The original Xterra, introduced five years ago, was the first sport-utility vehicle designed specifically for athletes that was truly off-road capable. While the new model doesn?t look that different than the original, improvements in both on- and off-road performance, ergonomics and cargo features make it the go-to truck for people with active lifestyles.
The 2005 Xterra is based on the same F Alpha platform as Nissan?s new Pathfinder, Frontier, and Titan trucks: all share a new 4-liter V6 engine rated at 265 horsepower, with 284 lbs-ft of torque. The new model comes in 2 x 4 or 4 x 4 configurations with three trim levels: S, SE, and Off-Road. The off-road package features skid plates to protect sensitive chassis components, Bilstein shocks and springs, larger wheels and trail tires, special body trim and upholstery, an electronic locking rear differential, hill-start assist and hill descent control. Buyers can choose from a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission.
A longer wheelbase gives the new model a larger interior, which translates to more head, leg and shoulder room for passengers, and a larger rear cargo space. An easy-clean material makes it a snap to wipe out the cargo floor. Washable seat covers (a carry-over feature from the original model) mean that athletes don?t have to sweat the sweat rings, as they might with traditional upholstery.
Nissan used the same 2-channel luggage system as the Titan to make securing large cargo easy. There are ten tie-down hooks in the rear cargo area, including four in the floor channels and four in the ceiling. Cargo nets on both sides secure smaller items. The rear seats fold flat (and a fold-flat passenger seat is an option), to make the load floor even larger. It?s a snap to toss a couple of bikes in the back, a surfboard, a snowboard, coolers, camping gear, or all of the above. An internal bike rack will be available as a dealer-installed option. Smaller items fit in a stowage space under the cargo floor, away from prying eyes. All but the base model come with a standard first-aid kit that?s mounted in the tailgate.
The cargo that doesn?t fit in the back can easily go up top. Bumper side steps improve rear access to the roof. Side step rails are standard on the SE model and optional on other grades. A revised roof rack design incorporates a gear basket with a latching or removable lid, that?s perfect for stowing wetsuits.
The front passenger area abounds in cubbies, including a large center console and double-deck glove box. Two cupholders in front and two in the rear are large enough to hold 20-ounce water bottles. The seats are well-designed from an ergonomic stance, with active headrests to protect against whiplash, and standard lumbar and height adjustment for the driver. Stadium-style second-row seating improves forward visibility for the rear passengers. Visibility around the vehicle is excellent: a must for those who regularly weave through urban traffic.
The new engine features a variable valve timing system that improves power throughout the torque band as well as fuel economy. Despite its relatively large size and high profile, the Xterra has the same ?let?s go play? feel as the Nissan Z sports cars.
The test car, equipped with the five-speed automatic transmission, accelerated to speed on highway ramps with ease, hunkered through clover leafs at speed, and felt nimble on winding two-lane roads. Speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering made it easy to maneuver the Xterra in and out of parking spaces. Those who favor a compliant, car-like ride might find the suspension a bit harsh, but it seems in character with the vehicle?s go-anywhere mission.
Like the Pathfinder, the Xterra was designed with a clean underside to prevent chassis components from catching roots or rocks while off-roading. The 4 x 4 truck with the off-road package has 9-1/2 inches of ground clearance (the 4 x 2 off-road version has 8.7-inches of ground clearance). Approach, departure and break-over angles are sufficient to allow the vehicle to ascend and descend steep hills. Hill descent control allows the driver to maintain a slow downhill speed without applying the brakes, while hill-start assist prevents the Xterra from rolling backwards when starting up on a steep incline. A two-speed transfer case gives drivers a low gear range for maneuvering over rugged trails in control. Antilock brakes and traction control improve directional control on wet, snow-covered or unimproved roads.
The Xterra comes standard with the latest generation front airbags and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Side and side curtain airbags are available as an option. The F-Alpha platform makes extensive use of high strength steel throughout the frame, to reduce vehicle weight and improve side impact protection.
Having lived with the Xterra for a week, it was obvious to me that Nissan?s San Diego-based design team did its homework. The 2005 model functions flawlessly as a base camp for endurance athletes, whether they?re Nordic skiing in Tahoe, mountain biking in Sedona, or running the trails in between. The second generation Xterra takes everything good in the original car, and makes it a whole lot better.