with nothing but a few tools and compressed air, we caught
up with a group of four-wheelers who were heading out to some
private land for a day in the woods. The gang was being led
by Keith Bailey, owner of Off Road Connection near Birmingham,
Alabama. Keith was kind enough to let us tag along with the
group, knowing that if we found the limits of our truck and
wanted to head back out, we were capable of doing so without
holding up his group of well-built Jeeps.
at the trail head, one of the drivers in the group asked who
we were going to ride with and where we were going to park
the Xterra. Laughing, we told him that we intended to take
it as far into the trail as possible and turn back when we
reached our limit. Surprised, he told us it wouldn't be very
long. Well, "we'd see," we told him.
the Xterra in 4 Lo for the first time using a genuine floor-mounted
shifter and began our descent into the wooded trail. By no
means would the Xterra win any slow-crawl competitions, but
it was certainly a noticeable low range and felt comparable
to the Liberty. So far, so good.
down the trail, we soon did our first hand stand. The double
wishbone IFS front axle's lack of flex as it fell into a V
in the trail had one of our rear wheels a couple feet in the
air. Slowly, I eased down into the V and continued moving
down the trail. As we hit more very off-camber situations
on the wet and muddy trail, I was continually amazed at the
handling of the Xterra, with its limited slip, solid axles
and aggressive tires. The limited slip is standard on the
SE S/C and some SE models, depending on the chosen trim package.
The limited slip does not always easily catch, and when we'd
hit slick spots, feathering of the brake pedal allowed it
to kick in and let the 4-speed automatic pull us forward and
out of trouble.
for close to an hour on the trail, encountering just about
every type of wooded terrain imaginable, until finally finding
our limit trying to get out of a fairly deep creek bed. Fighting
some hidden under-water rocks, the Xterra did quite well.
On occasion, we could feel the lower front suspension arms
hitting the rocks and hanging us up. Ah, the perils of IFS.
Getting past those rocks, we arrived at the other side. I'm
confident that we could have made it out of the bed, however,
the driver's side body panels were less than an inch from
the trail's walls on a large creek-exit obstacle. I decided
that we would rather not return the Xterra to Nissan with
a destroyed door panel, so we thanked Keith for all of his
help and backed out.
out of the trail, we decided to go to our usual testing grounds.
Taking test vehicles to the same spots each time allows us
to keep perspective when comparing them to each other. The
main spot is a rather steep climb up a fairly-long hill adjacent
to a power line. The ground is made up of very hard-packed
dirt and has several nice steps on which to test out a four
wheel drive vehicle.
that we were by ourselves and wanting to keep safe on the
trails, we carefully chose our lines up the hill and decided
not to go all the way to the very top, in case of trouble.
I set out toward the hill and the Xterra climbed. It climbed
quite well, in fact. I kept a slow approach speed and met
up with the steps. The Xterra's relatively long front end
would keep me from taking a straight-ahead approach, so with
this in mind, I hit the step at a slight angle. The rear wheels
spun in the loose dirt, due to the lack of a limited slip,
so I tried again with a bit of momentum and the Xterra walked
right up the step.
around on the hill some more and turned around to come down.
This is one instance where we did find the Jeep Liberty to
be superior. The Liberty had much better engine compression
braking in steep downhill situations such as this. This is
not to say that the Xterra wanted to run away on us, however,
it wasn't exactly trying to hold us back, either. We used
the brakes to descend the hill, which worked quite well and
never locked up on us. We would like to see better compression
braking, however, to eliminate brakes heating up over long
the bottom line on the Xterra as far as we're concerned, regarding
Remember that Bill Karrane said, the Xterra "provides
the perfect foundation for a hard core off-road enthusiast
to make the vehicle of their dreams." Is the Xterra
a hard core off-roader out of the box? No. Is it a capable
off-roader? Oh, heck yeah, it is! Could it be a hard core
off-roader? Well, that depends on your definition of hard
core. Will we be seeing Xterras in the extreme championships?
Probably not. But what if your definition is more along the
lines of hitting 4-rated trails? That's where the aftermarket
Package is a good start, for sure. Manual locking hubs and
a limited slip are a good foundation. The aftermarket has
already risen to the occasion and company's like Calmini already
have suspension lifts available and Eaton has an ELocker coming
very soon if you want a solid, switchable locker instead of
the limited slip. Other companies are making bumpers, skid
plates, and rocker bars, as well, so armor and winch-mounting
are made easier.
some of these goodies, you can now easily lift and lock your
Xterra and hit the tougher trails. At that point, your only
limiting factor will be the independent front suspension.
Certainly, beefed up axles will also be on the horizon as
more and more enthusiasts take their Xterras to the trails.
Xterra built to compete with the venerable Jeep Wrangler?
Absolutely not - at least from a trail standpoint. Not many
out-of-the-box production vehicles could even attempt to take
on the Wrangler, with its massive flex, awesome approach and
departure angles, and a myriad of accessories and upgrades
Nissan trying to take on the Wrangler? No they are not. The
Xterra is intended to live a multi-purpose life. It's rear
stadium seating will carry two or three rear passengers comfortably.
During the week, the Xterra will get you to school or work
in comfort and will pick up your groceries with plenty of
room to spare. On the weekends, it will hit the trails or
take you and your mountain bikes wherever you want to take
them. And by removing the rear seat bottoms and dropping the
seat backs, you'll have no problem fitting a dozen bags of
wood chips at your local home improvement center. Anyone who
owns a Wrangler will tell you that your options are bit more
limited when it comes to space and hauling compared to the
we had the Xterra for a full week, it didn't take but an hour
or so before we were fighting over who would get to drive
it. The Xterra is built for fun and delivers on that promise.
The on-road handling is excellent for a sport utility. And
though the Xterra looks to be top-heavy, it really didn't
feel like it - especially compared to the Jeep Liberty, which
actually sits 2.4 inches lower. The 178 inch length helped
keep the Xterra more stable, as well, compared to the Liberty's
174.4 inches (including rear-mounted spare).
has a real hit on their hands with the Xterra. Attractive
styling, comfortable ride, off-road capability and a reasonable
price make it a great vehicle for individuals or families.
With dual-stage front air bags and LATCH (Lower Anchors and
Tethers for Children), the Xterra will also help keep you
and your kids safe in the event of an accident. If you're
in the market for a vehicle within the wide price range of
$18,000 to $29,000, you owe it to yourself to consider the
Nissan Xterra. It's fun fun fun!
not a flex-monster, the Xterra went just about everywhere
we wanted to go.
wheel drive system works well.
of a limited slip rear end did not keep us from hitting
The Xterra climbed very well up steep hills.
stereo sounded great, despite one of the tweeters not working.
with the rear seat up, the rear of the Xterra has plenty
charcoal fabric adorned the seats and door panels.
A real transfer case!
the biggest thing standing between the Xterra and the big-dog
P265/65R17 tires came on our Xterra. (30.56" x 10.43"