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Hard-core all the way down to its fully boxed frame, the spartan 2006 Nissan Xterra should be a good fit for budget-minded buyers seeking maximum utility and off-road capability.
One of the most powerful V6s in the class, above average off-road capability, solid passenger room, innovative cargo features.
Still not what we would call refined on the street, lots of hard plastic in the cabin.
Available Xterra Models
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For 2006, a new entry-level X model debuts, and the Power package is now standard on the S trim. All models get a lighted locking glovebox.
When the Nissan Xterra was introduced as a 2000 model, the strangely styled off-road-oriented sport-ute was priced to compete with car-based SUVs, yet it packed the rugged body-on-frame construction and hefty drivetrain of a larger and more expensive truck-based hauler. Nissan's idea was to build an SUV for younger, more active people who needed the space and versatility of a large vehicle but wanted to look edgy and cool when they pulled up to the lake or off-road trails. While it sold well initially, the first Nissan Xterra did have a few glaring deficiencies. The bare interior was composed mostly of hard plastic panels, the ride was jarring and, with only 170 horsepower on tap, the diminutive V6 barely had enough oats to propel the midsize SUV around town. Nissan attempted to fix these flaws when the Xterra underwent a midcycle redesign in 2002, adding a supercharger to improve performance.
With steady sales and an established image for the Xterra, Nissan didn't want to rock the boat when it redesigned its entry-level SUV for 2005. At first glance, the new model looks very similar to the previous version, yet there isn't a single part carried over from the old platform. The front end has been styled to match the rest of the Nissan truck lineup, but the rest of the exterior looks much more evolutionary than revolutionary. Giant fender flares? Check. Kicked-up roofline? Check. Tubular roof rack and lumpy rear hatch complete with first aid kit? Check and check. The vehicle's overall length is basically unchanged yet the wheelbase has been stretched by 2 inches. This not only netted a tighter look but also improves ramp angles for increased off-road clearance and performance. Speaking of off-road prowess, the Nissan Xterra climbs like a rabid mountain goat thanks to an all-new chassis with fully boxed frame rails and a powerful new heart, a 4.0-liter V6 that produces 265 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque. Once again, both a five-speed automatic and a six-speed manual are available.
For safety's sake, four-wheel antilock disc brakes are now standard, and stability control system is offered as an option. Interior features include adjustable tie-down hooks in the cargo area, plenty of storage up front and an optional 300-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system. Safety-conscious buyers will be happy to note that in addition to the optional stability control system, the Xterra also offers front-seat side-impact airbags as well as side curtain airbags that protect both rows of seats. Compared to car-based SUVs like the CR-V or Escape, the Xterra's on-pavement performance is not as refined or comfortable, but if serious off-roading is part of your daily routine, the 2006 Nissan Xterra is one of the better compact SUVs on the market. It also has solid build quality and a strong reputation for reliability, giving you peace of mind as you head out on your favorite trail.
The four-door Nissan Xterra is available in four trim levels -- X, S, Off-Road and SE, all of which are offered in both two- and four-wheel drive. The base X comes with basic features like air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel and a CD player. The S adds cruise control and power windows, locks and mirrors. The Off-Road model includes high-performance gas shocks, off-road tires on alloy wheels and skid plates; 4WD versions also get a locking rear differential, Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist. The SE loses the Off-Road's hard-core equipment but adds upgraded interior trim and a 300-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with nine speakers, MP3 capability and steering wheel-mounted controls.
All Nissan Xterra models feature a 4.0-liter V6 that makes 265 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque, generous figures for this class. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, and a five-speed automatic is optional. Four-wheel-drive versions use a multimode transfer case that offers 2WD and automatic 4WD modes, in addition to low-range gearing, for maximum flexibility in varying conditions.
All Xterras come equipped with stability control and four-wheel antilock disc brakes fortified with EBD and brake assist. Side-impact airbags (for front occupants) and full-length side curtain airbags are optional. In NHTSA testing, the Nissan Xterra earned four out of five stars for its protection of front occupants in head-on impacts. Five stars were awarded for protection of both front and rear occupants in side-impact crashes.
Although there's more hard plastic than we'd like, the interior stays true to its function-over-form mission, and the ergonomics are solid. The cargo area is highlighted by an easy-to-clean floor and a total of 10 cargo area utility hooks -- six on the floor/sides and four on the ceiling and sides (floor hooks can carry up to 110 pounds). An adjustable channel system in the cargo floor, similar in design to the system offered on the Titan and Frontier pickups, makes it easier to secure bike racks and other gear. There's also an available built-in first aid kit and space to securely carry jugs up to one gallon in size.
With more than enough power under the hood, the Xterra is no longer plagued by sluggish performance on the street. Its truck chassis still doesn't deliver the sharp handling that a car chassis would, but it's an acceptable trade-off, given its above-average off-road prowess. If you never plan on leaving the street, there are certainly better compact SUVs on the market, but if off-highway weekend adventures call your name often, the 2006 Nissan Xterra is now a much more capable and willing participant than ever before.
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