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2009 Nissan Xterra SE-V6 4X4 Review

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Model: Nissan Xterra SE-V6 4X4
Engine: 4.0-liter DOHC V6
Horsepower/Torque: 261 hp @ 5600 rpm/ 281 lb.-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length/Width/Height: 178.7 x 72.8 x 74.9 in.
Tires: P265/70R16
Cargo volume 35.2/65.7 cu. ft. (rear seats up/down)
Fuel economy: 15 mpg city/20 mpg highway/13.3 mpg test
Fuel capacity: 21.1 gal.
Sticker: $28,220 (includes $745 destination charges and $615 in options)

The Bottom Line: If you're looking for a good, solid mid-size SUV, the Nissan Xterra might be the ticket. In ice and snow it's excellent. It's on-road manners, however, are suspect, with a bumpy ride and less-than-ideal handling.

The week we tested the Nissan Xterra we had two snow storms and one ice storm. I was grateful that all I had to do to gain confidence in the Xterra's traction was to reach down to the rotary switch on the dash and turn it from 2WD to 4WD HI. The Xterra handled all that Mother Nature threw at us that week and did it well.

This comfortable rough-road performance is somewhat mitigates by a rocky on-road performance. While the Xterra is designed primarily for off-roading, it's on-roading performance isn't anything to write home about.

For example, we found the ride to be rough on even the best roads. In addition , handling on our hillclimb test road indicated significant lean on the tighter corners. The transmission also downshifted a lot, even with the significant torque of the engine.

But, you must realize that the Xterra isn't necessarily meant to be a comfortable riding car. It's styling and amenities indicate that it is meant for more rugged roads or, if these aren't available, off-roads.

That taken in mind, the Xterra does its job well.

Several features of the Xterra that one normally doesn't find in an SUV of any size are the step that helps gain access to the solid roof rack. The roof rack itself has a wind deflector in the front that keeps objects up there from accidentally sliding forward. This proved to be a slight nuisance after the ice storm when a chunk of ice remained on the roof after the weather warmed slightly and slid all around inside the rails. It eventually broke up.

Under the hood of the Xterra is a 4.0-liter double overhead cam V6 that's rated at 261 horsepower and 281 lb.-ft. of torque. These are good numbers for the vehicle and we never felt a need for power. This isn't a vehicle you'd want to overspeed in anyway.

Economy wasn't that great at 13.3 mpg in our test. This number is lower than expected because we drove in 4WD HI most of the time to compensate for the snow- and ice-covered roads.

Cargo capacity is excellent for an SUV that's on the small end of the mid-size class. The rear cargo area holds 35.2 cubic feet of cargo with the rear seat backs up. With the seat backs folded to flat (you move the rear seat cushions forward), capacity increases to 65.7 cubic feet. There are cargo-netted small storage areas on each side of the cargo area and a hidden storage area under the cargo floor. In case of emergency, there's a first aid kit mounted in the hatch door.

The front seats are comfortable, with average side support. The rear seats offer tight knee room. To get to the rear seats you engage the Xterra's side-mounted door pull.

Comfort features include a good audio system that's easy to tune and program, a good HVAC system that kept us warm on some pretty cold days and cleared the windshield on the snowy days.

The instrument panel is fairly standard with four round instruments. There are two cupholders in the center console and water bottle holders in the doors. For incidental storage there's a small tray at the top of the dash, a deep cubby at the base of the center stack, a good-sized tray ahead of the shifter and a deep console/arm rest between the front seats. The glove box itself is minimal once you put all the literature in it.

If you want a sport utility that should do a good job off-road or on poor-quality roads, then the Xterra is one you should consider. However, if you're looking for the SUV image and want a car-like ride, then the Xterra shouldn't be on your wish list.