Maybe the folks who created the 2005 Nissan Xterra also cast an occasional lure for the famous Big Mouth.
Whereas the previous version was focused almost entirely on the U in SUV, the new Xterra, like a good bass boat, aims to add some excitement to the points between destinations. To that end, behind the new, more familial front end is an engine that offers significant gains in horsepower and torque. It may not be bringing home any blue ribbons from the races at the local fair, but this new powerplant finally addresses the S in SUV. And if the old Xterra was lacking significantly in any one area, giddy-up was definitely it.
Along with the revised look and new engine come an assortment of aesthetic tweaks, fancy packages, and standard features that soften what has been one of the most unapologetically basic utility vehicles since the first Jeeps. It’s on a fine line that Nissan engineers have chosen to dance, safeguarding the Xterra’s simple success while keeping it fresh and appealing.
For bass fishermen, they’re surprisingly good on their feet.
Shoppers interested in the 2005 Nissan Xterra have three distinct models to choose from: the base S, the capable Off-Road, and the well-equipped SE.
Prices for the base Xterra S start at $21,430 for the rear-wheel-drive model and $23,530 for the four-wheel-drive model (all prices listed here include a $580 destination charge). Regardless of which drivetrain is chosen, the standard wheels are 16-inch alloys wearing P265/70R16 B.F. Goodrich Long Trail tires. Also included for the base price are rear privacy glass, antilock brakes, traction control, a roof rack with a storage basket, manual seats with driver side adjustable seat height and manual lumbar, a 60/40 split folding rear bench seat, a tilt steering wheel, a rear window wiper, a tire pressure monitor, and a six-speaker audio system with a CD player. Options include front side and side curtain airbags, body side moldings, a tow package, a five-speed automatic transmission that replaces the standard six-speed manual, and a cargo cover. A Power Package, which includes cruise control, numerous power functions, an alarm system, and steering wheel mounted controls is available, as is a Utility Package, which features stability control, traction control, a first aid kit, running boards, a folding front passenger seat, and more.
A move up to the capable Off-Road model requires a $3,000 premium – two-wheel-drive Xterra Off-Roads start at $24,030, and four-wheel-drive Off-Roads go for $26,330. That extra coin buys unique 16-inch alloy wheels, P265/75R16 B.F. Goodrich Rugged Trail tires, a host of power options, front foglights, bodyside moldings, and a folding front passenger seat. Other standard features include cruise control, an alarm system, a first aid kit, and stability control. Unique to the Off-Road are Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Control, a locking rear differential, and skid plates for the oil pan and gas tank. Four-wheel-drive Off-Road models add a skid plate to the transfer case. The side and curtain airbags are optional, along with a cargo cover and a 380-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system with nine speakers, a six-disc CD changer, MP3 player, and a subwoofer. XM or Sirius satellite radio can also be added, and include 90 days of free service before a monthly subscription fee kicks in.
Poised at the top of the 2005 Nissan Xterra line is the SE, which starts at $25,930 with two-wheel drive and $27,930 with four-wheel drive. A five-speed automatic is the only transmission available. Larger 17-inch alloy wheels wear P265/65R17 B.F. Goodrich Long Trail tires, and the standard features list is bolstered by tubular running boards, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a trip computer, steering wheel mounted audio controls, and that 380-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system that’s optional on the Xterra Off-Road. Options are limited to bodyside moldings, a rear cargo cover, and satellite radio.
Our tester was a four-wheel-drive Xterra SE with the optional side and curtain airbags, body side moldings, floor mats, a tow package, and Sirius satellite radio. With the $580 destination charge added in, the total as-tested price came to $29,690. If serious off-roading isn’t your thing, the Xterra S with the Power Package looks to be the best value at about $24,400. We’d also add in $800 for the automatic transmission to improve drivability and $700 for extra airbag protection. The few added features on the SE don’t warrant the expense, and since our tester did so well on the trails, the hard-core do-dads on the Off-Road are unnecessary for the majority of drivers.
Nuts and Bolts
Among all of the changes the 2005 Nissan Xterra has undergone, perhaps the most significant lies under the hood. That’s where you’ll find a new 4.0-liter, 24-valve, dual overhead cam V6 that provides 265 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 284 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,400 rpm. This all aluminum engine is shared with the redesigned Nissan Pathfinder and Frontier models, and comes standard on the Xterra S and Off-Road with a six-speed manual transmission. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard on the SE and optional on the others. All 2005 Xterras have a 5,000-lb. towing capacity, and curb weights range from the 4,081-lb. rear-wheel-drive S with the manual transmission to the 4,382-lb. four-wheel-drive Off-Road with the five-speed automatic.
Charged with stopping all of that heft is the 2005 Nissan Xterra’s capable braking system. Vented discs are fitted front and rear, measuring 296-mm and 286-mm, respectively. These beefy brakes work with a standard antilock system, electronic brake force distribution, and traction control. Stability control is standard on the Off-Road and SE and optional on the S.
Standard on all models is an independent double wishbone front suspension paired with a live rear suspension with leaf springs. The only exception is the Off-Road, which uses stiffer Bilstein shocks at all four corners. Four-wheel-drive 2005 Nissan Xterras feature a part-time system, controlled by a rotary knob on the lower dash. Switching between 2WD and 4H (for regular off-road conditions) requires a simple turn of the knob, but moving to 4LO (for especially difficult terrain) requires pushing the knob in and then turning. All four-wheel-drive Xterras come with automatic locking front hubs, and an extra 0.8 inches of ground clearance. The rear-wheel-drive S sits 8.3 inches off of the ground, while the four-wheel-drive Off-Road provides a generous 9.5 inches. A speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion system guides the Xterra to its destination.
After a week and roughly 1,000 miles of coastal cruises, highway gridlock, and dusty off-road roughhousing, we can safely say that the 2005 Nissan Xterra is an improvement over its predecessor. The highway ride is acceptable, and off-roading is grin-inducing. What failed to make us smile was our overall fuel economy – we averaged a pathetic 14.8 mpg, though the overly optimistic EPA suggests that our tester should have returned 16 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway, with a combined rating of about 18 mpg.
With an extra 85 horsepower and 82 lb.-ft. of torque, we expected and received an Xterra with more off-the-line punch and highway passing power. However, this redesigned ute carries some added mass (the base S is about 300 lbs. heavier that last year’s base XE), which effectively limits the engine’s performance to sufficient rather than impressive. There’s plenty of go behind the gas pedal, but this utility box is not as lively as Nissan’s marketing types would lead you to believe. To get the most out of the Xterra, the driver has to reach for the high rpms, where power, and a thrashy engine tone, are found simultaneously. Our tester’s five-speed automatic transmission provided smooth shifts, but we did notice that lifting off the accelerator suddenly resulted in noticeable freewheeling (the engine gradually returns to idle instead of doing so immediately).
Driving the 2005 Nissan Xterra off road was a much more rewarding experience. All 282 lb.-ft. of torque helped us climb any hill we chose, almost always without needing to switch into the four-wheel-drive system’s low gear. The 106.3-inch wheelbase and our tester’s 9.1 inches of ground clearance allowed us to crest hilltops and navigate over small boulders without marring the skid plates. In fact, the only incident occurred when traversing a gulley at the bottom of a steep hill, after which our Xterra wore a few superficial scratches on the lower side of the front plastic bumper cover. The 37.6-foot turning circle made for easy turns on tight winding trails, and the decent 55 percent front, 45 percent rear weight distribution proved beneficial in one particular instance. Upon leveling off at the top of a hill, our driver realized that the right front wheel and rear wheels had traction, but that the front left tire and much of the engine’s weight were perilously teetering over a washed-out hillside – had the Xterra’s weight distribution been more front-biased, it could’ve turned into a very bad day.
Off-road prowess is great, but chances are most 2005 Nissan Xterra owners will be challenging their sport utility vehicles more often on the pavement. During routine and aggressive driving, the Xterra’s brakes performed well, with a progressive pedal feel and no noticeable fade. Handling is what you’d expect for a tall SUV, with lots of body roll in the corners, and a floaty feeling on the highway. The steering is slow, but on par with similar vehicles, and actually better than the previous Xterra. That relatively tight turning radius proves to be just as handy in the city as it is on the trails.
Whether on or off the street, the Xterra’s overall ride remains truck-like, but it’s not overly harsh – expect the Off-Road with its Bilstein shocks to be the possible exception. Bumps serve to upset the ride, though comfortable seats isolate the passengers from most disturbances. What does make it to the Xterra’s occupants is quite a bit of exhaust and engine noise, especially at full throttle; wind noise is minimal. Visibility is excellent, thanks to an expansive greenhouse, large rearview mirrors, and retractable rear headrests.
While the 2005 Nissan Xterra may be known best for its rugged styling and off-road capability, it also offers relatively comfortable, five-passenger accommodations.
Each front passenger is treated to a large, well-padded, minimally-bolstered bucket seat, though the centers of the backrests are a bit too soft. The driver can remedy this situation with a manual lumbar adjustment that adds the perfect amount of lower back support, but the passenger is out of luck. Front seats also feature a manual height adjustment, and with a standard tilt steering wheel, the driver can find a suitable position. Padded armrests are on the doors and there’s also one between the seats, but it’s placed too far back to be appreciated by shorter drivers.
Rear seat passengers will find themselves on a supportive 60/40 split folding bench seat with a natural recline position. Seat bottoms are a little short, and excessive front seat padding may rub against the knees of long-legged rear seat riders. Padded door armrests are large and well-placed, and headroom and footroom are generous. However, if you’re looking at a trip in the rear seat of a 2005 Xterra, make sure you don’t get stuck in the center of the bench – though that spot has a three-point seatbelt like the outboard positions, it lacks a headrest and the seatback is quite stiff. Claim car sickness, barter using your MP3 player, promise to pay for gas, whatever it takes to avoid long distances with your butt in the middle.
Of course, this is all dependent on actually getting into the Xterra, which may prove to be a challenge for some people. To alleviate the elevation problem, our SE tester’s standard running boards (optional on the other models) helped us get a leg up, and the A-pillar grab handle provided a good hoisting point. We’re not talking monster truck heights here, but four-wheel-drive Xterras sit high enough to make one appreciate these vehicular shoe horns. Front and rear doors open nice and wide, but even so, rear seat passengers will surely get touchy feely with the wheel well, which takes a big bite out of the rear door frame.
Inside and outside, the 2005 Nissan Xterra provides the numerous cubbies, pockets, baskets, and racks one would expect of a true sport utility vehicle.
Front doors include ample storage slots and large cupholders, with two cupholders in the center console that can be expanded by removing the rubber inserts. Under the front center armrest is a spacious storage well, and shallow trays sit above and below the dash, each with ineffective rough surfaces intent on keeping items in place. There are also two front gloveboxes, a lined overhead sunglasses holder, and a driver’s side seatback map pocket. Rear seat passengers have access to two expandable beverage holders, but that’s it.
Thankfully, back seat occupants can simply reach over their seat into the 35.2 cubic foot cargo area for anything they need. Among the host of goodies back there are cargo hooks and slide rails (what Nissan calls Utili-Track) used to keep things in place, a first aid kit in the tailgate, dual storage nets, and a recessed cubby under the plastic cargo floor.
Should more space be needed, kick the passengers to the curb and fold down the rear seat, creating 65.7 cubic feet of cargo space. Unfortunately, as with the old Xterra, this new version’s rear seat bottom still needs to be flipped up for the folded seatback to lay flat. That won’t be an issue if you can’t get items into the trunk in the first place. Our shortest editor, who stands at five-feet, eight-inches tall, found the top of the Xterra’s rear bumper lined up with his upper thigh. Worse yet, the Xterra’s actual load floor sits two or three inches above the bumper. Lifting that heavy box into your Nissan has just become twice as difficult – one heave to get it up to bumper height, and then lift again to get it to load floor height. But, don’t worry – back muscles were meant to be sore.
If all of the interior space isn’t enough, there’s always the standard roof rack and basket that promise to hold a decent amount of gear. A handy step integrated into the rear bumper makes it easy to reach the top of the Xterra.
The bulge in the tailgate, oddly shaped rear window, and aggressive wheel flares – these have been, and continue to be just a few of the visual cues that make the Nissan Xterra stand apart.
Like the original, the 2005 Xterra’s tailgate is built to accommodate a first aid kit (standard on Off-Road and SE, optional on S), and the side profile still features that raised roofline over the second-row seat. However, unlike previous versions, the 2005 Xterra wears a face you’ll be familiar with, as it closely mirrors that found on the Nissan Frontier and Pathfinder. The new look is derived from Nissan’s successful full-size pickup, the Titan, and coincides with the brand’s launch of brawnier trucks. Behind the fresh face are familiar oversized built-in wheel flares and rear door handles sitting vertically on the C-pillar. Taken collectively, the visual tweaks give the 2005 Nissan Xterra broader appeal, while maintaining the vehicle’s unmistakable look.
Inside, dark plastic panels provide the Xterra with a rugged and utilitarian appearance, with subtle chrome accents on the door handles, shifter plate, and gauge rings adding a touch of sophistication. Less pleasing is the dash, which consists of too many pieces of different shapes. The result is a sea of seams and odd edges that turns an otherwise simple and functional interior design into busy and cheap.
Below that hodge podge of a dash are easy to use and understand radio and climate controls. The radio has straightforward buttons for power, volume, tuning, seek, and scan. Our tester’s Rockford Fosgate system also included power, volume, mode, and tuning buttons on the steering wheel. We enjoyed 380-watts of power, but even after adjustments, we felt the sound quality was a little flat. The climate controls, which amounted to three rotary dials, were as simple as they come and effective at maintaining the proper temperature. All other controls, including those for power windows and power mirrors, were logically placed.
While interior design and layout drew mostly praise, the materials used were less laudable. A mesh fabric on the seats felt durable and fit the Xterra’s personality, while berber-like floor mats added a nice touch to our SE. Points were lost with the plastics, all of which felt and looked cheap. The exception was the hard plastic on the cargo floor. Throughout the interior, grains and colors varied from piece to piece, large door panels provided lots of flexibility, and a low-grade headliner capped off the cabin.
Fortunately, the materials used were put together well, so our 2005 Nissan Xterra was free of any squeaks or rattles, and all of the pieces felt tightly screwed down. The exterior was less impressive. We liked the solid “thunk” when the doors were shut, but weren’t so crazy about the misaligned hood and the numerous large gaps, especially around the tailgate. Those rear door handles, while an Xterra trademark, expose the inner mechanism from behind and look unfinished. And there was one last issue with our test vehicle. In the rain gutter on the passenger side, right at the point where the roof rises behind the front seat, was a deposit of either paint, rust inhibitor, or something else applied before paint. It was soft enough to poke a pen through and in the event of rain, would force water out of the gutter. This isn’t a major issue, but could require a bit of repair and paintwork and should have been caught by Nissan quality control before leaving the factory.
Based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests and an impressive list of standard safety equipment, the 2005 Nissan Xterra has obviously been designed with occupants’ well-being in mind.
NHTSA awarded the redesigned Xterra four out of five stars for driver and front passenger frontal impact, and five stars for front and rear side impact. NHTSA has yet to assign a rollover rating to this Nissan. The other primary testing organization, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), has not tested the 2005 Xterra.
Drivers and passengers will appreciate the 2005 Nissan Xterra’s standard antilock brakes, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, and active front headrests that help prevent whiplash in the event of collision. Off-Road and SE models benefit from a standard stability control system that kicks in to keep the Xterra headed in the right direction. This system is optional on the S.
Like the angler who needs to know where the best fishing hole is and what the bass are biting, Nissan engineers need to know who 2005 Xterra buyers are and what they want. These consumers have typically been outside of the mainstream – a quiet anti-establishment group of SUV owners, if you will.
They should be happy with the newest Xterra. It still has that odd silhouette, still has the first aid kit in the tailgate, and still has a simple, utilitarian cockpit – no cowhides on the seats, no navigation systems with maps of the Yucatan peninsula, and none of that dual- or triple-zone climate control fluff. What the 2005 Nissan Xterra does have is lots of added power and the ability to reach almost any destination.
And with a 5,000-lb. towing capacity, you can even bring your bass boat along for the adventure.
Test Vehicle: 2005 Nissan Xterra SE 4WD
Price as Tested: $29,690 (includes a $580 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 4.0-liter V6
Engine Horsepower: 265 at 5,600 rpm
Engine Torque: 284 at 4,000 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Curb Weight: 4,350 lbs.
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 16/21 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 14.8 mpg
Length: 178.7 inches
Width: 72.8 inches
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Height: 74.9 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 42.4/34.4 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 39.9/39.3 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: 5
Max. Cargo Volume: 65.7 cubic feet
Competitors: Chevrolet Equinox, Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Dodge Durango, Ford Escape, Ford Explorer, GMC Envoy, Honda CR-V, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Liberty, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Kia Sorento, Mazda Tribute, Mercury Mariner, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Nissan Pathfinder, Saturn Vue, Subaru Forester, Suzuki XL-7, Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Highlander, Toyota RAV4
How long is the 2005 Nissan Xterra’s warranty? Basic warranty coverage lasts 36 months or 36,000 miles, whereas the powertrain is covered for 60 months or 60,000 miles. Corrosion protection covers 60 months or unlimited mileage.
Compared with the 2004 model, how much cargo room does the 2005 Nissan Xterra have? There was only a marginal change in cargo volume, going from 65.6 cubic feet in 2004 to 65.7 cubic feet in 2005.
Is there still a supercharged version of the Xterra? No. The only available engine is the 4.0-liter V6. Compared with the 2004 model’s supercharged 3.3-liter V6, the new engine offers an additional 55 horsepower and 38 lb.-ft. of torque.
2nd Opinion - Perry
There really aren’t many negative attributes to the redesigned 2005 Nissan Xterra. The Xterra’s design exudes a serious off-road demeanor, making this vehicle seem ready to handle any task thrown its way and to do it well. During a quick drive covering both off-road trails and curvy highway I walked away from the Xterra quite pleased.
On the twists and turns of southern California’s Highway 74, I felt the Xterra handled surprisingly well for an SUV. Though minor, my only real complaint was a light steering feel while navigating the corners. Power was never lacking on steeper inclines thanks to the 3.5-liter V6’s sufficient torque and the five-speed automatic’s well-thought-out shift points.
The Xterra feels heavy and solid but in day-to-day traffic the ride is surprisingly supple. A tight turning radius makes U-turns and tight parking lots easy to navigate. My biggest disappointment has to be the cheap plastic feel of the dash and door panels. Interior seating both front and back provides ample head and legroom and will hold five adults comfortably. I really appreciated the simplicity of the gauges and knobs. No fancy or complicated touch screens here.
Off road, the Xterra climbed and powered over any obstacle put in its path, easily capable of getting you to most any destination. The folding rear seats create a flat load floor and the cargo area’s easy-clean interior finish is a big plus. Another nice touch is the system of built-in tie-downs that will keep your cargo from sliding around while navigating bumpy roads. A lot of thought was put into the versatility of the Xterra’s interior and it shows.
I give the Nissan Xterra high marks due to its ability to accomplish every task I asked of it. Nothing about the Xterra would deter me from purchasing this vehicle, if I needed something like this. Lead an active and athletic lifestyle? The 2005 Nissan Xterra is a great choice for you. – Ron Perry
2nd Opinion - Wardlaw
Though far from faultless, the original Nissan Xterra possessed its charms. With its everything-you-need-and-nothing-you-don’t marketing philosophy, rugged ladder-frame construction, bulletproof reliability, chiseled bodywork, and powerful supercharged V6 engine, the Xterra was a true sport/utility vehicle for people who really did have active lifestyles. Trouble was, it wasn’t much comfortable, and driving it on dry pavement was no fun at all.
Today, the 2005 Nissan Xterra is bigger, more powerful, and more refined. The driver’s seat is comfortable, the materials improved, the back seat bigger. Styling remains much the same, though I can’t help but think that the old one had a better-balanced and more dynamic appearance – probably because of the haphazard way Nissan has chosen to slap the badges onto the back of the new version while sharing front styling cues with the Frontier pickup and Pathfinder SUV.
As it always has, the Xterra did a terrific job of dispatching difficult terrain. At the Wildomar Off Highway Vehicle Park near Lake Elsinore, Calif., I covered storm-damaged trails with relative ease, and the new Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control systems proved their merit. But most impressive was the Xterra’s paved road demeanor. It feels much more responsive and stable, while retaining the truck-like ride that lends it authenticity in a world increasingly populated by wanna-bes. And with stability control as standard equipment on all but the base models, drivers can take added comfort in the handling capabilities of this old-school ‘ute.
Toss in a powerful V6, more rear seat room, added utility, and little touches like the integrated steps in the rear bumpers, and the new 2005 Nissan Xterra manages to remain true to its singular-purpose philosophy while appealing to a more diverse group of potential buyers. – Christian Wardlaw
Photos courtesy of Ron Perry and Nissan North America