2005 Nissan Xterra

2005 Nissan Xterra 2005 Nissan Xterra
First Drive Review

Nissan knows all about the impact of daring styling. Sometimes the bullet nicks the Nike, as it did with the Hey-look-at-me! Quest minivan. And sometimes the cash register rings merrily, as it did with the Xterra. This lumpy-looking SUV—a roughrider atop a veteran compact-pickup chassis—came out of nowhere in 1999, flaunting a portfolio of imaginative design fillips and active-lifestyle promises.

Remember the step-up roofline topped by a roof rack complete with a dirty-stuff compartment, said to be perfect for 40,000-mile underwear, roadkill armadillos, and other necessities too grungy for even a young male to haul inside?

Remember the oddly significant Xterra bump on the tail that turns out to have no function except keeping the liftgate from looking boring? "It suggests a first-aid kit," says Nissan.

The youthful strivers loved the whole swaggering act, to the tune of 67,799 copies sold in 2003. A price cleanly under 20 large for the four-cylinder base version didn't hurt.

So, for 2005, Nissan finds itself with a valuable horse in the youth market. Time to raise the ante. This new Xterra is a comprehensively upgraded machine with the same "adventure" attitude of the original. It shares a body-on-frame platform with the pricier Pathfinder SUV and the new Frontier pickup; they, in turn, share certain frame components with the full-size Titan pickup and lunker Armada SUV. As a consequence, Xterra weight goes up more than 400 pounds. Against that bad news, consider this: The new model is saying "aaahhhh" for a lusty Titan V-8 as soon as Nissan decides to lower the hoist.

Despite the stronger skeleton, the Xterra hasn't bulked up much, just 0.7 inch longer to 178.7 overall (8.9 inches shorter than the Pathfinder), although the wheelbase is up two inches. It has definitely lost the narrow-gauge look of the original, however, as it gained 2.4 inches in beam to 72.8.

Gone, too, are the old 2.4 four and 3.3 V-6 choices, both replaced by a third-generation VQ V-6 (standard in the Altima, 350Z, and Infiniti G35) stroked to increase displacement to 4.0 liters, and it makes 265 horsepower. A six-speed manual and a five-speed automatic are the transmission choices, driving either the two rear wheels or a part-time four-wheel-drive system with an electronically controlled transfer case.