AUSTIN - Sooner or later, we all arrive at that fork in the road where we make the trade: a teaspoon of youthful idealism for a pound of realistic goals, mature stature and accomplishment.
Ah, but not all of that youth is swapped. The essence of who we are may flicker from time to time, but it never actually extinguishes. And for all the actors and poets who litter the road well traveled, our style and desire becomes part of the evolution of our values. Our choices, then, are based on changing needs and a foundation of expression that evolves with time. Few things better represent this convergence than the things we buy, and fewer still express it better than the cars we drive. The gulf between impractical roadsters and minivans may seem to be a thousand miles - but it's surely amazing how fast one can travel that interstate.
How nice it is when something from then keeps pace with who we are now.
Like us, the 2005 Nissan Xterra has grown up, gotten better, more serious, but still has that fun-in-the-sun side to its character that makes it - and us - unique. The Xterra has more power, more room and better capability on-road and off, while retaining that look-at-me style that attracted us to it in the first place. Make no mistake: when first introduced in 2001, the Xterra was mostly about off roading, and the expression of a tough and ready to go image. In 2005, the Xterra keeps the attitude but adds the grit, with more interior room, a proven, 265-horsepower engine, and an interior versatile enough to meet our needs.
No one ever said that growing up meant getting dull.
Everybody gets the V6 beast.
And that news is what's most exciting about the 2005 Nissan Xterra, as it is certainly not a dull vehicle. Attach that 4.0-liter, V6 powertrain to a beach chair and it would still hold some value, such is the upgrade over the previous Xterra and the power difference it holds over most of its competition. In fact, though its size and weight remain competitive with vehicles such as the Jeep Liberty, Ford Escape, and Chevrolet Equinox, the Xterra offers more power and better off-road capability. The 4.0-liter V6 almost puts the Xterra in a new class of SUV - somewhere above traditional smaller utilities and below the bigger mammas of the group, like the Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer and Chevrolet TrailBlazer. Consider, in fact, that the engine in the Dodge Durango SLT is a 3.7-liter V6 that makes around 210 horsepower. Gas mileage is a concern, as the Xterra ranges from a high of 17 city and 22 highway to a low of 16/21, depending on what type of transmission you choose. Of course, those are EPA numbers, so expect real-world gas mileage to be less, especially with a more powerful engine to rev and a very capable off-road system.
For 2005, three models are offered: the base S, the Off-Road, and the SE. The Xterra S 2WD is priced at $20,800 with the six-speed manual transmission, and $21,600 for the five-speed automatic transmission. With 4WD, the S is priced at $22,900 for the manual tranny and $23,700 for the automatic. The S comes standard with 16-inch wheels, cloth interior materials, and a CD player. Many of the Xterra's new improvements for 2005 are included in the S, such as the engine and the interior upgrades, except for the fold-flat front seat and, more importantly, Nissan's stability control system called Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC). Both are available as options. Factory-installed options for the Xterra S include a $900 Power Package, which includes power windows, power door locks, outside power mirrors, cruise control, a vehicle security system and remote keyless entry. Other option packages include a series of side-impact airbag packages and a Utility Package ($650) that includes VDC and the fold-flat front seat.
The SE, meanwhile, will sell for $25,300 in 2WD format and up to $26,700 for the 4WD version. Standard equipment on the Xterra SE includes an automatic transmission, VDC, 17-inch wheels, power interior controls and the 380-watt Rockford Fosgate Audio system. Side-impact airbags are also standard, and unlike the S, optional side-curtain airbags can be added to the SE.
Xterra Off-Road models add the off-road mechanical package of Vehicle Descent Control, Hill Start Assist, an electronic locking rear differential, high performance Bilstein shocks, and VDC. Exterior changes for the Xterra Off Road include standard skid plates and an "off-road" badge. The Off-Road model also gets a unique blue cloth for the interior. Strange as it seems, there is a 2WD Off-Road model available - for those who want the look but not the insurance payment - which has a sticker price of $23,200 for the manual transmission and $24,200 for the automatic. The real thing, the Off-Road 4WD model, is priced at $25,500 and $26,700.
A little math shows that an S model, with the Utility Package and the Power Package, costs about $1,500 less than the SE - though the SE has larger wheels and a better sound system. Clearly, the S - with option packages - is a good value, as it comes with the Xterra's most significant innovations and improvements. The SE model is also a good value with its available side-curtain airbags, and all buyers should consider stability control as a must-have because it greatly enhances on-road safety. Against the competition, the 2005 Nissan Xterra simply stands up tall. It provides value in that it is an aggressively priced SUV with more power and off-road capability than similar SUVs - and one that now drives nicely on pavement. However, it does make a strong statement with its design, and some people appreciate a more quiet and polite vehicle.
This is not a leather swaddled ride, no sir. The Nissan Xterra has always been about easy-to-clean and durable surfaces. Comfort? Well, you do have a seat and it has a back, so stop complaining. The 2005 model shares that strategy, but with space and refinement that shows how far the Xterra has come in terms of evolutionary improvements. And that includes comfort, but please don't say it out loud. The truth is that the 2005 Nissan Xterra is a nice ride, with plenty of legroom, shoulder room and lots of cubby holes to put your stuff. There are still a few rattles and vibrations, but it is significantly quieter than the previous Xterra. This is not a luxury-ute - remember, the areas in which the new Xterra scores high is in seat comfort, living space and capacity - meaning that you can put a lot of things in the Xterra, including people and their things.
Elbowroom inside the cabin is plentiful, and front legroom has been increased, as has front headroom. The second-row is where things get big, though, with almost 2 inches more legroom and significantly expanded headroom. The stadium seating of the previous model stays, and with that extra space the new Xterra makes for a more realistic people hauler, and even little passengers - with their own seats and toys - have plenty of freak room.
Innovation on the inside includes a front seat that folds down in order to carry long items, a double-deck glove compartment, a channel-lock system of floor-mounted cargo tie-downs, large bins to carry stuff, and a hidden storage area under the cargo floor. As with all other interior areas of the 2005 Nissan Xterra, the cargo area is larger, adds more utility hooks and, in what is perhaps the best practical improvement of the vehicle, the Xterra now comes with a rubber-lined (read: easy clean) cargo area.
The 2005 Nissan Xterra also includes additional safety features, such as available front-seat side impact airbags and side curtain airbags. Also available is a 300-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system with nine speakers, steering wheel controls, MP3 capability and satellite radio capability. (The optional receiver and antenna must be purchased and installed; satellite service must be activated.)
Sometimes, it's not what you change, it's what you leave intact that makes the largest impact. Knowing the significant changes that were going into the interior and drivability of the 2005 Nissan Xterra, Nissan designers and engineers could have taken an eraser to its established look, too - maybe something a little more sophisticated, no?
The 2005 Nissan Xterra has sold well since its 2000 debut primarily because of its rugged looks, so changing its style would be akin to starting over. Nissan showed that it does indeed listen to the wants and needs of its core customers by improving the exterior, not changing it, based on one main focal point: keep the look that people like, but improve on its functionality and aerodynamic charms. To that end, the new Xterra adds a few outside elements that accomplish the goal, namely integrated foot holds in the rear bumper and oval rails for the roof rack so that wind resistance, and interior wind noise, is reduced. There is also a latched lid on the roof rack basket, which reduces noise.
The front end, which is virtually the same as the Pathfinder and the Frontier, is more aggressive thanks to larger fender flares, and the Xterra is on a wider track, which gives it a more attractive stance. The rear fenders also flare, and the squared-off evolution of the Xterra leaves one with the feeling that this is a larger, tougher truck than previous generations. Overall, the exterior is a home run, launched into the atmosphere with the power of a sweet, soft swing.
If you're looking for changes to the 2005 Nissan Xterra, get behind the wheel and turn the key. Under the sheet metal, this is a different beast, one with more power, grunt and athleticism. The power comes from a 4.0-liter V6 engine mated to a choice of a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission - both of which capably motivate the Xterra. In its previous life, the engine was the 3.5-liter dandy ratcheted into the Nissan 350Z, but the engineers got hold of it and made it squeal. With 265 horsepower and 284 lb.-ft. of torque, there's enough grind and grunt for a pig farm. This engine is also available in the 2005 Nissan Frontier and 2005 Nissan Pathfinder, and it represents such a critical improvement over the previous Xterra, which was equipped with a weaker 170-horsepower 3.3-liter V6, that it's useless to compare the two.
Rather, it's better to compare it to the other SUVs on the market. Out on the plains and in the canyons of Texas, the 2005 Nissan Xterra served notice that it was no longer the weak sibling of the SUV family. In fact, little 'bro has grown up to become quite a bruiser: lined up against potential competitors such as the Jeep Liberty, Ford Explorer Sport Trac, Kia Sorento and others, the 2005 Nissan Xterra offers a significant bump in horsepower. It's amazing, the things you can do when you have a great engine to put inside a car.
It's also amazing when you've got a great frame on which to build. The previous Nissan Xterra featured a generally grumpy attitude on pavement. That's much improved with the 2005 Xterra, because, well, it's a different SUV, built on the new platform named F-Alpha - and no, that has nothing to do with dogs or males. This new, fully-boxed frame is stiffer than before and the wheelbase is stretched two inches, which improves the Xterra in two or three critical ways: First, it flattens out the ride on a road, making the Xterra less jouncy and certainly more car-like. It also improves off-road capability, as well as handling.
As far as suspension goes, an independent double wishbone front suspension is combined with a leaf spring rear suspension, and the Xterra Off-Road model includes high-performance gas-charged shocks for better off-roading. Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes that include Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA) handle stopping. Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) is standard on Off-Road and SE models, and optional on the base Xterra S models.
Apparently, many of the crazy people who take their cars off the beaten path, and aren't so sure they need VDC, are younger and more daring - and quite a few have bought into the Xterra's promise of "everything you need, nothing you don't." That includes a first-aid kit in the back, which pretty much says it all in terms of where they want to take their little SUVs. For 2005, the Xterra will let them drive out a little farther, thanks to the F-Alpha frame, greater ground clearance and a reduced approach angle. Available off-road features include Hill Descent Control, which controls engine braking while navigating down a steep hill; Hill Start Control, which enables the Xterra to begin moving on a hill with no backward motion; and a locking differential for serious off-roading.
With polite company and on pavement, the 2005 Nissan Xterra, for all its improvements, still experiences air whistles over 70 mph. The wind noise is noticeable at anything higher than that speed, and road noise is also a minor factor. In context with the previous version, however, the new Xterra is improved. Aside from that, from the available power to its construction, the Xterra is a brand new vehicle - one with a look that provides sweet recollections of the old Xterra.
Targeted at the Generation X crowd in 2001, some consider the Xterra the first vehicle in Nissan's amazing turnaround from automotive afterthought to profitable powerhouse. Back then it was a rough-riding, raw-boned SUV that counted on its rugged image as much as its rugged construction. That image sold the vehicle, and gained it a following with younger drivers who were desirous of SUV convenience, but wanted something more hip than what Mom drove. Nissan captured their attention, and has gradually evolved the Xterra enough to keep it going, even in the face of growing competition.
With this latest and most extensive redesign, the 2005 Nissan Xterra has marched in time along with its core X-er audience. It has, indeed, grown up with them, and continues to be a vehicle that reflects their place in society. With its impressive power, capability and refinement, the 2005 Nissan Xterra is still an expression of active lifestyles - but now it's also the kind of vehicle that meets growing and diverse needs.
SPECIFICATIONS Test Vehicle: 2005 Nissan Xterra
MSRP Price Range: $27,770 to $31,490
Engine Size and Type: 4.0-liter V6
Engine Horsepower: 265 at 5600 rpm
Engine Torque: 284 at 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic; 6-speed manual
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 16/21 manual, 17/22 automatic
Warranty: 3 years/36,000-miles
Competitors: Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Jeep Liberty, Kia Sorento, Suzuki XL-7, Toyota Highlander
The new engine improves power significantly, and the interior has been extensively redesigned. Plus, the interior is larger than the previous version.
What do you like least?
Still get some wind noise when traveling around 70 mph, and fuel economy is poor.
Which model would you purchase?
I would purchase the S trim, with the power and the utility package, though the SE, with optional side curtain airbags, is also a consideration for safety.
Photos courtesy of Nissan North America