2011 Nissan Xterra Pro-4XPosted on September 12th, 2011
Athlete-friendly sport-utility vehicle
By Nina Russin
It’s no surprise that the Nissan Xterra has dominated the Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year competition in the best value off-road category. The Xterra was designed specifically for endurance athletes, with roof rack rails and cross bars, a draining gear holder, washable cargo area and true off-road capability.
This year, Nissan simplifies the model line-up with three available grades: a base X and mid-grade S models come with either rear-wheel or part-time four-wheel drive. The upscale off-road model is now called the Pro-4X.
Power comes from a 261-horsepower V-6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission. In addition to its two-speed transfer case, the Pro 4X comes with an electronic locking rear differential to minimize wheel slippage, hill descent control and hill start assist.
Skid plates protect underbody components from damage on extreme off-road trails, while overhead off-road lights enhance visibility if the standard headlamps get dirty.
Base price is $30,100, not including the $800 delivery charge. There are four options on the test car: an iPod interface ($250), special floormats ($115), a tow hitch ($460), and leather trim ($1000), bringing the price as tested to $32,725.
Go-to truck for triathletes
Although Nissan has yet to update the Xterra’s powertrain, the truck continues to hold a lot of appeal for triathletes. The draining gear holder on top of the truck keeps wetsuits safe, without smelling up the inside cargo area. Steps on the rear bumper ease access to the overhead cargo rack for stashing bicycles. A full-sized spare tire adds some weight to the vehicle, but it’s an absolute necessity for travelling off-road.
Inside, the Xterra is thick with cup and bottle holders and lockable storage bins. A channel tie-down system in the cargo area makes it easier to secure large items, while a first aid kit in the rear door takes care of minor injuries along the trail.
A rotary dial on the instrument panel makes it easy to shift between rear and four-wheel drive, and engage the low range for extremely uneven terrain. A compass in the rearview mirror helps the driver to navigate through unfamiliar areas.
The system lacks the finesse which some recent terrain control systems offer. Driving over a sandy washboard dirt road, the wheels slipped more than competitive products which automatically adapt the throttle, brakes, steering and suspension for the driving surface.
The six-cylinder engine has ample power for driving on-road and off. Peak torque of 281 foot-pounds is available from 4000 rpm, giving the Xterra competent acceleration off the line and in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range driver use for merging onto the freeway. A timing chain in lieu of a belt is more durable, and eliminates an expensive maintenance procedure at about 60,000 miles.
The five-speed automatic transmission is well matched to the engine, although it can’t replicate the fuel economy of six and seven-speed gearboxes. Average fuel economy for the Xterra is 17 miles-per-gallon according to EPA estimates.
The Xterra has an independent front suspension and solid rear axle to enhance towing performance. Towing capacity is 5000 pounds: well in excess of our minimum ALV standard. The solid rear end, combined with the Xterra’s body-on-frame construction makes it feel more like a truck than a car to drive.
Then again, the Xterra isn’t designed to be a limousine: its purpose is to get dirty and haul stuff for people who spend a lot more time in cycling shorts than they do in tuxedos. Gas-filled Bilstein shocks, standard on the Pro 4X grade, have a quicker rebound for aggressive off-road driving.
A rack-and-pinion steering system provides plenty of assist for maneuvering in tight spaces, with decent on-center response on the highway. A 37 foot, three inch turning circle makes U-turns a possibility on wider roads.
Four-wheel vented disc brakes stop the truck in a firm, linear fashion.
Visibility is good around the exterior. I had no problems backing out of parking spots, or monitoring traffic in the adjacent lanes while driving on the highway. Engineers did a good job of minimizing noise intrusion to the interior, considering the truck’s high profile and overhead cargo racks.
Inside, the Xterra seats up to five adults. The floor is relatively flat behind the first row, offering the middle passenger enough legroom on trips around town.
Manual driver’s seat adjustments are easy to use, and include an adjustable lumbar support. Both the second-row seats and front passenger seat fold completely flat to extend the cargo floor.
Products planners wisely made leather trim optional, since it’s harder to clean than the stain-resistant fabric which comes standard. White faced gauges are easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions, as is the digital display in the center stack. Redundant audio, cruise control and Bluetooth interface on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction.
A locking glovebox provides secure storage in the passenger area. There are lots of large cup and bottle holders around both rows of passengers, as well as three 12-volt power points for recharging electronic devices.
The cargo floor is a hard plastic which is easy to hose out. Tie-down hooks help to secure large cargo. The first aid kit, located in the rear gate, is standard on the Pro-4X and optional on other models.
The Nissan Xterra comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, stability control, hill descent control and hill start assist. Nissan builds the Xterra at its Smyrna, Tennessee assembly plant.
Likes: A sport-utility vehicle that can meet all the needs of triathletes, mountain bikers, surfers, paddlers and other outdoor enthusiasts. The body-on-frame truck is designed to traverse extreme off-road terrain, and the interior is easy to hose out after a long day on the trails.
Dislike: Five-speed automatic transmission does not offer the fuel economy that a six or seven-speed unit would.
Model: Xterra Pro-4X
Base price: $30,100
As tested: $32,725
Horsepower: 261 Hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 281 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Antilock brakes: standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 15/20 mpg
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