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2006 Nissan Xterra Road Test

Xterra SUV proves to be Xtra-nice

2006 Nissan Xterra. Photo by Bill Roebuck.By Bill Roebuck

If there was an award for the most improved SUV, I'm sure the 2006 Nissan Xterra would take it, hands down. I recall not liking the original Xterra very much when it was first launched in 1999. It was rough and noisy and not that comfortable, I'd written in my notebook back then. It was intended to be a rugged vehicle, but I felt the designers had taken the term too literally.

Today, my notes are full of glowing praise. The 2006 Xterra is quiet, quick, smooth, handles beautifully and is very comfortable. It's almost everything you could ask for in a 'real' SUV. By real, I mean one that can be taken off-road and stand up to the challenges of rugged terrain. And that also means having a transmission with high and low four-wheel drive settings.

The new model certainly is 'real' and even though it is truck-based, it doesn't make you feel like you're driving an unsophisticated off-roader. It's also surprisingly nimble.

Changes in this second-generation model, introduced in 2005, include more power as well as more interior space thanks to a longer wheelbase. A 265-hp, 4.0-litre V6 produces 284 lb-ft of torque and drives a five-speed automatic transmission or a standard-issue six-speed manual.

2006 Nissan Xterra. Photo by Bill Roebuck.A fully boxed all-steel ladder frame also puts this truck in the 'real' SUV class. Towing capacity is 2,269 kg (5,000 lb).

The suspension is tough too. A steel double-wishbone front suspension and coil springs with a stabilizer bar are coupled with a solid-axle leaf spring rear suspension. The Off-Road Solar Yellow model we tested includes high-performance gas shocks.

On a weekend trip with friends up north, I followed another SUV driver across a freshly dug-up country road partly consisting of big chunks of gravel. He said it was one of the worst sections of roads he'd ever experienced, but he was in another make of truck. For me and my passengers, we hardly noticed. It was a bit bumpy, but the Xterra really smoothed out the ride.

The Off-Road model with the automatic transmission also includes Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist for handling steep terrain.

Later, comparing the two SUVs side by side, I noticed the Xterra's high ground clearance. It also has skid plates and a clean underbody to help protect components from off-road obstructions.

2006 Nissan Xterra. Photo by Bill Roebuck.The interior reflects Nissan's slogan for the Xterra -- 'everything you need, nothing you don't'. An optional fold-down front passenger seat lets you carry extra-long gear. There are two glove boxes, and several rubber-lined trays that handily hold small items in place.

Although there are no armrests, the lid of the centre storage box is just right for resting your elbow. The compartment is deep enough to hold a large amount of stuff, and also includes a power outlet. It's one of four -- two others are on the dashboard and another is located in the cargo area.

The interior feels wide and spacious. There's plenty of legroom and headroom for the front passengers. The same goes for the rear, where stadium seating makes you sit higher, giving you a clear view of the road ahead. Even so, legroom and headroom are adequate for a 6 ft 3 in. passenger, in part because the roof is raised at the back.

The biggest problem with the Xterra is access to the rear seats. The rear wheelwells cut into the narrow door openings, making easy entry and exit challenging.

The roomy cargo area has utility hooks on the floor, sides and on the ceiling, so it's easy to tie down almost anything. The flooring is hard plastic, designed for easy cleaning. But that also means that anything else that's hard plastic -- like a cooler -- will slide around annoyingly on every corner unless you tie it down.

2006 Nissan Xterra. Photo by Bill Roebuck.Nissan's Utili-track system is included. It consists of adjustable channels in the cargo floor into which bike racks and other accessories can be fitted. The rear seats split 60/40 and fold to extend the cargo area.

To enable loading the roof racks on this tall vehicle, Nissan has designed steps into the rear bumper, but they are so high, they're hard to use.

A pleasing option on our test vehicle was a premium Rockford Fosgate-powered audio system with 380 watts of juice and nine speakers. It includes a six-disc CD player with mp3 playback.

Safety features include four-wheel disc ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, an advanced air bag system and a LATCH child seat anchor system. Optional side-impact and side curtain air bags are offered. A tire-pressure monitoring system is standard, and a first-aid kit comes with all but the base model.

Trim levels include the S, Off-Road and SE. Prices range from $33,748 to $37,748. All Xterras have shift-on-the-fly part-time four-wheel drive.

If you want a capable SUV that's easy to drive, the Xterra delivers -- on the fly or on any kind of road.

For more information, visit

Bill Roebuck is the editor and senior reviewer for
Posted Sept. 23, 2006

2006 Nissan Xterra O/R 4x4
Price as tested: $37,373
Freight: $1,276
Fuel economy, l/100 km: 15 city, 10.4 highway (19/27 mpg)

CarTest Rating
Performance: A
Ride: A
Handling: A
Brakes: A
Front seat: A
Rear seat: B
Cargo capacity: B+

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