Making a second appearance as our SUOTY award winner, the new-for-2006 Nissan Xterra returns to our test fleet. Astute readers will remember the Xterra last won Motor Trend's Sport/Utility of the Year award in 2000. That Nissan was a 4x4, which we'd had in our test fleet for 12 months. Although the 2006 Xterra looks similar to its predecessor, the new model is broader and taller (and, dare we say, stronger), giving drivers and passengers more leg-, shoulder-, and headroom.

Previous-generation Xterras offered a choice of two engines (including a supercharged version for two years), but now there's only one: the stout 4.0-liter, 60-degree V-6. This new engine puts out 55 more horsepower and 38 pound-feet more torque than the previous 3.3-liter supercharged V-6. Four-wheel-drive models get secondary engine mapping that helps throttle response when in 4-Lo. This means that, in low range, the throttle becomes less sensitive, keeping the vehicle from jerking and shuddering during slow going. A six-speed manual is standard, but we opted for the five-speed automatic for our long-termer.

Standard features on Off Road-package-equipped Xterras are plentiful: cruise and radio controls on the steering wheel, four 12-volt power outlets (two of which are always hot), power doors, windows, and seats, and more. One luxury item we selected was the 380-watt Rockford Fosgate AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, which is wired for satellite radio ($900). We also ordered the Protection Package: all-season floormats, emergency kit, and wheel locks ($160). The tester has carpeted floormats ($110), in-cabin microfilter ($60), splash guards, ($110), and an auto-dimming mirror with compass. Add in the $605 destination fee, and the test unit totaled out at $29,225.

For those buyers who are a little more price sensitive, the base 2WD Xterra starts just under $22,000. However, at that price, most of the features that are standard on the 4x4 become optional on the 2WD version.

We've put just over 6000 miles on our Xterra and have only one glitch to report. Our tire-pressure warning light came on and stayed on, even after all tire pressures were verified to be well within spec (and we checked them several times), without any detectable pressure loss. At press time, we were in the process of getting the Nissan to the dealer for a full breakdown of the system and diagnosis of the problem. We'll pass along that info in our next report.