When the Nissan Xterra debuted nearly a decade ago, this SUV -- named after an off-road triathlon series -- immediately became popular with outdoor-loving Gen Xers. Extreme sports enthusiasts found the Xterra to be the perfect vehicle for snow, surf and all points between. Today, the 2009 Nissan Xterra proudly upholds the reputation built by its predecessor.
Although car-based crossovers have become increasingly popular for tackling highways and boulevards, most have no business going off the beaten path. The truck-based Xterra, on the other hand, thrives under tough conditions with its high ground clearance, lack of protruding underbody parts and off-road machinery and assists. The Xterra's ride might not be as refined as a crossover's, but the Nissan is by no means a bull in a china shop, either. A long commute or road trip keeps occupants comfortable, while precise steering and an abundance of V6 power make for a satisfying driving experience.
Admittedly, few SUV owners take their vehicles off-road, so if you fall into this category, quality on-roaders like the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 would be better choices. Other options include the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited for its superior trail-blazing prowess or the Toyota FJ Cruiser for its eye-catching style. All said, though, if you need an affordable SUV that is as at home in the wilderness as it is in the city, the 2009 Nissan Xterra is a solid choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The 2009 Nissan Xterra is a midsize SUV that seats five passengers. It is offered in four trim levels: X, S, Off Road and SE. These models are offered in either two- or four-wheel drive, except for the Off Road, which is only offered in 4WD.
Standard equipment for the Xterra X includes 16-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry and a six-speaker audio system with a CD player. The S trim level adds alloy wheels, step rails, an eight-way adjustable driver seat, a cargo channel system and a rubberized, easy-to-clean surface on the floor of the cargo area.
The Xterra SE steps up to17-inch alloy wheels and adds even more standard features, including leather seats and trim and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Many of these items can be tacked onto the Off Road version as part of a technology package. The Off Road model includes 17-inch alloy wheels with rugged trail tires, Bilstein off-road shock absorbers, skid plates, an electronically locking rear differential, cloth seats specific to this trim level and a fold-down passenger seat.
Like most of Nissan's lineup, options are offered in large packages and not Ã la carte. The optional eight-speaker Rockford Fosgate sound system includes a six-CD/MP3 changer, an auxiliary audio jack, Bluetooth and satellite radio. For added off-road functionality, the X Gear package is offered and includes roof rack crossbars, foglights, a first aid kit, a cargo net and a gear basket. Nissan also offers a dockable rear entertainment system and a portable Garmin navigation system.
Powertrains and Performance:
All 2009 Nissan Xterras are powered by a 4.0-liter V6 that produces 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. Power is routed through a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional five speed automatic (except in the SE, which comes standard with the automatic). We managed to accelerate a 4WD Xterra to 60 mph in a respectable 7.6 seconds.
Four-wheel-drive models offer plenty of traction in varying conditions, thanks to a multimode transfer case with low-range gearing. A 2009 Nissan Xterra 2WD with the manual transmission turns in an EPA estimated fuel economy rating of 16 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined. Mileage for 4WD and automatic transmissions varies only slightly.
The 2009 Nissan Xterra is equipped with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Xterra Off Road models also come with hill descent control and hill start assist.
In crash testing conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Xterra earned four out of five stars for frontal impact protection and a perfect five out of five stars for side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Xterra its highest rating of "Good" for both frontal and side impact protection. Rollover ratings are mediocre, however; the 2009 Nissan Xterra gets a three-star rollover rating from the NHTSA and falls just to the low side of the middle when compared to all SUVs combined.
Interior Design and Special Features:
The 2009 Nissan Xterra's interior is well designed, with excellent ergonomics. However, the overall impression is marred by the use of subpar hard plastics. The cargo area offers 35 cubic feet of space with the rear seats up and 66 cubes with the seats folded. All Xterras (except for the base X model) feature cargo areas that have an easy-to-clean floor, as well as sturdy utility hooks mounted to the sides of the floor and ceiling. An innovative, adjustable channel system for securing bike racks and gear is also built into the floor. There are also built-in spaces for an optional first aid kit and a 1-gallon water jug.
Thanks to the 2009 Nissan Xterra's powerful V6, performance is sure to satisfy. On the road, the Xterra maneuvers confidently with precise steering, while also keeping body roll in check. With its truck-derived underpinnings, the Xterra offers impressive off-road performance due to its long suspension travel and high ground clearance. The engine further enhances off-road prowess with its prodigious low-end power. The compromises of handling and ride quality in the city are minor, considering the Xterra's versatility.