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2006 Nissan Xterra OR-V6 4X4 Review

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Nissan


MODEL: Nissan Xterra OR-V6 4X4
ENGINE: 4.0-liter DOHC V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 265 hp @ 5600 rpm/284 lb.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 106.3 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 178.7 x 72.8 x 74.9 in.
TIRES: P265/75R16
CARGO VOLUME: 65.7 cu. ft.
ECONOMY: 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway
PRICE: $29,380 (includes $580 destination charges)

If you look at the ads for the Nissan Xterra, you'd think it could go almost anywhere, carry almost anything, and enjoy the dirt and mud like a six-year-old in a rainstorm. Well, you're probably right, if this week's tester is any example.

The Xterra impressed me as the type of vehicle a sport utility is supposed to be; rugged, truck-like, off-road capable (and I mean really off-road), and with enough power to make its on-road travel less of a bother.

There's no question the Xterra has enough power. Where previous Xterras offered a small four and relatively underpowered V6, all that is offered now is a 4.0-liter V6 that delivers 265 hp. I know there are 3.5-liter V6 engines that can reach or exceed that number, but you don't want your SUV to be too powerful. Enough power is good; too much can be bad.

For example, if you're traversing a mud field you don't want the overpowered wheels to be spinning more than necessary. A gentle application of what power you have is all that is necessary.

The V6 is connected to a 5-speed automatic transmission. A 6-speed manual is offered, and if you're really serious about your off-roading you might want to consider it, although we found the 5-speed automatic to be perfectly adequate.

I should probably admit somewhere in her that we never took the Xterra seriously off-roading. We did use it in mud and on rutted dirt roads and were pleased with the way it acquitted itself. We also used it for some serious on-roading.

The problem we had with the Xterra was with the seats. Where the vehicle itself offered a rough ride that was not unbearable, the seats made it so. These were very uncomfortable seats, and any amount of adjustment didn't seem to be able to ease the discomfort. After my first long ride in the Xterra I ended up with a backache that lasted a week. My wife had the same problem. I'm not sure if it's the lack of a lumbar support or the overuse of same, whatever it was, it wasn't comfortable.

Now, if you're using the Xterra for off-roading, the seats don't really matter. All you want is something that will hold you in when the vehicle is hitting some serious angles, and the Xterra does this well. There are assist handles at all four doors that can be used to grab on when you're in the wild, or to help getting in. Yes, along with the hard seats, there's a pretty steep climb to get into the Xterra. Something resembling a running board might have helped. But again, the high vehicle height made the Xterra more capable as an off-road vehicle.

To make the off-road experience more enjoyable, the Xterra comes equipped with a 4WD system that includes an electronically controlled transfer case, vehicle dynamic control system, 4-wheel active brake limited slip, hill descent control and hill start assist (both are extremely handy), electronic locking rear differential, a double wishbone suspension and high performance Bilstein shocks. From the off-road experience I've had, all are important to doing a good job.

To further improve the Xterra's image as a utility vehicle, there is a tubular roof rack with cross bars, a covered gearbox, rear bumper steps, halogen headlights and fog lights, a front tow hook, and four skid plates. There's also a nice storage compartment under the cargo area that helps keep articles neater. There are four 12-volt power outlets and a standard first aid kit, in case your off-road adventure turns nasty.

The cargo area (65.7 cubic feet maximum) has six utility hooks and four adjustable cleats. Rear seats offer stadium seating, and fold flat when you want more cargo than people. It's easy to lower the seats - you pull a look to move the seat forward, then fold the back down. The rear cargo area is also "easy clean," meaning you can hose it out if you get too much mud and dirt back there.

I wish I had the opportunity to take the Xterra on a serious off-road adventure, like down a riverbed or up a mountain. I'm sure it would have tracked like a mountain goat, and I wouldn't have noticed the backaches.

As it was, my primary experience was on-road, and in that situation the Xterra was lacking in physical amenities.

2005 The Auto Page Syndicate