By November 19, 2005

2005 Nissan Xterra Review

I’ve written two reviews of my rental cars while I’m out on business in California (Buick Rendezvous and Mazda 6). Thanks to a canceled flight in Richmond and a delay in Chicago, I was over three hours late in arriving to California this trip. As per company orders, we are only allowed to rent mid-sized cars. However, Hertz had already rented out all of their mid-sized cars for the day. The conversation at the counter went a little something like this:

Hertz Lady: “Is an Xterra okay?”
Me: “Do you have anything else?”
Hertz Lady: “No.”
Me: “An Xterra is great!

And that’s how I wound up with a 2005 Nissan Xterra sport utility vehicle. I was actually kind of excited to drive the Xterra. I remember when they came out: they seemed like nifty, if trendy, SUVs for active people. Kinda like my current Honda Element (which is for sale, please email me for info :cough cough:). My Xterra was a nice dark metallic gray. I really liked the look of it, it’s almost black in the shade.

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First impressions:
The theme for the Xterra is “rugged.” This car is a massive beast, even though it sits in the middle, size-wise, among other SUVs. The styling, seating positions, and accoutrements on the Xterra scream, “this car is rugged and built for action.”

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Let’s take the steering wheel, for example. This bitch is rugged. The spokes on the wheel are about 3″ wide at their largest points. The steering wheel itself seems thicker than normal and has a rubberized grip. You can’t have normal girly-sized turn signal and windshield wiper controls on your beefy Xterra, so Nissan put these rugged bad boys on:

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The control arms are thick enough to make an Irish man jealous! Seriously, if your Xterra were boarded by zombies you could snap one of these off and bludgeon your way to safety with it. That is, if you’re strong enough to bust this rugged piece of kit.

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The center console is functional, if a little boring. One particular item of interest is that the 2WD, 4WD High and 4WD Low selector is a knob and not a lever as I am used to. All of the center console controls are large and easy to read and understand. Most importantly, it’s easy to manipulate the controls by touch. Once I learned where the AC control was I never had to look again. This was a big improvement over the Rendezvous I rented last time, which had a horrible user interface. My Xterra had a rubberized bin on top of the center console; I imagine this is where Nissan factory navigation would go.

I don’t have any snaps of it, but the center divider (the area between the driver and passenger seats) reinforces the capable theme of the Xterra. It is made out of thick plastic and rubberized material. The transmission shift lever is tall without being obtrusive and feels very robust in your hand.

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The seats are wide and covered in a thick, interwoven cloth material. I imagine if these were leather (if that’s even an option on the Xterra) I would slide around a bit, but the cloth material held me tightly as I rocketed the Xterra round turns. The seats are a little too hard for my liking. They weren’t quite as hard as my WRX, but certainly not as comfortable as the Element, Montero, or Cooper. The seats are also too close to the dash for me. I felt a little cramped, even with the seat set all the way back. My friend Stilts would definitely not be able to sit in the driver’s seat comfortably. I’d say the maximum height for an Xterra driver would be about 6′ 2″.

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The exterior is functional, and the luggage rack and stepping areas pay allegiance to the Xterra’s Rugged Individual motif. Check out the running boards. Notice how thick they are, and their rubberized tops. My father’s old Ford F350 didn’t have such hulking steps, and he towed a 21′ long cattle trailer with that monster.

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Another cool attention to detail are these steps in the rear bumper. It’s so you can more easily lash stuff to the luggage rack atop the Xterra. The luggage rack itself is overblown, and is made out of metal piping that’s easily four times the size of the luggage rack on my Montero. Why, you ask? Because rugged trucks don’t use flat sheet metal for a luggage rack. Nuff said.

Road test
I am not known for driving slowly. Especially when I don’t have to worry about break in periods or keeping my car in good resale condition (note to those of you interested in the Element: the car is in great condition and has never been raced. Well, almost never). The Xterra has plenty of power. I don’t know what trim level my model is (the exterior is too rugged to have any shiny badges or build designations), but I guess that since it’s 4WD it’s not a bottom of the line model. I don’t even know if the Xterra offers different engines or not. Suffice it to say, my Xterra pulled strong when I wanted it to, and the exhaust was throaty and put a few extra strands of hair on my chest. The automatic transmission was laggy, but you have to expect that when you deal with an AT. If I were to buy this car on my own, I’d opt for a 5-speed manual transmission instead.

The biggest problem with the Xterra, as far as driving it goes, is that it feels big. I don’t know if it’s because of the elevated seating position, or because the nose of the truck is squared off and short, but I felt like the truck was bigger than it actually was. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. In some ways, it inspires confidence, and as you may have expected me to say by now, keeps with the car’s tough-guy image. In other ways, it detracts from a driver’s confidence: I wasn’t sure if I was going to strike an object when I got the car close to things, and trying to park perfectly between parking lot guide lines was a bit of a challenge. But if you drive an SUV, chances are you don’t give two squirts of piss about parking correctly.

The weird thing about all this is that the visibility on the Xterra is actually quite good for an SUV. The windows are large, the blind spots small, and I didn’t have any problems backing up the car like I did with the Rendezvous. It’s the 6″ or so around the car itself that gave me pause. I guess this would diminish after driving the car for longer than a week, but it made me feel a bit uneasy.

I had the chance to ferry some co-workers around. One of them, Fish Sprout, is pretty slim but still reported that it was a pain in the ass to get out of the Xterra’s inverted L-shaped rear passenger door. I didn’t sit in the back (maybe I should, hrm), but if you’re rugged enough to buy the Xterra your friends should be rugged too. She didn’t say anything about the leg room, and I’d estimate she’s about 5′ 6″ or so. But who knows. I’m awful at estimating that shit.

The cargo area is adequately sized and is covered, in my rental at least, with a rubber mat. Pretty nice, but I didn’t need it.

Xterra Xterra, Read All About It

  • Fun to drive, larger-than-life sport ute that is common enough to not earn a rolleyes ala Hummer 2 or Hummer 3.
  • Steering wheel, controls, and interior are big, bold, and inspire confidence more than any other car I’ve driven. And I’ve driven a lot of cars.
  • Quite capable V6 engine. The exhaust sounds throaty and mean when you mash on the gas. I love it. I imagine the dinosaurs that have died so I can fuel the Xterra sounded a lot like this.
  • I really like the exterior styling of this car. It could use Xenon lights, though.
  • Lots of nifty interior and exterior touches, such as the steps on the rear bumper and the three AC outlets within reach of the driver, including one in the jockey box.

I bought into the marketing hype! Help me, I’m over 30 and need an ego boost!

  • The styling is, I guess this may make sense to you, subtly over the top. The luggage rack, while handsome, is a great example of this. Why the fuck does it need to be so big? Why in the hell are the spokes on the steering wheel 3″ wide? Because when you’re my age, sometimes your pee pee doesn’t get as hard as it used to. The Xterra injects testosterone into your system like thoughts of cheerleaders used to during math class.
  • Short-distance visibility from the front is poor. It makes swinging into a parking spot without straightening out a little hard, but I guess if you owned this vehicle you’d get used to it.
  • The two main cupholders are Big Gulp sized. Normal sized drinks and cups don’t fit properly. I was nervous about my McDonald’s coffee tumping over in the morning. I suppose I could tone my driving down, but what fun is that?

2005 Nissan Xterra, I ruggedly award thee:

Four out of five STFU mugs!

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