Flash Drive: 2009 Nissan Xterra Off-Road
This 2009 review is representative of model years 2005 to 2013.
By Staff of MSN Autos
While most midsize SUVs have been replaced by car-based crossovers, the Xterra is still a true truck-based sport utility. Our tester was equipped with the Off-Road package, which means it had Rugged Trail tires, off-road performance shocks and unique styling features like rack-mounted lights and black body side molding. Surprisingly, the Xterra turned out to be a great road car — I had the occasion to drive the big sport ute 200 miles in one sitting, and while I expected a rough ride, it was instead very comfortable. Handling was also impressive. The seats were a bit stiff but not unpleasant, and there was plenty of room both in the rear seat and the cargo area. Aside from the road noise from the off-road tires, the cabin was quiet. Fuel economy was not terribly impressive from the powerful V6 engine, but the Xterra makes a great choice for the buyer who needs off-road capability but still wants a comfortable ride on the road. –Perry Stern
The Xterra is a throwback to what all SUVs once were: off-road vehicles based on truck platforms. As a result, the Xterra has serious off-road capability but the trade-off is a more trucklike ride and driving dynamics for everyday use than what many drivers have come to expect from the car-based crossover. The Xterra Off-Road looks the part, with BF Goodrich Rugged Trail tires, roof rack with wind deflector, gear basket, roof-mounted off-road lights and skid plates. High-tech electronics aid in off-road treks with Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist and an electronic-locking rear differential. A good old-fashioned 2-speed transfer case provides a low range when the going really gets tough, and the 4.0-liter V6 delivers adequate power, but it feels a little agricultural and not as high-tech as some of the other engines offered in competitors or other Nissan products. That said, it's a workhorse and delivers good low-end torque. –Mike Meredith
When equipped with the Off-Road package, the Nissan Xterra really looks the part for serious off-road fun. The ride height is set high for a production vehicle, and the tires have a lot of sidewall to soak up bumps, rocks or whatever. The engine has plenty of torque, which makes for easy acceleration on-road and, I presume, for efficiently powering over small obstacles when you are away from the pavement. Naturally, an on-road compromise accompanies these rugged features. The compliant suspension and tall tires mean that the Xterra understeers at relatively low speeds and sometimes feels a little bouncy instead of smothering small road imperfections. Such a consistent and focused construction gives the Nissan Xterra Off-Road an authentic feel, making this a fun little off-roader even when out of its element on the road. –Paul Hagger