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#14

in Affordable Midsize SUVs

MSRP: $23,390 - $31,370
Invoice: $22,415 - $29,718
MPG: 16 City / 22 Hwy
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Nissan Xterra Performance

The 2014 Nissan Xterra is praised by reviewers for its great off-road capability, though most agree that it isn't as comfortable or refined on city streets as many of its crossover rivals. Still, they think that off-road SUV shoppers probably won't mind the Xterra's stiff ride too much, and they’ll appreciate the ample power from its standard V6 engine.

  • "As one of the last body-on-frame SUVs, the 2014 Nissan Xterra is both a rarity and a blessing. Unlike so many modern car-based crossover SUVs, the Xterra's truck-like design makes it tough as nails, allowing it to traverse all sorts of off-road obstacles without ripping its suspension or getting buried up to both axles." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "The Xterra is, however, much more powerful than most of the competition, offering a standard 4.0-liter V6 that produces 261 horsepower and 281 lb-ft of torque." -- Left Lane News
  • "Even though the 2013 Nissan Xterra doesn't have the funky styling or legendary brand name of its off-road-ready SUV competitors, it's still plenty capable in the dirt and a lot easier to live with in everyday driving." -- Edmunds (2013)

Acceleration and Power

The 2014 Nissan Xterra is powered by a 4.0-liter V6 engine that produces 261 horsepower. Power is routed through either a standard five-speed automatic or an optional six-speed manual transmission, depending on the trim level. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 16/22 mpg city/highway, which is a bit low for a midsize SUV, but on par with the fuel economy of off-road rivals like the Toyota FJ Cruiser.

Reviewers say that the Xterra has ample power and torque for most driving situations, though some note that passing on the highway can be labored. Test drivers say the manual transmission delivers good acceleration, though some think its shifter and clutch are somewhat imprecise and clunky. In contrast, they say the automatic responds quickly when the driver steps on the gas.

  • "The 4.0-liter V6 is a bit of a gas hog, but in return it delivers gobs of power so desirable when merging on freeways or powering up a dirt embankment." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "Enthusiasts will enjoy the six-speed manual transmission (available only with four-wheel-drive models), which improves fuel economy and acceleration." -- Left Lane News
  • "With 261 hp on tap, the 3.5-liter V6 under the hood of the 2013 Nissan Xterra gives it plenty of pick-up in everyday use. The engine also develops plenty of torque, which is an asset when tackling slow-speed off-road obstacles." -- Edmunds (2013)
  • "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 (2012)

Handling and Braking

Rear-wheel drive is standard on the Xterra and four-wheel drive is optional. Reviewers say the Nissan Xterra doesn’t ride as comfortably as car-based crossovers in the class. However, some say that while the ride is firm, it is livable, and those who choose the Xterra for its off-road capability likely won’t mind the rougher ride quality. Some test drivers say the Xterra's steering feels somewhat slow, though others say it provides good road feel. Additionally, reviewers appreciate that a small turning circle makes the Xterra fairly easy to maneuver in tight spaces.

  • "The trade-off for the rock-climbing prowess comes in the form of distinctly truck-like on-road handling that isn't as smooth or precise as that of similarly-sized crossovers." -- Left Lane News
  • "Thankfully Nissan engineers have worked some magic on the Xterra, giving it a firm but livable ride, good feedback from the steering wheel and moderate lean when taking sharp turns. In short, the Xterra rides and drives very much like the Frontier pickup truck." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "On the road, the ride and handling are rather trucklike, especially in Pro-4X models. But we suspect buyers looking for this level of off-road capability will find it more tolerable than the average SUV shopper." -- Edmunds (2013)
  • "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 (2012)

Off-Roading

The Xterra PRO-4X is set up for the most off-road capability of the Xterra lineup, with a standard electronic locking rear differential, hill start assist, hill descent control, Bilstein shock absorbers, skid plates and larger tires. Reviewers say the Xterra is a capable off-roader that easily handles deep streams and muddy ruts. Auto journalists report that the Jeep Wrangler is one of the few off-roaders more capable than the Xterra on rough terrain.

  • "Off-road, the Xterra proved its worth by easily tackling the wide variety of terrain we tossed its way including muddy ruts, a deep stream and a boulder-strewn wash. The Xterra always proved capable and, most important, never left us worrying about getting stuck." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "This sturdy, traditional foundation, along with a live rear axle and 8.2 inches of ground clearance, gives the SUV impressive capabilities when the pavement ends - especially in Pro-X form (detailed below). Only hard-core, purpose-built machines like the Jeep Wrangler are better in this regard." -- Left Lane News
  • "The combination of rugged body-on-frame design, generous ground clearance, a long-travel suspension and a low-range transfer case only add to the Xterra's sure-footedness when the pavement ends." -- Edmunds (2013)
Review Last Updated: 5/19/14

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