The second generation of Nissan’s tough-as-nails 4x4 that focused on adventure, power and ruggedness for shoppers who frequent the road less travelled. Competing with off-road capable models like the Jeep Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner and last-generation Ford Explorer, Xterra amounted to an American-built Japanese 4x4 with an abundant selection of equipment for confidence and peace of mind over any terrain.
Xterra rides Nissan’s F-Alpha truck platform and features shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case. Feature content included Bluetooth, Rockford Fosgate audio, satellite radio and more.
Owners say they love their Xterra’s commanding forward view of the road, as well as its stable and planted driving feel, all-weather confidence and safe, sturdy demeanor.
Used models will have remote access, cruise control, and plenty of interior storage and flexibility. Folding seats and numerous storage bins make room for nearly any combination of passengers and cargo. Shoppers can add a trip computer, satellite radio, auto-dimming mirror and a leather-wrapped steering wheel by opting for one of Xterra’s higher-end trim levels.
Off-road safety is enhanced by Nissan’s Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist functions available in certain years, while antilock brakes, stability control and an advanced airbag system were standard. Additionally, tow-hooks were fitted for owners who somehow manage to get stuck.
Look for a 4.0L, 261 hp V6 engine, available six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmissions, and several model grades to fine-tune the Xterra to a variety of needs and tastes. Go for the Off-Road or PRO-4X package, for instance, for Bilstein high-performance gas shocks and skid plates, as well as other add-ons. These off-road ready packages also included a locking rear differential, which is strongly advised if you’re planning to use your Xterra in winter.
What Owners Like
Current owners say they love their Xterra’s commanding forward view of the road, as well as its stable and planted driving feel, all-weather confidence and safe, sturdy demeanor. It’s become popular with retirees, pet owners and even young professionals who enjoy the outdoors on weekends.
What Owners Dislike
As it tends to go with this type of vehicle, most complaints centre around heavy fuel consumption, and others include poor rearward visibility, blind-spots, a rough and jiggly ride on some models and potentially-uncomfortable headrests. Some drivers also wish for easy entry and exit, on account of Xterra’s relatively small door openings and tall step-in height.
Here are some owner reviews.
The Test Drive
Start your test-drive by examining the used Xterra candidate’s paint job, as some owners have reported disappointing durability from the paint and finish. Rust, if present, will likely appear on the lower inner and outer edges of the tailgate and doors, or at the edge of the hood. Be on the lookout for low-quality paint touchups and body work.
Key issues in owner forums revolve around a leak from the radiator and automatic transmission cooler, which allows coolant and transmission fluid to mix within both systems. This can cause a world of issues, including cooling system and transmission failure in extreme cases. Best defense? Drive the automatic-equipped Xterra with an eye for transmission trouble signs, including hard shifting, slamming into gear, slippage and the like.
Inspect the coolant for signs of transmission fluid contamination, too. If you’re unclear how, be absolutely sure to ask a mechanic for help. This issue was serious enough to prompt a class action lawsuit, though thankfully, it’s easy to detect and only seemed to affect the first year or two of machines from this generation.
Driving down the highway at varying speeds, note that a roaring noise, groaning nose or constant high-speed metal-on-metal grinding or whining sound could be caused by a bad wheel bearing, which some owners say fail earlier than expected on this generation Xterra. Note that running larger-than-stock tire and wheel sizes, or a suspension lift, can cause accelerated wheel bearing wear.
Note, further, that unwelcome vibrations from beneath the vehicle, at varying speeds, could be the result of an issue with the driveshaft, or driveshaft carrier bearing. In any case, have a mechanic get under the Xterra in question for an assessment.
Budget for a computer scan, looking inside the ECU for signs of trouble, including a misfire code that could evidence a bad ignition coil pack or mass air-flow sensor, which could need some attention. Watch the fuel gauge too, ensuring it works and stays steady at a constant level as you drive. Any funny-business from the needle likely means a new fuel sending unit is in your future.
Test-drivers should also confirm that the engine idles smoothly and quietly, without any grinding, clicking or whining sounds which could indicate a potential issue with worn-out timing chain guides inside of the engine.
In most online owner forums, discussions around the second-generation Xterra seem to suggest that the more common issues were addressed in a mid-cycle refresh, and that a used Xterra from 2009 or later may prove the most reliable and trouble-free. If you’re planning on newer model that’s been modified, be sure to check with a dealer to confirm the modifications in question don’t void the warranty, or stick with a factory-original model where possible. While you’re visiting your dealer for a pre-purchase inspection, have them run the VIN number on the Xterra you’re considering, to see if any recall-related work is outstanding.
As it tends to go with vehicles like the Xterra, be aware that modifications to the chassis, suspension and even wheels and tire sizes can negatively affect all engaged components, with lift kits and over-size wheels and tires possibly causing issues with vibrations, axle seal leakage, and premature wear of suspension components and wheel-bearings. When your Xterra rides along at a non-factory height, numerous components can be stressed by extra load, so stick to as stock a model as you can find where possible.
A stock 2009 or later Xterra with a thumbs-up from a Nissan mechanic is likely your safest best in a tough, capable and adventure-ready SUV with real off-road capability.
A list of recalls.