The Nissan Xterra – A Symbolic Step

by Zach Billings on February 29, 2012

2012 Nissan Xterra Pro4XThe STi is gone. Evaporated into misty vapor and absorbed into the recesses of my mind, reserved only for the most powerful of life lessons. My experience with it taught me more than I would care to try to articulate, but thankfully, it’s GONE. In it’s place, now sits a 2012 Nissan Xterra Pro4X, the extra-rugged, utility-focused trim of the Xterra. As of my writing this the odometer reads 375 miles, and let me tell you, they are 375 of the most enjoyable miles I’ve driven. And, while the driving experience of the Xterra could never boil my sports car blood like an STi with Dunlop Z1 tires, it has certainly revealed a prevailing sense of satisfaction that was only felt in brief, fleeting moments with my former love.

My Xterra is the first new car I have purchased. Typically, the shift from a sports car to a truck would be quite a shock, but when you’ve been driving a beaten and battered sports car, any new car feels smooth and refined. Thing is, the Xterra actually is smooth and refined. The first thing that became apparent was the smooth gear shift and clutch. Unlike in many manual trucks, the shifter is not slushy or numb. It has a large throw compared to what I’m used to, but for what it is it’s extremely tidy, slotting into gears with confidence and providing enough transmission feedback to satisfy even the biggest 6-speed snob (which I am).

On the highway, the ‘X’ is quiet. Not luxury car quiet, but quiet. It rides smoothly and steers well, with gusts of wind being the only thing that catch me off guard. Around town, I couldn’t tell you much about what it rides like, as of yet. Framingham roads are much more like off-roading than city driving, with mile-deep potholes, and enough ruts and bumps that I’d think fixing the road would be cheaper than the inevitable law suits. More seriously though, city driving is pleasant. There’s no doubting that the Xterra is a truck, with it’s solid rear axle bouncing around on leaf spring suspension, but that’s what I signed up for. No complaints here.

Inside, the Xterra is all function and even some form. I recently found out that Nissan’s slogan for the Xterra is “Everything you need, Nothing you don’t.” It’s quite fitting. There aren’t many bells or whistles in the Xterra, unless they would somehow come in handy off road, or while generally being manly – think camping in back country with a muddy ‘man’s best friend’ (with a shotgun for the Grizzlys that would scratch your new car). I think the only feature in the whole vehicle that I would call unnecessary to its intended function, would be the Bluetooth hands free calling system on the steering wheel. I haven’t paired it with my phone yet, but I actually had a bit of a laugh earlier today as I realized that it’s probably a good idea in a manual car (if you’ve never tried talking on your cell while driving stick around town, it really isn’t fun… at all).

The trunk of the X is all hard-shelled ABS plastic; the backs of the second row, the floor, the wheel hubs, the inside of the lift gate… everything. It’s fantastic. You could just as easily put muddy gear or an oil-dripping engine block in the trunk. On occasions that I’ve borrowed an Xterra in the past, I’ve done both. It all cleans right up with some water, rags, and a little soap. Nothing to stain. The hard shelled floor lifts up to reveal a cargo compartment that is perfect to store a jump box, some spare water, Fix-A-Flat, and maybe even a compact pistol safe, should the inclination arise. Strapped to an indentation in the inside of the lift gate is a medium first aid kit, just in case your dog gets a thorn in his paw during your manly adventure into back country. As if that wasn’t enough, the second row seats fold flat to be even with the trunk floor, making a potential sleeping space. The rear bumper has a step on either side for easy access to whatever you mount to the three inch roof rails. The transmission, oil pan, 4WD transfer case, and radiator are all shielded by skid plates, just in case the 9.5 inches of ground clearance from the Bilstein┬« off-road shocks runs out. Are you getting the picture? It works on the road quite well and works everywhere else even better!

Drawbacks? Its size can go either way. I never really realized how huge the Xterra is until I drove one in an ownership mindset. It towers over cars that I have usually considered large; BMW X5s, Porsche Cayennes, Toyota Highlanders… even the Ford Explorer is distinctly smaller, at least in height. Knowing that the Xterra is a truck, and I bought it to be a truck, I rather like the size. Mileage is definitely crap but no worse than my STi which had crap mileage on premium fuel. The Xterra is advertized as getting 16mpg city and 20 highway. The city figure seems realistic enough. I drove around actually trying to brake a lot and accelerate on the hard side and it did better than 16. Highway, on the other hand is a fat lie. Even holding 61-64mph for 20 straight miles, it couldn’t push 19mpg. Move up the the ’70 and a little bit’ range, and you’re talking 18mpg assuming you have a tail wind. Not too great, but who really cares. They pay 4 times as much for gas in England… [Update: As of 7,000 miles on the Xterra, the long-distance 65mph test will now return 21mpg with the AC on, so it is capable of achieving the EPA rating if you drive it right... IF.]

Moving away from the drawbacks that aren’t really drawbacks, I still haven’t even mentioned the all-around-toughness of the passenger compartments, or the Clutch Start Cancel system which allows the starter motor to move the car forward if you stall in a dangerous off-road situation. There are also two powerful off-road flood lamps mounted on the roof, along with trail rated tires holding it to the road or dirt. I love the available functionality of the Xterra, but none of the above are my favorite features.

My favorite thing about the Xterra (yes, finally cutting to the chase) is the image. It’s the altered identity that I now carry with me. It’s the step forward that I’ve taken in the world, buying a new car over $30,000 at barely 21, that almost anyone I’ve met would envy. That’s not to say that I’ve done it for the envy of others, it’s so that I can envy myself for a change. It might sound douchey, but it’s a great feeling to achieve something that you didn’t know you could a year ago. And while an Xterra is not an accomplishment, it’s is a symbolic step, representing an accomplishment. I have a few categories of cars which appeal to me. If my plans and goals pan out, I’ll have one of each. Supercar (Lamborghini), Sports Car (STi, or possible GT-R, even though that’s also a supercar), Crossover for the future family (Land Rover Evoque), Bug Out Vehicle (something big and diesel, maybe an H1), and last but not least the practical but rugged truck. While there are other vehicles out there which might appeal more to someone who can afford all of the above, my dream truck is an Xterra Pro4x, configured exactly as mine is. Check that one off the list! I may trade it in every 2-3 years, but I’ll keep getting the same thing, I’m sure.

New truck, new identity, new me. Not all directly related, but all here together.

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