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Original MSRP: $22,060 - $29,560
MPG: 16 City / 20 Hwy
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2008 Nissan Xterra Performance

This performance review was written when the 2008 Nissan Xterra was new.

The 2008 Nissan Xterra gets good reviews as a powerful, off-road SUV, but test drivers say it's not perfect. The Xterra takes some knocks over its fuel economy, road noise, soft brakes and trucky ride. Still, as Car and Driver says, "If you're looking for a wild child who loves to get dirty, the Xterra is an able adoptee."

The 2008 Nissan Xterra offers a good option for those who want utility and space. With a 4.0 litre, 24-valve V-6 engine, it's got plenty of power, which is why Edmunds calls it "one of the most functional and capable midsize SUVs around." It offers a somewhat more car-based feel than earlier models but it still has a truck-based frame and all of the bumps and thumps that go with it. MSN praises it for doing what it's meant to do: "Xterra makes no apologies for being a rugged, go-anywhere SUV truck."

Reviewers credit the 2008 Nissan Xterra with a more comfortable ride than its predecessors, thanks to its extended wheelbase, stiffer structure and communicative steering. "This second-generation Xterra feels less like a truck and more like a modern SUV," Edmunds reports. While its off-road prowess is universally praised, Kelley Blue Book says its "civilized ride makes it easy to live with in day-to-day driving."

Acceleration and Power

"The 4.0-liter is a gutsy motor with a growl for an engine note," says Car and Driver of Xterra's DOHC 24-valve V6 engine with aluminum block and heads and port fuel injection. However, USA Today complains, "It vibrated badly at idle, setting up a drone that increased in volume until it sounded as if you were in one of those Sharper Image vibrating chairs."

The 2008 Xterra is available in either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic (which comes standard on the SE model and is optional on others). Drivers can also choose between two-wheel drive (2WD) or part-time four-wheel drive (4WD) with electronically controlled transfer case. Curb weights range from the 4,152-pound rear-wheel-drive S with the manual transmission to the 4,402-pound four-wheel-drive Off-Road with the five-speed automatic, which Automobile Magazine claims is "well-suited to the engine." Motor Trend says "The smooth-shifting electronic 5-speed automatic also is impressive; although down on gearing, the computer does soften the shift points and throttle sensitivity in low range."

With 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm, Cars.com says Xterra offers "enough grind and grunt for a pig farm." Reviewers disagree on how quickly you'll feel that power, though. Edmunds says, "Nudge the gas and this Xterra jumps off the line." Contrast that with Car and Driver, who says "Mash the pedal, and it feels as if you're mashing potatoes." CNET reports, "When merging on the freeway, we had the initial sensation of not being able to accelerate fast enough, then discovered several seconds later that we had somehow reached 80mph with ease."

All Xterras have an impressive 5,000-pound towing capacity, but Kelley Blue Book warns "all that power comes at a price, and you'll pay it at the pump." The four-wheel-drive Xterra with the automatic transmission has an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated gas mileage of 14 miles per gallon in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. With the manual transmission, it gets 16/20 city/highway. The two-wheel-drive model with automatic transmission should net 15/20 city/highway, while the same model with the manual should net 16/20 city/highway.

Handling and Braking

The Xterra's frame was redesigned to be fully boxed, and the wheelbase was stretched two inches in a 2005 redesign. Cars.com says the change "flattens out the ride on a road, making the Xterra less jouncy and certainly more car-like." Edmunds concurs, saying that they were "expecting a stiff ride. It was certainly firm, but not uncomfortably so," and the Detroit Free Press calls it "more refined and comfortable than" earlier models.

Despite the refinement over older Xterra's, reviewers find that, when compared to others in its class, the on-road ride and handling of the Xterra falls short. The Detroit News says the Xterra is "a bit bouncy, especially on rough pavement, and a little bit more difficult to handle than some car-based competitors like the Ford Escape." USA Today also complains of a "choppy ride," but MSN simply says that the Xterra has "decent handling."

The 2008 Nissan Xterra's suspension is still an independent dual-wishbone design, utilizing coil springs up front and a solid axle/leaf spring combo in back. Automobile Magazine says, "Such a set-up is well-suited to the Xterra's mission in life, which is to say that its owner will happily trade off some on-road comfort for the durability of a solid axle."

Steering gets mixed reviews, with Cars.com reporting "light steering feel while navigating the corners" and MSN saying that "the quick steering is rather heavy." CNET weighs in with a caveat: "Steering is responsive, although it's not supertight. More input is required when the four-wheel drive is engaged." Motor Trend reports that "our only gripe popped up on a longer (higher-speed) section of highway, where the speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering goes numb on center, requiring ongoing fine adjustments to the wheel."

Many reviewers gripe about the Xterra's 37.6-foot turning radius. MSN says the 2008 Xterra's "wide turning circle doesn't help close-quarters maneuverability." The extra ground clearance that makes it a gem for rock crawling means that "turns feel rather precarious, and give the driver a sensation of instability, especially around tight corners," says CNET. Some reviewers totally disagreed, like the Chicago Tribune, which says, "Despite the high center of gravity, Xterra didn't feel wobbly," and Kelley Blue Book, who reports it handles "even high-speed sweeping turns as calmly and confidently as a solid sedan."

When it comes to brakes, reviewers couldn't find middle ground. Car and Driver complains that the "brake pedal feels like stepping on tofu," while Cars.com claims the Xterra's power-assisted front and rear vented disc brakes "performed well, with a progressive pedal feel and no noticeable fade." CNET says they "allowed us to stop quickly in traffic without throwing us against the dashboard." Newsday disagrees, saying that the brakes were "sufficient rather than impressive."

Off-Roading

The Xterra really shines off-road. "The highway ride is acceptable, and off-roading is grin-inducing," reports Cars.com. Kelley Blue Book says, "Off-road devotees and weekend warriors love the Nissan Xterra" for its ruggedness and power. "It's in its element when used as a truck, a dirt-road prowler, or an adventure vehicle," says New Car Test Drive.

Review Last Updated: 2/17/09

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