Like any SUV, the Xterra works fine on the road, but it's in the dirt where it comes alive. The big BF Goodrich tires and Bilstein shocks eat up bumps, obstacles, and ruts in ways the mall-bound crossover set can only dream of tackling. You won't realize this immediately, though. If you weren't raised on Willys Jeeps, you'll likely do the prudent thing and start slow rather than learn an expensive lesson. The beauty of the Xterra Off Road is that you really don't have to. That dirt road you came in on? Xterra didn't notice. You hit triple-digit speeds on that cutting board-flat dry lake bed? Yawn.
How about a challenge? Turn onto that dune buggy trail and see where it takes you. So far, so good. Worst complaint? That damn scrub brush is scraping your shiny paint. The sand pits, ruts, rocks, and whoops? Yeah, they'll slow you down, but they ain't stopping you. The Xterra may not be as fast as an F-150 SVT Raptor off road, but we're betting it would still finish the race.
Those mountains over there -- those look like fun. They sure are steep, though. No problem; click it over to 4LO and start crawling. Before you do, take bets from the skeptical friends you brought along to spot for you. You'll win. Every trail they say the Xterra can't do, it will.
In fact, in three days of wheeling, we found precious few limitations to the Xterra's capability. While the suspension provides an impressive amount of travel, it isn't especially hard to bottom-out the rear end should you hit a large bump or rut fast enough, thanks in part to its compliant Bilstein shocks. Be sure to use that cargo net in the back to tie down your cooler, unless you want to see ice flying across your rearview mirror.