2009 Nissan Xterra SE 4X4Posted on August 5th, 2009
Mid-sized sport-utility vehicle gets a restyled front end and standard side curtain airbags
By Nina Russin
The Nissan Xterra is a multiple ALV winner, going back to the program’s beginning in 2004. Its off-road and cargo capability make the sport-utility vehicle a top pick among multi-sport athletes.
The Xterra shares its ladder frame chassis with the full-sized Titan pickup, with an independent front and leaf spring rear suspension.
The solid rear axle isn’t as compliant as an independent set-up, but it’s better suited for towing. The Xterra tows up to 5000 pounds, meeting our ALV standards.
The standard 4-liter V6 engine is an increased displacement version of the block in the Nissan Maxima and Altima, tuned for truck applications. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission (tested).
Nissan’s San Diego design team refreshed the truck’s exterior for 2009, with a new grille, and body-colored side molding on the SE. Inside, the new model has a redesigned center stack. The upscale SE comes standard with leather upholstery.
Test drive in Arizona
I spent the past week in the 2009 Xterra SE, driving in and around Phoenix, Arizona. The test car is the four-wheel drive version, with an optional technology package that includes an audio upgrade, Bluetooth interface, steering wheel controls and satellite radio.
Revisiting the Xterra, I was once again impressed with the truck’s versatility. While its on-road performance isn’t as refined as car-based crossovers, the Xterra is a viable city truck. It has enough power to weave through urban traffic, and a small enough footprint to fit in the average parking spot.
The steering is loose at higher speeds, despite a variable effort rack-and-pinion setup. Steering assist is more than adequate at low speeds. The Xterra’s turning radius of 37-1/2 feet is average for a vehicle of its size.
On-center response is not particularly good: noticeable when I made some quick lane changes. Standard electronic stability control with anti-roll technology keeps the wheels from coming unglued if the driver has to make an emergency maneuver. The driver can turn the stability control off to enhance traction in snow and on loose surfaces.
Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking stop the truck in a firm, linear fashion. Visibility is quite good all the way around the vehicle. The Xterra has thin D pillars, minimizing blind spots in the corners. A standard rear wiper keeps the back glass clear in rain and snow.
Inside, the truck is remarkably quiet. There is no noticeable wind noise around the front windshield and side mirrors: road noise is minimal.
A two-speed transfer case gives the four-wheel drive Xterra true off-road capability. The driver can switch between two-wheel and four-wheel drive modes using a rotary knob on the instrument panel.
All but the base model come with trail-rated tires. Ground clearance is just over 9-inches: plenty to clear the occasional boulder or tree root. All models come with a standard front tow hook.
One of the things I love about the Xterra is that it’s a five-passenger vehicle that will actually hold five adults. Due to its ground clearance, the transmission tunnel doesn’t intrude on the passenger cabin. Theater-style seating gives second-row passengers a clear forward view.
Rubber step pads to either side of the truck make it easier for passengers to enter the cabin, and helps smaller individuals reach the standard roof rack. There are additional step pads in the rear corners and on the rear bumper.
Manually-adjustable front seats have ample lower lumbar support. The 60/40 split rear seats fold flat with the seat cushions flipped forward. The SE features a fold-flat front passenger seat with a hard surface: it doubles as a work surface, or to extend the cargo floor for longer items.
A tilt steering wheel helps smaller drivers maintain a clear forward view. Standard audio and cruise controls on the SE minimize driver distraction.
Cupholders in the center console and behind the center console bin are big enough for 20-ounce water bottles. The front doors also have bottle holders and map pockets. An overhead console includes a sunglass holder and two reading lamps. Dome lamps over the second row and cargo area illuminate the interior at night.
The center armrest is positioned too far back to be comfortable. Under it, a deep bin includes a change holder, small shelves, and a 12-volt power point. There is a second power point and auxiliary port on the passenger side of the center stack.
Storage shelves around the floor-mounted shift lever have textured surfaces to hold items in place. A shelf at the top of the center stack is handy for paperwork. All models come with a two-part glovebox that separates car documents from maps and magazines.
The center stack includes temperature and audio controls. A standard compass on the rearview mirror is useful driving off-road. I was surprised that the Xterra doesn’t have an ambient temperature indicator in the same place.
The gauges are easy to read. A digital display shows whether the car is in two or four-wheel drive. An analog engine temperature gauge is more accurate than a trouble light.
The Xterra’s large rear wheel wells make it harder to enter the rear seats than the front. Perhaps in the next iteration, designers can add grab handles on the middle pillars. Second-row seats are quite comfortable, with ample head, leg and hip room.
Exceptional cargo capability
I applaud Xterra’s design team for making the cargo floor an easy-to-clean plastic. An under-floor storage area conceals smaller items. Buyers can opt to add a first aid kit that stows in the liftgate.
Tie-down loops in the floor, sides and ceiling make it easy to secure large items. The test car has a cargo track system in the floor as well.
The standard roof rack includes a cage with drain holes for storing wet suits. While the Xterra meets our bicycle friendly standards, it’s easy to stash bikes or other large cargo up top as well.
The Xterra SE comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, active front head restraints, stability control with anti-roll technology and antilock brakes.
Base price for the test car is $29,340, not including a $745 destination charge. The 2009 Xterra is on display at Nissan dealerships nationwide.
Likes: A mid-sized sport utility vehicle with off-road capability, a versatile, easy-to-clean interior and standard roof-mounted cargo rack. All models now come with side curtain airbags.
Dislikes: Large rear wheel arches make the second-row seats harder to enter. Poor steering response at highway speeds.
Model: Xterra SE 4X4
Base price: $29,310
As tested: $30,300
Horsepower: 261 Hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 281 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Optional
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 15/20 mpg city/highway
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