Heels on Wheels: 2012 Nissan Xterra Review

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2012 Nissan Xterra


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TWEET: 2012 Nissan Xterra is handsome and purposeful with no frills feel, best suited for the adventure-driven and their big dogs; not recommended for the weekend warrior with a yappy ankle-biter.

By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

The five-passenger Nissan Xterra is a mid-size “niche” SUV appealing to a particular market: One that actually faces a need for a vehicle to perform in snowy conditions and haul a couple of hounds in the process on a daily basis. Introduced in 2000, its roots are founded in ruggedness, as the vehicle adapted its moniker by being named after a series of off-road triathlon races.

I drove a 2012 Nissan Xterra equipped with its sole engine, 261-horsepower 4.0-liter Dual Overhead Cam V6 engine with 281 pound-feet of torque. There are three trim levels – the base X, S and my Pro-4X – with rear- or four-wheel drive available on either the X or S trim. My off-road oriented Pro-4X trim came with the following standard features: four-wheel drive; an electronic locking rear differential; hill-start assist; hill-descent control; skid plates; off-road tires; fog lights; roof-mounted off-road driving lights; and roof rack rails and crossbars. Interior standard features included: a unique Pro-4X cloth upholstery; steering-wheel mounted controls; and eight-speaker Rocksford Fosgate audio system with XM Radio and iPod playback; Bluetooth connectivity; and a hidden cargo storage compartment. Total price for my fully loaded Xterra Pro-4X came to $30,720.

The Xterra banks a lot on its iconic raised rear roofline and proven driveline. Translation: It doesn’t feel the need to change all that much, which is likely appreciated by the vehicle’s loyal following. I’ve been test-driving various models since 2007; and aside of some minor facelifts and trim shuffling, there has been no substantial tinkering to any part of it.


Stylish But Comfortable Results: Seats are elevated and secure, offering excellent visibility. With my Pro-4X trim, you can add leather upholstery (although quite impractical for typical Xterra owner). Stadium-style seating makes for great second-row visibility. Although my test drive had all the latest connectivity technology, the feel inside any Xterra is very basic. Changes over the years, or upgrades in trims, translate to really subtle, practically unnoticeable, minor facelifts and additions.

Reliability & Safety Factor: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Xterra the highest ratings of "Good" in the frontal-offset and side impact tests and a rating of "Acceptable" in roof strength tests. It is not yet rated by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Standard safety equipment includes Nissan’s advanced airbag system; anti-lock brakes; and vehicle stability control.

Cost Issues: I think touching $31k for a fully loaded Xterra Pro-4X is a figure potential buyers want to hear. A base X with four-wheel drive will run you $24,890.

Activity & Performance Ability: The Xterra’s off-road setup is fairly basic, with the system providing three positions: 2WD, 4H and 4LO with an electronically controlled transfer case. Whether on boulder-laden inclined hills, or slow-moving crawling conditions, the Xterra’s Pro-4X system is going to give you the ultimate grip, power and control you need. Yet what surprised me most about the Xterra wasn’t its off-road prowess, but that it was such a pleasant highway driver. I’ve sited the same characteristics in the three-row Honda Pilot before, where these fully boxed ladder frame SUVs turn out be high-speed hummers possessing a major calming effect during stressful stop-and-go or tricky single-lane traffic situations.

The Green Concern: Since the Xterra hasn’t budged on its drivetrain configuration is years, neither has the fuel economy of 15 miles-per-gallon city and 20 highway for a combined 17. I site the Toyota FJ Cruiser as the most suitable competitor, which nets 17-city/20-highway for a combined 19 miles-per-gallon; most FJ drivers I know report an average consumption of 17 miles-per-gallon.

Handsome and purposeful, you’ll love how the 2012 Nissan Xterra performs on the off-road and highway asphalt. Yet note that even with modern technology upgrades and other conveniences, this niche SUV has a no-frills feel and is best suited for the adventure-driven and their big dogs – not recommended for the weekend warrior with an ankle-biter.

2012 Katrina Ramser


Nissan Specs, Prices and Comparisons - Nissan Buyers Guide
Compare 2012 Nissan Xterra 4x4 Models Side by Side

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