What's New for 2008
The 2008 Nissan Xterra gets only a few trim upgrades this year. Mechanically, the truck remains unchanged. X models now get standard power features, remote keyless entry and cruise control. There's also a new Technology Package featuring Bluetooth, XM Satellite Radio pre-wiring (automatic-transmission models only), an auto-dimming rearview mirror and an upgraded Rockford Fosgate audio system.
The 2008 Nissan Xterra is an SUV that's made to go off-road. That may seem like an obvious statement, but today's SUV shopper faces an ever-expanding mix of traditional truck-based models and car-based crossover versions. The Xterra is all truck, and that makes it very capable when the pavement ends. In short, the Xterra is an SUV for buyers who like the crunch of gravel under their tires.
On four-wheel-drive models, the Xterra's off-road prowess comes thanks to 9.5 inches of ground clearance and underbody components that are neatly tucked above the frame. There's also a rear differential that locks at the push of a button and, as with any true off-roader, ultralow gearing. Electronic Hill Descent control can keep the Xterra's speed in check when moving down those steep hills, and Hill Start Assist keeps you from rolling backward if you come to a stop going up a steep hill.
On the pavement, the 2008 Nissan Xterra is not as refined as the latest crossover SUVs. But its ride is decent enough that using it every day won't try your patience. Even long road trips are feasible and comfortable. The Xterra's rack-and-pinion steering is precise, and its 4.0-liter V6 provides a satisfying amount of power. A soft brake pedal feel is the vehicle's only significant driving weakness.
This isn't to say it's an ideal choice for everybody. If your idea of roughing it is staying at a hotel without room service, the Xterra might not be for you. You'd probably be better off with a car-based crossover SUV like the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4. And competitors like the Toyota FJ Cruiser and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited offer their own set of advantages. But if you crave adventure and need an affordable vehicle that does well on and off the blacktop, the Nissan Xterra is an excellent choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
Buyers of the midsize, five-passenger 2008 Nissan Xterra SUV have a choice of four trim levels -- X, S, SE and Off-Road. The first three are offered in both two- and four-wheel drive, while the Off-Road is offered in four-wheel drive only. The base X comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, cruise control, remote keyless entry and a CD player. The S adds alloy wheels, step rails, a multiadjustable driver seat and an easy-to-clean cargo area with enhanced tie-down points.
The Xterra Off-Road model includes high-performance gas shock absorbers, off-road tires on special wheels, skid plates, a locking rear differential and a fold-flat front passenger seat. The SE loses the Off-Road's hard-core equipment but adds 17-inch alloy wheels, upgraded interior trim, Bluetooth, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a nine-speaker 300-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system (with MP3 capability, an auxiliary jack and steering-wheel-mounted controls). Most of the SE's extra equipment can be added to the Off-Road trim as part of the Technology Package.
Powertrains and Performance
All Nissan Xterra models feature a 4.0-liter V6 that makes 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque, generous figures for this class. On all models except the SE, a six-speed manual transmission is standard and a five-speed automatic is optional. For the SE, the automatic is standard and the manual is optional. In testing, we've found that a 4WD Xterra can do zero to 60 in a quick 7.6 seconds.
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. Fuel economy for a 4WD 2008 Xterra stands at 16 mpg city, 20 highway. The city mileage estimate drops to 14 mpg when it's equipped with an automatic transmission.
All Xterras come equipped with stability control and antilock disc brakes. Side-impact airbags (for front occupants) and full-length side curtain airbags are optional. Four-wheel-drive Xterras also have Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist.
In government crash testing, the 2008 Nissan Xterra earned four out of five stars for its protection of front occupants in head-on impacts. Side-impact tests resulted in a five-star rating for both front and rear outboard occupants. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, the Xterra earned a "Good" rating -- the highest possible for frontal offset crash protection. In side impact crash tests the Xterra earned a "Good" rating as well; however, that goes down to "Marginal" without the optional side airbags.
Interior Design and Special Features
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 (on all but the X trim) by an easy-to-clean floor and a total of 10 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 1 gallon in size.
With 261 hp under the hood, the 2008 Nissan Xterra offers brisk performance on the street. Solid steering feel and a lack of excessive body roll make for a confident feel on pavement. Yes, its truck chassis doesn't deliver the sharp handling or refined ride that a car-based crossover SUV would, but it's an acceptable trade-off given the Xterra's above-average ability off-road. The Xterra's rugged enthusiasm for conquering trails is due mainly to the engine's low-end grunt, the generous ground clearance and the ample wheel articulation.