Nissan Xterra(2000)

XTerraTake a Nissan Pickup, add a sport utility body to it, a few neat cargo compartments, a big roof rack and some cool pieces of plastic, then give it a weird name... and you've got yourself a Nissan Xterra. New for 2000, the Xterra is being marketed towards Gen X'ers who fancy themselves as rugged outdoorsmen, but don't have the dineros for a Land Rover.

The Xterra takes the sport utility vehicle back to its roots. When SUVs first came out, they were relatively cheap boxes, based on truck platforms, and sold at reasonable prices. Then, everyone started adding leather seats and power... well, power everything. As a consequence, prices went through the roof. We think Nissan's return to offering a basic SUV is a smart move, and we suspect they'll do well with it.

Styling

The Xterra is interestingly styled. Gen X'ers gawk at it. It has a very cool, slightly retro, squared-off, Landrover-like look to it. There's a nice little bump up, over the rear seats, which provides a little extra headroom. And, there's that big, cool aluminum roof rack. (Unfortunately, the most useful part of the roof rack, the basket, is poorly situated. It sits directly above the pop-up moonroof.)

Driving Experience

The Xterra uses a full frame, Frontier pickup truck chassis, which is quite rugged. As a consequence, however, the Xterra rides like a pic up. If you're expecting a Land Rover, or a Lexus RX300, then you'll be sorely disappointed. Realize that this is nothing more than a redesigned pickup truck and you won't be let down.

XTerraThe Xterra has the same 3.3-liter V6 engine that has been in the Pathfinder, which has proven to have enough power, and to be very reliable.

The engine is smooth, and the transmission and clutch performed flawlessly. The shifter, however, is about three feet long, and requires a fair amount of throw to get it into any gear-- not unlike an old VW Microbus.

Interior

The Xterra is good sized--bigger than the Honda CRV, and almost as big as the Nissan Pathfinder. It's got a convenient, small turning circle. The Xterra feels spacious inside, thanks to the increased height of the passenger compartment. We did notice that the bottoms of the seats are very close to the floor, resulting in a seating position that was low for our taste. So, even though you're relatively high off the ground compared to other vehicles, you feel low to the ground. And, unfortunately, there's no adjusting the seats.

Ergonomics

Ergonomics are good, with controls located where you might expect them. The cupholder is well designed, and can be removed for cleaning. The dashboard is uncluttered and simple, with speedometer, gas, tach and temperature gauge. (What else do you want, anyway?) The heat controls are good, with simple dials, but the positioning controls are a bit odd: want heat at your feet? Point the control up. And visa versa.

Unfortunately, like a lot of cars, you can't have access to both the time and the radio station. That's ridiculous, in our humble opinion. Shouldn't you be able to see both readings at the same time? What does a digital clock cost these days -- twelve cents? (Ford, by the way, has figured it out. Their engineers worked around the clock during the 80's and 90's... and have finally designed a display that indicates both time and station.)

XTerraStorage is very good, with standard bins up front, and an average sized glove compartment. There's a decently sized cargo area behind the rear seats -- plenty more than the RAV, and certainly enough to make the Xterra a true sport-ute.

Visibility is good in all directions. You're up high, with lots of glass. However, because the Xterra is basically a pickup truck, with all the handling characteristics and high center of gravity that one would expect in a pickup, you'll want to be careful in the rain and snow.

Overall comments

You can get an Xterra for as little as $17,600, but you won't find leather interior, power windows, power door locks or power mirrors at that price. Want to move the mirror? Fine. Get out and push it from the outside. We weren't bothered by the Spartan nature of this vehicle -- until, that is, we wanted to get something out of the back when it was locked, at which point Tommy had to reach in, and crane his arm around to open the rear door. (Just like the old days, come to think of it.)

The 3.3-liter, V6 engine in the Xterra is time tested, and very reliable. There's plenty of room under the hood, so service and maintenance shouldn't be too much of a hassle. We would expect the Xterra to be quite reliable, with a better than average service record.

The Xterra is not without its drawbacks. We wish that Nissan had included all-wheel drive instead of conventional four-wheel drive, but that's part of being able to keep the price low. Another annoyance: the horn blows when using the key fob to lock the doors -- a feature obviously intended for the parents of Gen-X'ers sneaking home late at night. Finally, the Xterra didn't seem as rugged as we would have liked. Some of the interior parts were a bit chintzy, and felt like cheap plastic. But, what do you want for $17,600?

The Xterra occupies an interesting niche in the market. There's nothing quite comparable. On first blush, one might compare the Xterra to the Toyota RAV4. The RAV, however, is quite a bit smaller than the Xterra. The Mitsubishi Montero Sport, Isuzu Amigo, Suzuki's Grand Vitara and the GMC Jimmy are as close as you're going to come. Nissan's Pathfinder, while being marketed as a luxury, upscale sport utility, is mechanically quite similar to the Xterra, but with leather seats and a nice Bose stereo.

We liked the way the Xterra drives, the way it looks, the size and the low price. With its unique, cool styling and affordability, we think the Xterra will be snapped up by lots of twenty- and thirty-year-olds. Nissan has a real winner on its hands.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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