First Drive: 2005 Nissan Xterra

The newest F-Alpha could be the best yet

Mark Williams
Jun 20, 2005
Photographers: The Manufacturers
Ever date a cute girl with a lot of sisters? Naturally, one of them is too big, another is always overdressed, and the rest are just too loud. In Nissan's family of trucks and SUVs, the newly evolved Xterra, the smallest of six vehicles that share a version of the Titan's F-Alpha platform, could be the pick of the litter.
By now, Nissan's strategy is clear: Don't create any vehicle unless its foundation can be used in several different ways--in other words, efficiency (and profit) through large doses of platform sharing. Just about every manufacturer is trying it, but Nissan seems to be more successful at it than anyone else. The all-new Xterra is compelling proof.
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In keeping with Nissan's evolutionary approach to exterior styling, the 2005 Xterra stays true to the more industrial, squared-off lines of the previous generation; however, the new model has two more inches added to its width and wheelbase. The result is a sturdier vehicle with a more muscular appearance, helped in part by wider fender bulges. The wide-tube roof rack, an Xterra trademark, now includes a closable roof-mounted cargo basket--to our knowledge an SUV first.
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The rear storage area is immensely efficient. You can practically hose it out for cleaning while the channel system in the flooring allows for tiedowns, straps, or cargo netting. We should note, however, that while we like the idea of a wipe-out-clean interior, the slick surface requires a strap or lock-down device for cargo. Without it, your suitcase or grocery bags will bounce off the walls every time you make a turn. The new Xterra offers 10 separate strap holds, a fold-flat second row, and a flip-and-fold-flat front-passenger seat, specifically designed with longboard surfers in mind. Other interesting features include the C-pillar door handles, the continued use of the bubbled tailgate that houses a first-aid kit (now bigger), an integrated rear bumper cargo step, and big tires (265/65R17) that fill the fenderwells.
The only engine offered in the Xterra (the four-cylinder option was cancelled) will be the 4.0-liter V-6 from the Frontier and Pathfinder, which essentially amounts to a stroked 350Z V-6. Although the new Xterra has put on a few pounds, the revvy VQ40 sends 265 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque to a six-speed manual or sturdy five-speed automatic, the latter a version of the Titan/Armada transmission.
As one might expect, the stiffer, boxed frame allowed chassis engineers to create a more precise on-road feel (i.e., less shudder) with better springs and shock tuning, ensuring the Xterra can compete more effectively with car-based SUV platforms (RAV4, Santa Fe, CR-V, Escape). On a longer (higher-speed) section of highway, we found the speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering goes numb on center, requiring almost constant fine adjustments to the wheel, but we were told final calibrations hadn't been locked in.
In addition, Nissan's research convinced the manufacturer that authentic four-wheel-drive capability was part of the Xterra personality. So Nissan decided to inject the new vehicle with a considerable amount of 4x4 technology, giving the Xterra hugely improved off-road credentials. The Off-Road package offers an electronically selectable locking rear differential, Bilstein shocks, hill-descent control, hill-start assist, and a clutch interlock defeat switch that allows the vehicle to crawl out of harm's way, starting in first gear and low range (with the six-speed manual, without the clutch depressed). We found the suspension reasonably flexible during our rough-and-tumble trail ride, during which we tested both transmissions. Gearing in the manual is exceptional, and, when combined with the clutch defeat and locking differential, the combo is almost unstoppable--a top competitor in the trail-capable 4x4 segment (Liberty, Sorento, XL7). The smooth-shifting electronic five-speed auto also impressed us, although down on gearing, the computer softens the shift points and throttle sensitivity in low range. Certainly not necessary for the majority of SUV owners, but Nissan incorporated these features for those discriminating buyers who might want to push their Xterra beyond the normal SUV boundaries.
This evolutionary advance of the youngest and smallest of the F-Alpha family will turn the Xterra into a solid sales hit for Nissan. More power, better on-road manners, improved cargo utility, all the while retaining a back-to-basics personality is a good strategy. Perhaps better defined than any other Nissan SUV or pickup, the new Xterra should create enough room for its X-Trail baby sister to join the ranks in the U.S. Nissan's biggest challenge will be steering away from the temptation to overprice its newest standout product. We expect pricing to start a tick over $20,000, with extensive option ordering carrying it to just under $30,000. With the bugs worked out of the platform, this looks to be another strong player from Nissan.
{{{2005 Nissan Xterra}}}
General
Location of final assembly Smyrna, Tennessee
Body style Four-door SUV
EPA size class Light truck
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD
AirbagsDual front, full head (opt)
Powertrain
Engine type{{{90}}}-deg V-6, alum block/heads
Bore x stroke, in3.75 x 3.{{{62}}}
Displacement, ci/L 241.2/3954
Compression ratio9.7:1
Valve gearDOHC, 4 valves/cyl
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm265 @ 5600
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm284 @ {{{4000}}}
Transmission type5-speed auto
1st3.84:1
2nd2.35:1
3rd1.53:1
4th1.00:1
5th0.84:1
Reverse2.76:1
Transmission type6-speed manual
1st4.37:1
2nd2.52:1
3rd1.74:1
4th1.28:1
5th1.00:1
6th0.77:1
Reverse3.54:1
Axle ratio 3.73:1, 4.11:1
Final-drive ratio, auto/man 3.13:1/2.87:1
Low-range ratio 2.63:1
Crawl ratio, auto/man 41.5:1/47.2:1
Recommended fuel Premium unleaded
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in 106.3
Length, in 178.7
Width, in 72.8
Height, in 74.9
Track, f/r, in 61.8/61.8
Headroom, f/r, in 39.9/39.3
Legroom, f/r, in 42.4/34.4
Shoulder room, f/r, in 58.3/58.3
Hip room, f/r, in 55.9/46.1
Total cargo area volume, cu ft 65.7
Ground clearance, in 9.0
Approach/departure angle, deg 33.2/29.4
Base curb weight, lb 4100-4350
Payload capacity, lb 800-1000
GVWR, lb 5250
GCWR, lb 10,000
Towing capacity, lb {{{5000}}}
Fuel capacity, gal 20.1
Chassis
Suspension, f/r IFS, double A-arms with coils/ live axle, leaf springs
Steering type Power-assist rack-and-pinion
Ratio 20.4
Turns, lock to lock 3.5
Brakes, f/r Four-wheel discs
Wheels 17 x 8.0-in alloy
Tires 265/65R17 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy 16/20
Price
Base price $20,000
Price as tested $24,753 (est)
What's Hot
Big-truck frame in a small package
Maintains back-to-basics personality
A larger first-aid kit still standard
What's Not
Steering a bit numb on center
A strong four-cylinder would be nice
Slick-as-glass rear storage floor
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Nissan Xterra

Fair Market Price
$22,436
Editors' Overall Rating
Basic Specifications
MSRP: $23,660
Mileage: 16 / 22
Engine: 4.0L V6
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