starting at $23,250 including the destination charge.? The four-wheel drive models are offered in the same trim levels, plus there is an Off-Road (OR) version that includes special features for serious off-road driving including Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist, Bilstein gas-filled shocks, skid plates and electronic locking rear differential.? The package even includes special off-road wheels, roof mounted off-road lights and a unique rugged cloth seat material. ?Four-wheel drive model prices range from $25,300 for the X with a six-speed manual transmission to $31,200 for the SE and OR.? Both the SE and OR models with the automatic transmission tops out at $33,000 with all the bells and whistles.

The OR and SE models even get a standard Garmin portable navigation system that slips into a special folding mount on the top of the dash. The system is normally a $590 option. ?There is an available dockable DVD entertainment system ($495) for the rear seat passengers.

The Xterra styling includes a higher stance with over 9.5-inches of ground clearance, deep flared fenders and a massive tubular roof rack.? The roof rack has a latchable storage area to carry dirty or wet equipment and clothing.? Access to the rear section of the roof rack is made easier by footsteps molded into the both sides of the rear bumper.

The interior seats four adults and gear comfortably.? ??The cargo area has an easy to clean surface and Utili-Track? Cargo Channel System, which makes it easy to tie down cargo and equipment to keep it from bouncing around when the going gets tough.? The front-passenger seat also folds flat to carry extra long items.

Our Off Road edition test vehicle had the five-speed automatic transmission.? We were impressed by the excellent acceleration, good ride quality and handling characteristics.? We are both ?shifters?, and use the transmission for engine braking, so were grateful for the manual shifting mode on the automatic transmission.

Driving over the Cascades near Mt. Hood, we expected be able to test out the four-wheel drive in the snow, but the roads were all dry.? Nevertheless, the Xterra is has excellent road manners with little body roll even on long sweeping corners, and the ride was much more comfortable than we would have expected for this type of vehicle.

Consumer Reports magazine rates the Nissan Xterra as a ?Recommended? vehicle and we couldn?t agree more.

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