And prices are shockingly low.
SUVs have shifted greatly in the last couple of years from rugged off-road vehicles to slightly taller cars used primarily for grocery and school runs. Along with this shift, once capable body-on-frame SUV nameplates like the Jeep Cherokee and Nissan Pathfinder are now little more than glorified minivans based on unibody car platforms. The only true off-roaders left in Nissan's lineup in 2019 are the Titan (as well as the Titan-based Armada) and Frontier, the latter of which is in desperate need of a refresh.
But rewind the clock just a few years and Nissan sold an SUV purely designed with off-roading in mind - the Xterra. Named after an off-road triathlon race series, the Xterra was the last great rival to the Toyota 4Runner (unless you count the Jeep Wrangler) and has now become a great value on the used market.
The Xterra was sold in two generations, the first lasting from 2000 to 2004 and the second from 2005 to 2015. Both generations were based on the Frontier pickup truck, providing a no-nonsense, body-on-frame platform with underbody skid plates. Unlike Nissan's current crop of SUVs, the Xterra was not designed to be comfortable, spacious, or economical - it was designed to tackle environments where there were no roads. If you mourn the fact that modern SUVs and crossovers feel too car-like and lack any off-road capability, the Xterra is the SUV for you.
Used prices for the Xterra can range drastically depending on which generation and trim level you are shopping for. Early examples of the first-generation model can be found with high mileage (over 100,000) starting at under $2,000. Even low-mileage, pristine examples top out at around $10,000.
The second-generation models, which offer an assortment of visual and mechanical improvements over the original, can be found for under $3,000 with around 200,000 miles on the clock. Nissan offered an off-road trim level called the PRO-4X and these can range anywhere from around $10,000 up to around $30,000 for a low-mileage 2015 model. People have already realized how hard it is to find a late-model Xterra PRO-4X with a manual transmission and prices reflect it. These could even be borderline collectible in a few years.
In the Xterra's first two model years, Nissan offered two trim levels (XE and SE), each of which included a different engine. The SE utilized a 2.4-liter KA24DE four-cylinder producing 143 horsepower mated to a five-speed manual while the SE bumped it up to a 3.3-liter VG33E V6 producing 170 hp going out to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. In 2002, the V6 was upgraded to 180 hp and a supercharged version called the VG33ER produced 210 hp.
The second-generation Xterra tremendously boosted performance with a 4.0-liter VQ40DE V6 sending 265 hp out through either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic. A rear locking differential was also offered to improve off-road performance.
By the end of the Xterra's life, it offered a few niceties like a touchscreen navigation system, Bluetooth, and even heated leather seats. But by and large, the Xterra's interior felt utilitarian with minimal technology, hard plastics, thick cloth upholstery, and simplistic climate controls. It wouldn't be too difficult to modernize an Xterra with an aftermarket Android Auto and CarPlay-enabled head unit but the cabin is mostly ideal for technophobes who prefer a more simplistic interior.
The Nissan Xterra was practical enough with 44.5 to 65.6 cubic feet of storage in first-generation models and 36.3 to 65.7 cubic feet of storage in the second-generation. Second-generation Xterras also included an uncarpeted cargo area (which is easier to wash down) with hidden storage underneath the floor and additional storage space built into the roof rack.
Nissan eventually discontinued the Xterra because of slow sales and new regulations for safety and emissions. First-generation models could only achieve 15/19 mpg city/highway with the supercharged engine and second-generation models were equally thirsty with 16/22 mpg city/highway.
It is sad to see body-on-frame SUVs like the Xterra fade into obscurity, leaving the Toyota 4Runner as one of the loan options in the segment. The Xterra has been rumored for a comeback for several years now but it seems like Nissan has other priorities. Perhaps when the next-generation Frontier finally arrives, Nissan will revive the Xterra alongside it. For now, a used Xterra is a great way to enjoy off-road fun on a budget.