Used 2004 Nissan Xterra SUV Review

A truck-based compact sport-ute for those who actually plan to go off-roading. Those seeking a refined urban runabout should look elsewhere.




what's new

For 2004, 17-inch alloy wheels are now standard on non-supercharged SE models, and 16-inch, four-spoke alloys are standard on the XE-V6.

vehicle overview

Ever since the mid-'90s, compact SUVs have become a huge market. Most manufacturers offer one, and with so many available, it is often hard choosing which one is right for you. The majority of compact SUVs for sale in 2003 are so-called "crossover" SUVs, meaning that they are car-based rather than truck-based. The advantages to having a small crossover SUV are that they are comfortable to drive and possess secure handling characteristics. Nissan's Xterra, now in its fourth model year, is somewhat of a rarity. It is based on a real truck; namely, the Frontier compact pickup. Its wheelbase is shared with the Frontier, and so is the independent front suspension and leaf-spring and solid axle setup at the rear. As such, the Xterra (terra for the land it crosses and X for the generation it intends to target) is tailored to the outdoor enthusiast. Its spartan interior, bucking-bronco ride and utilitarian design are not focused on providing comfort for wide bottoms, though we still see it driven by middle-aged folks to Pottery Barn parking lots. The Xterra is extremely capable off-road; jam it into 4-Lo via the floor-mounted lever, and it bounds over rocks and gullies with abandon. But when compared to other SUVs like the Honda CR-V or Ford Escape, the Xterra's on-pavement performance seems sloppy and numb. It's also more expensive, especially with the higher trim levels. If you truly plan to get your future compact SUV dirty, though, the Xterra should be seriously considered. It has the right styling, the right attitude and the right hardware. It also has good build quality and a strong reputation for reliability, giving you peace of mind as you head out on your favorite trail.

trim levels & features

The Xterra is Nissan's compact SUV. There are four trim levels -- XE, XE-V6, SE-V6 and SE-Supercharged (S/C). Four-wheel drive is available with all of these, except the base XE. The base XE doesn't come with many standard features other than air conditioning and a CD player. The XE-V6 adds 16-inch alloy wheels, an extra pair of speakers (for a total of six) and a tilt steering wheel. Amenities like power windows and locks, remote keyless entry and cruise control are optional on both XE models. The SE and SE-S/C models add 17-inch wheels, tubular step bars and a 300-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with an in-dash CD changer. Options on both SE models include leather upholstery and a flip-up sunroof.

performance & mpg

Base XEs come with a 2.4-liter inline four that makes 143 horsepower and 154 pound-feet of torque. As this truck weighs almost 3,600 pounds, acceleration is modest, at best. A five-speed manual transmission is standard with this engine. The larger 3.3-liter V6 makes 180 hp and 202 lb-ft of torque. SE-S/C models have an Eaton supercharger bolted on that boost horsepower to 210 and torque to 246. You can get a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic on the XE-V6, but all SEs and SE-S/Cs come with the automatic only. Four-wheel-drive Xterras have a part-time 4WD system with shift-on-the-fly capability. Towing capacity is 5,000 pounds (with V6 and the automatic transmission), considerably more than that of most crossover SUVs.

safety

All Xterras have antilock brakes (front discs and rear drums) with EBD. In the backseat, the center position has a lap belt only. Side curtain airbags, an unusual feature for this class of vehicle, are optional. So is VDC, Nissan's stability control system, and it's offered on all V6 models. In NHTSA side-impact testing, the Xterra received four stars (out of a possible five) for front-occupant safety and five stars for the rear. Front-impact safety is rated at four stars. The IIHS rated the Xterra "Acceptable" (the second highest) after performing its frontal offset crash test.

driving

The Xterra looks sort of cool and is a blast off-road. But the soft and sloppy suspension is certainly no joy on the pavement, allowing excessive body roll. The steering is also heavily boosted and gives little feedback to the driver. As you would expect, Xterras with the supercharged V6 offer the best acceleration. The supercharger whine sounds exhilarating, and there is plenty of thrust in first gear; although, much like the standard V6, the supercharged engine runs out of steam at freeway speeds.

interior

Young, active folks won't have any trouble hopping up or down from the Xterra's high seats, nor will they object to the thin cushions they find there, but others will likely wish for cushier chairs and easier access. The dash is comprised of quality materials and the quasi-industrial look of the switchgear fits the vehicle-as-tool theme. Maximum capacity is 65.6 cubic feet, an average figure for a compact SUV.

edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.