Buying an SUV that can travel off-road always comes with compromises. The ride can be rough, the handling ponderous and the fuel economy an enemy to your wallet. The 2010 Nissan Xterra falls into each of these pits, but compared to its rivals, it's still the easiest and most practical to live with on those days you aren't creeping over rocks or blasting through sand dunes.
The Xterra is a traditional body-on-frame SUV -- just the sort of vehicle that SUVs started off as in the first place before being transformed into the modern-day crossover. The Xterra's sturdy construction, burly V6, tall ground clearance and available 4x4 system all contribute to the vehicle's capable performance off the beaten path. Yet it is surprisingly friendly on the beaten path, too, thanks to a tolerable ride quality and decent day-to-day practicality.
For proof, look no further than the Toyota FJ Cruiser, the Xterra's main competitor. The FJ offers more interesting styling inside and out than the Xterra, but its rear access-style doors make getting in and out of the rear seat more difficult and that retro styling results in poor outward visibility. The Xterra, meanwhile, is easy to see out of and has four conventional doors. It's also got a strong V6 and respectable on-road handling -- two things that the Jeep Wrangler can't match.
While an SUV like the 2010 Nissan Xterra is best suited for someone who actually goes off-roading, it at least makes more sense as a daily driver than its few rough-and-ready competitors. The Xterra may still feel uncivilized compared to tamed crossovers like the GMC Terrain, Mazda CX-7 and Subaru Forester, but if you need something a bit wild, the Xterra could be your best bet.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The 2010 Nissan Xterra is a five-passenger, four-door SUV available with rear- and four-wheel drive. Available trim levels are X, S and SE, with an Off-Road trim available on 4x4 models. Standard equipment on the Xterra X includes 16-inch steel wheels, rear tinted glass, roof rails, cruise control, keyless entry, power windows and locks, a tilt steering wheel, air-conditioning and a six-speaker stereo with a CD player.
The Xterra S adds 16-inch alloy wheels, upgraded tires, foglamps, step rails, roof rail crossbars, roof gear basket, power mirrors, an eight-way manually adjustable driver seat, rubber-floor cargo area and a dead pedal.
The Xterra Off-Road adds to the S different 16-inch wheels, Bilstein gas-filled shocks, skid plates, an electronic locking rear differential, hill start assist and hill descent control (with automatic transmission), upgraded off-road tires, roof-mounted off-road lights, two-tone cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto-dimming mirror, compass, Bluetooth, a portable Garmin navigation system and a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate stereo with auxiliary audio jack, six-CD changer and satellite radio.
The Xterra SE adds to the S 17-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto-dimming mirror, compass, Bluetooth, Garmin navigation and the Rockford Fosgate stereo. Options on the SE and Off-Road include an iPod interface and a dockable rear entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance:
The 2010 Nissan Xterra is powered by a 4.0-liter V6 that produces 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on all but the SE, while a five-speed automatic is standard on that model and optional on all others. Rear-wheel drive is standard on every Xterra except the Off-Road trim, which comes with the other trims' optional four-wheel-drive system. This includes a multimode transfer case with low-range gearing.
In performance testing a 4x4 Xterra with the automatic went from zero to 60 mph in 8 seconds. EPA estimated fuel economy is 16 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined with the manual transmission and 15/20/17 with the automatic.
The 2010 Nissan Xterra is equipped with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags. Xterra Off-Road models also come with hill descent control and hill start assist. In Edmunds brake testing, the Xterra Off-Road came to a stop from 60 mph in 131 feet, which is decent performance for a traditional midsize SUV.
In government testing, the Xterra achieved four out of five stars in the frontal crash test and five stars for side protection. Its three-star rollover rating is a bit low, but similar to most off-road-capable SUVs. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Xterra its highest rating of "Good" in both the frontal-offset and side crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features:
The 2010 Nissan Xterra's interior controls are easy to use and reach. The overall impression is marred somewhat by the use of hard plastics, but they really aren't much worse than its off-roading competitors.
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 2010 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, though its ultimate in-the-dirt capabilities fall short of the Wrangler's. The compromises of handling and ride quality in the city are minor, considering the Xterra's versatility.