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2007 Nissan Xterra – Plastic Makes it Possible

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Everything You Need?
The Nissan Xterra slogan “Everything you need and nothing you don’t” has always made me wonder… What exactly do I need? I’d like to think that I could probably survive without many frills, but it almost begs the question… “What about some of the things I really want?” Is the Xterra a knock down, drag out, take no prisoners SUV that needs no further trimmings, which might detract from its purpose driven nature, or is it a bare bones box on wheels relying on it’s motto as an excuse to cut costs? AutoPacific and Vehicle Voice staff wanted to know the answer. We may have all agreed that the Xterra fulfilled all of our SUV requirments but with so many options out there would we want one?

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First Glance
At first glance we all agreed that an engineer would probably be proud to own an Xterra. Aside from the blatantly obvious roof-rack and not so obvious skid plates, the engineer could point out the fully-boxed frame, the four vented disc brakes, Bilstein® shocks, anti-sway bar, speed-sensitive steering and the 4.0L 24-valve V6 cranking out 261 horses. The engineer would probably be pleased with how well the Xterra was put together… but what about the rest of the SUV buying population?

4.0L VQ Engine in the Nissan Xterra


Underneath the Xterra you can see the Bilstein shocks, anti-sway bar, skid plates, solid rear axle and disc brakes

The Road Test Begins
Well, there is no doubt that the Xterra’s specs are impressive and its exterior image is fitting but after a weekend with this off-road oriented SUV there are some areas where improvements could be made. A portion of our road test took us over the Saddleback mountain range in Southern California. Accompanied by a Jeep Wrangler we set off down the dirt trail, across creeks, over rocks and along switchbacks. We learned that the Nissan Xterra is definitely not a ‘poser’. It is a very capable machine able to conquer terrain some vehicles would think twice about. Okay, so it’s not quite a Jeep Wrangler and there’s no solid front axle but that only means that the Xterra has better ride-quality/NVH, even though it may come at a loss in off-road capability.
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More Off-Road oriented than Comfy Commuter
On the highway and city streets the Xterra felt solid and a little on the heavy side while the suspension and taller profile made some feel as though the vehicle was ‘top heavy’ and ‘floaty’ (some even reported feeling nauseous). Off road that same suspension really helped soak up the bumps and many of the same people reported a much more comfortable ‘insulated’ experience (especially from those who drove the Wrangler just before hopping into the Xterra).

Plastic Makes It Possible
Our first hand experience with the Nissan Xterra fell inline with most of our research. It really is a strong, tough, youthful, affordable SUV. So, with such a great platform (e.g. boxed frame, 4.0L engine w/6spd manual, Hi/Lo Transfer case, off-road suspension) how can Nissan sell this Xterra around 26K? Well, it’s probably a number of things; from sharing platforms (The F-Alpha platform is also used on the Nissan Titan/Armada) to sharing parts with other Nissan’s/Infiniti’s (e.g. steering wheel). It’s the back-to-basics interior, lacking many of the creature comforts found on todays SUVs, and the heavy use of plastic as a build material which all contribute to making the Xterra’s MSRP relatively low.

Inside the Xterra it becomes obvious that one of the assembly plant workers children (in Smyrna) used the ‘Fun with Casting’ (plastic molding kit) they got for Christmas last year to help build the interior! The sea of dark grey/black plastic is endless, only broken by chromed plastic interior door handles and an ever so slightly different textured plastic here and there.
The seats look sporty with net-like material inside the bolsters (similar to Toyota Tacoma ‘Sport’ seats), perfect for housing those crumbs, dirt, hair, and surf wax before grinding them into the fabric. The rear seats do fold down to form a flat load floor. Cargo can be tied down via hooks in the headliner/roof or moveable ‘tie downs’ in the floor… or if it will fit, just throw it in the box integrated into the roof rack!

Although the seats look sporty and fun they do not cradle occupants like they should (especially off-road) and a few noted that on extended trips (2 hours or more) on or off road, they were uncomfortable (lack of lower back support). Although Xterra’s are not equipped with power seats, Nissan does deserve credit for making the driver’s seat fully adjustable. The seat can be adjusted up or down for comfort and visibility.

The Xterra was very well put together. It may not have felt like 261 horsepower but that could be due to the weight and/or 4-wheel-drive. There were no squeaks or rattles while on the highway (even with all that plastic) and very few off-road. With a few improvements (mainly interior and creature comforts) the Xterra could be propelled into a pleasant daily driver or primary vehicle for a very reasonable price. Maybe we can talk Nissan into building a Nissan Xterra with a Nissan Pathfinder interior?

Bottom Line
In terms of product and price the Xterra falls into a sweet spot: between $20K and $30K. A Pathfiinder can find itself in the high 30K range. With the Xterra, Nissan delivers on a very capable vehicle for a very practical price placing a priority on mechanical prowess rather than creature comforts. Translation: Let’s put the money into the drivetrain, suspension and frame instead of the interior. Outcome: An affordable, capable SUV with a cheap interior. But maybe the interior is more of a ‘want’ than a ‘need’.
Positive Attributes:
Rugged/Tough Exterior Image
Boxed ladder frame
4.0L VQ engine putting out 261HP
Shift-on-the-fly Transfer-case
Clutch Start/Cancel
Off-road capable
Great roof rack!
Roof Rack gear box
Great rubber floor mats!
Rockford Fosgate 6-Disc source/head unit (option)
Auxiliary input (iPOD connectivity/etc.)
Negative Attributes:
Hard plastic interior build materials
Felt a little top heavy/float
Not as much articulation as soft suspension suggested
Front seats are not supportive enough for long trips and bolsters are not large enough to keep you in your seat while off-roading
Where is my compass?
No outside temperature gage?
No power seats (not even an option)
No heated seats (not even an option)
Although adequate power – it did NOT feel like 261 hp


  • Darren| November 30, 2008 at 2:36 pm Reply

    Great article. I just took my xterra on a 3000km road trip (involved both on/off road) and the seats actually were quite comfortable (the lower lumbar support in the driver seat is great). My only complaint is the suspension, needs more travel room or needs to be more solid, I noticed this when I had four adult males piled in.
    I also agree though, where is the compass and temp gauge?

    • Timothy Drum| January 6, 2015 at 1:54 pm Reply

      Should of went with the 2003 Xterra with a Bilstein upgrade like me! Love this truck! Came with the ambient temperature & compass on rear view mirror!! I LOVE IT!

  • Laurence Gallant| November 19, 2008 at 5:12 pm Reply

    Like my Nisson Exterra (2008) but find it very uneasy not having an outside temperature gauge as we travel in the north country a lot and the roads suddenly freeze up. it could prove dangerous. is there any products available for installation that i can purchase? please advise!

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