Used 2012 Nissan Xterra Review
Edmunds expert review
Even though the 2012 Nissan Xterra doesn't have the funky styling or legendary brand name of its off-road-ready SUV competitors, it's equally capable in the dirt and a lot easier to live with in everyday driving.
What's new for 2012
When it really comes down to it, the 2012 Nissan Xterra is an SUV best suited for active folks whose idea of a good time involves getting off the beaten path. With its beefy, body-on-frame construction, available four-wheel-drive system with low-range gearing, gobs of ground clearance and mulelike load-carrying capacity, the Xterra makes a great companion for weekend adventurers.
The Xterra is also easier to live with during the week than its few remaining old-school SUV competitors. That's because the Xterra, with its traditional four-door design, is decidedly more practical in daily driving than the Toyota FJ Cruiser (big blind spots and goofy rear-opening access doors) and the Jeep Wrangler (noisier, rougher riding and generally less refined).
Of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't point out that there are a few downsides to all this brawn, including the Xterra's trucklike ride and handling dynamics, poor fuel economy and no-frills interior. If all you really need is an SUV that can handle light-duty trails, a small or midsize crossover like a Kia Sorento or Subaru Forester will likely suit you much better given their superior comfort, feature content and fuel efficiency. But if you want to keep it rugged, old-school and reasonably practical, the long-running Xterra will certainly satisfy.
Trim levels & features
The 2012 Nissan Xterra is a four-door, five-passenger SUV that's offered in three trim levels. Entry-level X and midrange S models are both available with a choice of rear- or four-wheel drive, while the off-road-oriented Pro-4X is four-wheel drive only.
The X comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels; rear privacy glass; roof rack side rails; keyless entry; air-conditioning; cloth upholstery; a 60/40 split-folding rear seat; power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; tilt-only steering wheel and a six-speaker CD stereo.
Stepping up to the S gets you 16-inch alloy wheels, off-road tires, a driver seat with adjustable height and lumbar, a first aid kit and a cargo organization system. Four-wheel-drive S models also get a roof rack with crossbars and a gear basket.
The Pro-4X adds a number of off-road-ready features including an electronic locking rear differential, hill-start assist, hill-descent control, skid plates and unique 16-inch alloy wheels with upgraded off-road tires, plus foglights and roof-mounted off-road driving lights. Inside upgrades include distinctive cloth upholstery, a fold-flat front passenger seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, white-face gauges, an auto-dimming rearview mirror (with built-in compass), Bluetooth and a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate sound system with a six-CD changer, auxiliary audio input jack, steering-wheel audio controls and satellite radio (automatic transmission models only). The Pro-4X Leather package adds leather upholstery and a passenger seatback map pocket, but deletes the flat-folding front passenger seat.
Performance & mpg
The 2012 Nissan Xterra is powered by a 4.0-liter V6 that produces 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. Two-wheel-drive X and S models can only be had with a five-speed automatic transmission, while the four-wheel-drive S and Pro-4X have a choice between the automatic and a six-speed manual. Rear-wheel drive is standard (except on the Pro-4X), and a four-wheel-drive system with a multimode low-range transfer case is available as an option.
In Edmunds performance testing, an Xterra 4x4 with an automatic transmission went from zero to 60 mph in 8 seconds. The rear-wheel-drive Xterra returns an EPA-estimated 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined. Adding four-wheel drive lowers those numbers to 15/20/17.
The 2012 Nissan Xterra is equipped with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags. Pro-4X models also come with hill-descent control and hill-start assist. In Edmunds brake testing, an Xterra Pro-4X came to a stop from 60 mph in 131 feet -- an average result for an off-roading SUV.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Xterra its highest rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset and side impact tests and a second-best rating of "Acceptable" in the roof strength test.
The powerful V6 under the hood of the 2012 Nissan Xterra produces more than enough oomph for daily driving. The engine's good low-end power also makes it well-suited to off-road excursions.
The Xterra's truck-based construction, abundant ground clearance, long-travel suspension and low-range transfer case give it impressive performance in the dirt, though the Jeep Wrangler still has a bit of an edge here. On the pavement, ride and handling are certainly truckish, though most buyers will likely consider that to be a fair trade-off for the Xterra's ability to keep on going even after the asphalt ends.
The 2012 Nissan Xterra is as no-nonsense on the inside as it is on the outside. The styling is relatively plain and there are lots of low-budget hard plastics to be found, but gauges and controls are easy to see and use. While the same can be said for other off-road-oriented SUVs, it bears mentioning that car-based compact crossovers offer noticeably nicer and more well-equipped cabins.
Of course, the Xterra has always been more about function than form, as seen in details like an easy-to-clean cargo floor with multiple tie-down points and available accessories that make it possible to secure bikes and other gear inside and out. If it turns out that the 35 cubic feet behind the rear seats or 66 cubic feet with them folded down isn't enough cargo room for you, the standard roof rack and gear basket up top stand ready to handle the overflow. Designated storage spaces for a first aid kit and water jug are nice details.
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.