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#9

in 2012 Affordable Compact SUVs

Avg. Price Paid: $17,295 - $21,580
Original MSRP: $25,480 - $31,690
MPG: 16 City / 22 Hwy
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2012 Nissan Xterra Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

The 2012 Nissan Xterra is a good option for those who want a rugged off-roader with plenty of utility and space. Its 4.0-liter V6 has lots of power, but its on-road ride simply can't compete with crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Then again, they can’t compete with the Xterra when the pavement ends.

  • "It's worth noting that compared to newer crossover SUVs, all of these vehicles come with the inherent downsides of thirsty fuel consumption, a truck-like ride and cabins that aren't exactly cosseting. If this is too much for you, consider the Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-7 and Subaru Forester. All you'll really lose is the off-road ability. Well, that and the easy ability to transport that elk." -- Edmunds
  • "Unlike some SUVs, it's a truly capable off-roader, with an available new PRO-4X off-road edition." -- Cars.com

Acceleration and Power

With a 4.0-liter, 261-horsepower V6 engine, the 2012 Xterra has plenty of power for any situation. All that power impacts fuel economy, which is a major drawback. The EPA rates two-wheel drive models at 16/22 mpg city/highway with the standard five-speed automatic transmission. The four-wheel drive model nets 16/20 mpg and 15/20 mpg with the six-speed manual and automatic transmissions, respectively. If you can handle its subpar fuel economy, reviewers say the Xterra’s powertrain delivers the acceleration you need on the highway and the torque you need on the trail.

The automatic transmission is standard, and the six-speed manual is standard on four-wheel drive S and PRO-4X models.

  • "They (PRO-4X) are strong from a stop and around town. The automatic transmission reacts quickly enough to throttle inputs, but passing at highway speeds can be a bit labored with either transmission. The manual transmission feels as truck-like as the rest of the vehicle, with balky shifter and clutch action." -- Consumer Guide 
  • "On the freeway the Xterra tracks straight and true, delivers a ride on par with most mid-size pickup trucks and generally feels stable at high speeds." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "Thanks to the … Nissan Xterra's powerful V6, performance is sure to satisfy." -- Edmunds
  • "The 4.0-liter is a gutsy motor with a growl for an engine note." -- Car and Driver

Handling and Braking

Reviewers are divided over the Xterra's on-road ride, handling and braking. Some are impressed that body roll is minimal and steering is precise, given its off-road intentions. They even say it navigates paved roads well. Other test drivers say the opposite, calling the Xterra’s ride choppy and the brakes unexceptional.

  • "On the road, the Xterra maneuvers confidently with precise steering and relatively minimal body roll.” -- Edmunds
  • "Handling is good if the Xterra isn't driven too hard, and the brakes provide short stops. Although improved, the ride is predictably truck-like despite the longer wheelbase and gets choppy over some roads." -- MSN
  • "Xterra's off-road-ready suspension and short wheelbase make the ride choppy except on the smoothest roads. Some patches and sharp bumps register more as body shudder than thumpy harshness, and there's truck-like bounding over even moderate humps and ruts. … Fast cornering induces marked body lean, plus some tail hop over bumps; PRO-4X's stiff suspension bounces even more. The steering feels slow in parking and quick direction changes, but Xterra has a relatively tidy turning circle for easy close-quarters maneuvering. Stopping control is unexceptional." -- Consumer Guide
  • "Given the 2012 Nissan Xterra's generous ground clearance, tall ride height and oversized tires, one might think this off-road king would be a handful on paved roads. But, surprisingly, Nissan ... has created a vehicle that handles very well in the civilized world." -- Kelley Blue Book

Off-Roading

All Xterra models are available with four-wheel drive, but for true trail runners, the rugged PRO-4X model is by far the best choice. Among its many features are standard four-wheel drive, Bilstein off-road performance shocks, skid plates, an electronic locking rear differential, hill descent control and hill start assist. However, note that the PRO-4X model's stiff suspension takes quite a toll on ride comfort when you're driving on pavement. While reviewers agree that the Xterra is certainly capable, they concede that the Xterra can’t match the Jeep Wrangler’s capabilities.

  • “With its truck-derived underpinnings, the Xterra offers impressive off-road performance due to its long suspension travel and high ground clearance, though its ultimate in-the-dirt capabilities fall short of the Wrangler's.” -- Edmunds
  • "In our off-road test, we dragged our 2012 Nissan Xterra SUV through muddy ruts, over fallen logs and even through streams and creek beds. In all situations the Xterra performed as promised, never once leaving us feeling that we could get stuck or that we were in over our heads." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "It doesn't have the pure off-road prowess of a Jeep Wrangler, but it doesn't have the twitchy on-road behavior, and its 65.7 cubic foot cargo area kicks Wrangler's butt when it comes time to haul the gear." -- About.com

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