2012 Nissan Xterra

The Good:
– Excellent offroader
– Cabin space and practicality
– Powerful engine
The Bad:
– Hard-plastic cabin
– Engine noise, all the time
– Unimpressive fuel economy

The Nissan Xterra is a fighter. As one the last remaining offroad-capable 4x4s in the midsize segment that actually remains affordable, we love it to death, especially after we went into the wilderness and beat the shit out of it.

The Xterra is a barebones vehicle, or at least, looks like one from the outside. Facelifted in 2009 which only added a robotic-looking grille, the muscular body is flanked by unpainted black bumpers, and there are no sissy chrome trimmings aside from the side-mirror housings, although our test “OffRoad” model did come with side-steps, a stylised roof rack and unique 16-inch wheels. Strange exterior features include steps on the sides of the rear bumper to reach the roof, and a bulge on the rear tailgate that shows you where the first-aid kit is located even from the outside.

The interior is cheap to the extreme, with hard plastics everywhere. The only mildly-padded areas are the armrests, the flat cloth seats and the steering wheel, but at least there are lots of useful storage spaces up front, including two gloveboxes, door pockets, two uncovered cup-holders and two bottle-holders. Second-row bench passengers don’t even get a centre armrest, although they do get some flimsy cup-holders mounted near their feet.

Headroom is expansive, and legroom is decent both front and back. There is no third row, so the luggage area is immense, with more space available by folding flat the rear seat. There is also a bit of storage space underneath the trunk floor, but that’s because the spare tyre is inconveniently mounted under the rear of the vehicle. And straps hold in the tailgate-mounted first-aid kit.

Standard features include cruise control, power windows, electric mirrors, dual front airbags, tyre-pressure monitor, and a CD/MP3 stereo with wheel-mounted buttons. The stereo sounds above-average, with features such as Bluetooth, an AUX port and a non-retractable antenna. The a/c is seriously strong, just like in any Nissan 4x4s, even though it is a simple manual unit with knobs, and it comes with rear vents. We didn’t find any features such as a compass or a trip computer, which are common in most 4WDs.

The strong 4.0-litre V6 from the Pathfinder also makes an appearance here. It pumps out 261 hp at 5600 rpm. The rated 381 Nm of peak torque comes in at 4000 rpm, so understandably low-rev response isn’t as impressive as a V8 engine. But floor the throttle, and energy after 3000 rpm is satisfying. We managed the 0-100 kph run in 8.5 seconds during our March test on a hot dusty day, with some wheelspin from our drag-style launch to get it going in rear-wheel-drive mode. This is actually more than a second slower than the Xterra we tested in 2008, but that one was a lighter mid-range model with less-rugged tyres & suspension, no side-steps, fewer features and a broken-in engine. Our 2012 “OffRoad” edition was fresh-off-the-boat and weighed down with many more features.

The five-speed automatic smoothly does its duty, but there is no tiptronic-shift function beyond the basic D-3-2-1 setup. Due to the lack of a trip computer, we roughly calculated fuel economy at around 19.9 litres/100 km, but that’s because it spent more time with us off-road than on it. We drove all the way from Fujairah to Sharjah, straight across the UAE without using any roads during a Nissan-organised expedition.

Our range-topper Xterra OffRoad wore 265/75 BFGoodrich “Rugged Trail” tyres wrapped around 16-inch rims, hooked up to yellow Bilstein shocks. The front has independent suspension, while the rear is held up by a solid axle, while it is easy to select between 2WD, 4-High and 4-Low. Skid-plates protect much of the underbelly.

The setup handled soft sand easily with deflated tyres, and we never bogged down even once as we held onto the lower gears by leaving the shifter in 1st or 2nd gear and keeping the revs high. We crested some disturbingly sharp dunes, and ground clearance was never an issue, especially with those short front and rear overhangs, bettering the Toyota Land Cruiser on that front. We also drove up massive slopes, some the height of a four-storey building, under full throttle, sometimes hitting bumps along the way. One of these bumps once knocked something off around the engine-fan area, making the car sound like a broken blender for a while. But then the weird sound just went away on its own, after whatever was loose knocked itself back into position during some more bumpy driving. The unpainted bumpers also held up perfectly after grazing all sorts of debris. We never needed the rear locking diff or the hill-descent control functions that came in our OffRoad model.

The beefy heavily-grooved rubber allow for decent ride quality, except for the occasional jitter on some rougher surfaces. Cruising on the highway is largely comfortable, with moderate wind and road noise at 120 kph. All-round visibility is good, even through the rear window, so it is easy to drive in cramped places even without parking sensors. But the strongly-audible engine isn’t among the most refined out there, so engine vibrations are felt even at idle.

On the handling front, the tyres feel very loose when making turns, but the real treat is the controlled moderate body-roll even during sharp side-to-side inputs from the soft steering. The tyres, which are a compromise between road and dirt performance, squeal easily during enthusiastic turns, and we would’ve liked a bit more grip. Still, with rear-wheel-drive and a proper handbrake, it is a lot of fun on gravel trails. The ABS-assisted four-wheel disc brakes are pretty decent, with good pedal feel and linear stops.

The Nissan Xterra is an amazingly well-rounded propostion, at least in OffRoad form. Not quite as flashy as either the Jeep Wrangler or a Toyota FJ Cruiser, it is as capable as both, while still being more practical than either, not to mention being a bit cheaper too. While we can’t comment on its long-term durability because it hasn’t been around as long as the Nissan Patrol Safari, it is definitely among the best hassle-free offroaders we’ve ever driven.

Price Range:
Dh 98,000-117,000

Current Model Introduced in:
2009

Body Styles:
5-door wagon

Engines:
4.0L 261 hp V6 / 381 Nm

Transmissions:
5-speed automatic

Setup:
Four-wheel-drive

Suspension:
Front: independent
Rear: live

Brakes:
Front: discs
Rear: discs

Curb Weight:
1979-2015 kg

Length:
4539 mm

Wheelbase:
2700 mm

Top Speed:
190 kph(limited)

Test Acceleration 0-100 kph:
8.5 sec.

Observed Test Fuel Economy:
19.9 litres/100km

20 comments to 2012 Nissan Xterra

  • spyke

    Ive got the 2010 model Off road and the hill descent feature is not there, neither is the VDC button. Looks like they’re finally bringing it in with this, but they still not having the Rockfosgate stereo the US ones get.

  • royer

    I know this engine, its a blast after 2500 rpm, if the heavier Pathfinder can do between 14.3 to 14.7 / 100 then this should average similar in daily driving conditions.

  • Ally

    MAash is bang on when he says ‘The interior is cheap to the extreme’. I love the specs of this suv, went to nissan showroom 3 times to buy it. Just coulnot convince myself to but it after looking at the interiors. I kw its a g8 performer, but just too difficult to visualize myself sitting in somethhing as basic, and non-aesthetic as the interiors of xterra.
    Anyone heard of Nissan improving the interiors? I am eagerly waiting to hear such news.
    Nissan are u listening?? We are not looking at winning beaty contests here, but please, please give us something acceptable. Market will reward you for that because remember most of the competion has already bitten the crossover bullet. Xterra is one of the v few true blues left, so the future is bright for this beast. Just make it digestible.

  • arif

    xterra shall come with manual gear option in UAE. Where i can get manual gear option in uae. can any one suggest.

  • Vince

    I own the 2008 base model – gave it a 2.5 inch lift and its great in the dunes. The radiator is low and exposed at factory height. Manual would be nice, but Xterra has a very good auto gearbox, well matched to the engine. Interior is basic, but this is a great value go-anywhere vehicle, not a luxury liner. You can keep your wood-grain and leather, I’ll keep the performance at a great price!

  • Steven John

    They did have a luxury line x terra for sometime.
    i remember seeing it in the showroom. It had leather and all the works. I fancied having the luxury version but after seeing the practicality and comfort of the mid option that I have, i think that’s how the x terra should be. Hard plastics and base interior = WORRY FREE OFF ROADING AND YOU KNOW IT CAN TAKE THE BEATING.

  • Kiran

    Hi Mash,
    Need your advice please. I am a doctor residing in the peripheries of Muscat with my family and planning to go for an SUV. Driving is a passion. But can’t say that i am an off road freak, but like to travel a lot and visiting places. Looking for something strong, durable, comfortable with mileage and less maintenance. My preferences are Xterra, Honda Pilot, Pathfinder, Ford Edge, Santa Fe Grand, RAV4, etc etc.. Very much like to know your suggestions…

  • BeduBoy

    The Xterra is definitely a couples only car. It may stretch to two adults and a dog. If you want something to match it for value, and that can take the kids in the back through the Sharqiyah Sands – the Pajero 3.8 is for you.

    • Imad

      Was contemplating prado TXL 2.7 heard it’s underpowered but my running includes Driving in city 80% with once in two months trip to abha mountains 200 m
      Km and twice a year to jeddah 750 km. will it serve the purpose? As we are a couple so space is no concern. Nowadays I’m driving a 2013 Camry good car but very boring.

  • VTV

    hi,
    I have a 2013 Xterra S , with gps and all, not an offroad model, as advised by the sales rep only the shocks and the offroad tyres are missing..
    but the problem i have now is, if i have 2 people on the back seats and when i go over a hump by rear shocks hits base. i took it to the service center and complained.. so far all i have got from them is, it is normal on an xterra!!! Is that so??
    Did anyone face this problem?? please advise.

  • Carmen

    H VTV,
    My friends have just bought a Xterra this year and they were complaining about the same problem. I also have it in mine when i have people in the back, my mate took it to nissan in AUH and complained about it, they said t is a design flaw but your stuck with it.
    this is disappointing as i want to hit the dunes with it, but this could cause some serious damage if the leap i take off a montain is too hard !
    So the answer is yes, i have that problem but dont know a solution, sorry to say.

  • James

    Hi VTV/Carmen,

    I have a new 2014 off road model and I never experienced it. This has the bilstein shocks in the rear.

  • Hayat

    i am planning to get xterra 2014. just one concern, is it wise to use this car for daily use. I am traveling around 100km-150km daily.

  • James

    Hi Hayat,

    I have used it both in busy Dubai traffic or for cruising through the highways.
    You can expect a mileage of 18-20 litre per 100 km in heavy traffic. On the highway you can get 14.5 ltr per 100 km. So You can do the maths for yourself based on the terrain you drive.

  • iMac

    The Best offroader with good on-road grip too. Driving it since July 2008 with no major or minor problems. 10/10 to Xterra, loving it

  • Raj

    Dear All.

    Can someone tell me about how much is the real fuel consumption of Xterra 2012.

    as i am interested but not sure of fuel consumption.

    Thanks.

  • Nabeel

    Plz help me shud I buy dis suv or not?

  • James

    I got my Xterra tyres replaced with new all terrain BF Goodrich KO2. The ride is comfortable on the highway and feel much more confident than the earlier factory fitted rugged trail tyres.

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