First drive: 2021 Nissan X-Terra in the UAE
Many folks will fondly remember the Xterra. It debuted as a sister model to the older body-on-frame Pathfinder, meant to be a playful more-capable alternative to its sibling, and taking on the Jeep Wrangler and the Toyota FJ Cruiser. It came in bright paintjobs and was a smaller vehicle than the Pathfinder, although both were based on versions of the Nissan pickup platform. And then the Xterra was cancelled a few years ago, for various reasons. It’s back now, as a completely different beast with a hyphen in its name.
With the Pathfinder choosing the crossover path, there was a hole in Nissan’s line-up for a basic offroader. That has now come in the form of the new X-Terra. Based on the Navara pickup platform, it’s not the niche desert-runner than enthusiasts were hoping for, but it seems to be targeting the far broader segment that the 2.7-litre Toyota Fortuner currently dominates — a huge prospective market of uncles with no need for speed, but rather looking for an economical daily driver that can also take their families on desert barbeques. And let’s not even talk about the fleet-sales potential.
The midsize X-Terra cuts an old-school profile, but the conservative styling should appeal to its target base perfectly fine. At least it looks like a Patrol when coming up on the rear-view mirror of slower drivers.
Not that you’ll be spending too much time in the fast lane. Powered by the 165 hp 2.5-litre 4-cylinder with 241 Nm of torque, the X-Terra isn’t fast by any means. What it can do is cruise comfortably once you are already up to speed. Overtaking takes planning and uphill roads require several downshifts to max out the revs, but the 7-speed automatic takes care of that very well.
We averaged (9 litres/100 km) 11.1 km/litre on our mostly-highway drive (that also involved a lot of mountain roads), which is very impressive for an SUV of its size.
It also rides respectably well on paved roads, even with the larger 18-inch alloys on our test car that we drove cross-country to Fujairah for a family staycation, courtesy of Nissan. Quiet enough to have conversations in, and engine noise only intruding noticeably when flooring the throttle. It’s more refined than we expected, as it rides on independent double-wishbone front and multi-link live-axle rear with coil spring suspension. Even the kids went to sleep.
The X-Terra isn’t immune to its truck roots though. The firm high-ratio steering means tighter moves are a bit of a wind-up, while the handling feels kind of top-heavy. However, body motions aren’t particularly wobbly, and the brakes work well, so it still works fine as a daily.
While the interior is trimmed within class standards — which means an abundance of hard plastics — the padded armrests and leather upholstery are done well.
The tech is also up to scratch, with features such as the 7-inch LCD screen between the gauges, 9-inch touchscreen with navigation, Apple Carplay, 360-degree parking cameras, smart key with remote start, strong dual-zone a/c with vents in all three rows, wireless charger, sunroof and more. When the kids were awake, the two aftermarket-looking Android tablets mounted on the front headrests kept the kids entertained.
Cabin is good in the first and second rows, while the third row just about squeezes in average-sized adults — folks approaching 6 feet are going to run out of knee and head room, aside from contorting to get out of there. The quick-folding second row can slide and recline though, so middle-row passengers can donate some space to the last row.
We only went on a mild offroad excursion with the X-Terra, but it clearly has the bones to manage a fair bit of sand driving, assuming you spring for the 4×4 model (the base model is rear-wheel-drive). With part-time four-wheel-drive, low-range gearing, good ground clearance and fat tyres, it sailed over rocky ridges, quicksand-like beach sand and sloping mountain terrain with ease. While you can’t hammer it up the huge dunes at Liwa, you can be sure that the X-Terra can make it to Liwa for that overnight camping trip at least.
The new X-Terra isn’t the rough-and-tumble offroader that the old model used to be, but in all likelihood, this new model will sell more with its fuel economy, better comfort, more passenger capacity and its newfound identity as a day-to-day family companion.