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by Paul Williams
Austin, Texas – Texas is truck country, and the Nissan Xterra is definitely a “go-anywhere” type of truck. But arriving to find swollen rivers, flooded roads and submerged fields after six days of torrential rain in the Texas Hill country looked too challenging even for an off-roader with 9.5 inches of ground clearance.
Undaunted, Canadian auto writers did get to slosh through water and mud in 2005 Xterras, although a full review including driving impressions will have to wait until January, in anticipation of the vehicle’s debut in March, 2005.
In the meantime, here’s a preview of what you can expect from the latest Xterra.
Since its introduction in 1999, the Nissan Xterra has successfully maintained its image as a rugged, no-nonsense SUV favoured by an adventurous, younger buyer (post-college; early career, according to Nissan).
With the availability of Nissan’s new F-Alpha frame (used in the Pathfinder, Titan and Armada among others) the company is continuing the distinctive Xterra theme for 2005, but based on this common platform.
However, the compact SUV segment is very popular in Canada, where people annually buy 120,000 of them. In order to preserve and grow sales, vehicles in this segment benefit from a strong identity that sets them apart from the competition.
Nissan Canada’s marketing director Ian Forsyth says that even though the Xterra is in such a popular category, it has no trouble with identity.
“It’s really in a segment of one,” he suggests. “We sort of invented this category, and the Xterra really defines the type.”
Helping to spread the word, enthusiastic Xterra owners have established clubs, clubs, websites, and events to showcase and feature their favourite vehicle.
Understandably, therefore, the 2005 Xterra doesn’t stray from the original theme of affordable off-road capability with no “fluff.” Nissan has refined the vehicle, taking advantage of the company’s modular truck platform, but doesn’t reinvent it.
Consistent with a similar trend throughout in the truck and SUV segment, power is up, as is size. Nissan executives now refer to the Xterra as both a “compact” and a “mid-size,” SUV (mid-size is more accurate).
Under the hood, Nissan’s VQ-40 V-6 engine takes over as the Xterra powerplant. This engine is designed for truck use, making 265-horsepower at 5,600 r.p.m. and 284 lb.-ft. torque at 4,000 r.p.m. You can match it to a five-speed automatic or new six-speed manual transmission, and tow up to 5,000 lbs.
The F-Alpha architecture upon which the Xterrra is built forms the basis for all of Nissan and Infiniti trucks and SUVs (except the X-trail). The box frame is not the same in every application, however. Depending on the vehicle, it can be shortened, lengthened, widened or made narrower to suit requirements. The use of high tensile and super high tensile steel increases rigidity and reduces frame weight.
The Xterra wheelbase is increased by 51-millimetres over last year’s model, its length by 8-mm and height by 30-mm. The truck doesn’t look particularly bigger from the outside, but the new structure permits an increase in interior shoulder, hip, leg and headroom for front and rear occupants.
The significant increase in rear seat headroom (58-mm) and legroom (91mm) deserves special mention. Overall, weight is up 74-kilograms to 1,939-1,995 kg, depending upon specification.
Three trim levels are available – S, SE and OR (off-road) – and all are four-wheel drive. The Xterra’s part-time 4WD system includes 2WD/4H/4LO modes and an electronically controlled transfer case.
The exterior follows the Nissan truck family’s grille and exaggerated fender designs, now unifying the full truck line. For the Xterra, the signature “kicked up” roof continues, and rear bumper sidesteps appear to help accessing the roof-rack with basket.
Another rugged exterior element is the use of fat, BF Goodrich, 265/75R-16 inch tires on six-spoke alloy wheels for the S and OR version. The Xterra SE gets 265/65R-17 inch BF Goodrich “Long Trail” tires 17″ alloy wheels.
Xterra’s interior features sculpted front bucket seats with available fold-flat capability. The 60/40 split, stadium-style 2nd row seating continues. There is no third-row.
The cargo area uses an easy-clean fibreglass floor and a “utili-track” channel system similar to that found in the truck bed of the Nissan Titan and Frontier. Metal hooks to hang gear and bags are liberally situated, as are bottle containers and storage compartments.
The dashboard features clear instruments and simple controls for the driver, and a dual glove-box that opens up and down to maximize storage space ahead of the front-seat passenger. A Rockford-Fosgate audio system with nine speakers, steering wheel controls and MP3 playback capability is optional.
Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock brakes with four-wheel discs, electronic brake force distribution and a tire pressure monitoring system. Side impact and side curtain airbags are optional.
Vehicle stability control is standard on the SE and OR versions, with the latter including underbody skid plates, a locking rear differential, hill descent control and hill start assist.
Fuel economy is the same or better than the previous model, requiring regular gas.
Priced between $31,000 and $37,000, the 2005 Xterra is an evolution of the current model. There are no surprises from Nissan as it consolidates its position in Mr. Forsyth’s “segment of one.”