As the 1990s drew to a close, Generation X was the target market. With a "work hard, play hard" philosophy, having a vehicle that promoted an active lifestyle was practical and cool. Nissan took square aim for that bull's-eye in 2000 when it introduced its Xterra (X for the targeted generation and terra for the land it covers) sport/utility. Motor Trend thought it hit the target so well, it named it the 2000 SUV of the Year.
Based on the Frontier compact pickup, base XE models get the choice of a 143-horsepower, 2.4-liter DOHC inline-four with a five-speed manual transmission or a 170-horsepower, 3.3-liter SOHC V-6, mated to a manual or four-speed automatic. Upscale SE models are available only with the V-6. Four-wheel drive is available only with V-6 options. Even with the V-6, performance is decent, but not spectacular. The I-4 is thrifty in fuel consumption, but it's not the powerplant we'd choose for anything other than commuting.
The Xterra's independent front and solid rear axles are built to tackle off-road trails with ease. With low range and a relatively soft suspension, 4WD models are great rock crawlers; on-road performance is still predictable and soft, with a good amount of body roll and somewhat numb steering. With the four-cylinder, the Xterra is rated at 3000-pound tow capacity. Opt for the V-6 and the rating jumps to a respectable 5000 pounds.
In keeping with the hard-working, utilitarian theme, Nissan designed the interior with easy-to-clean cloth seats, lots of cubby space, and a large flat cargo area. The front buckets lack proper lumbar support for long drives, but the side bolstering will keep you in place over bumpy terrain. Interior plastics are on the inexpensive side, and you can expect to find a few rattles in high-mileage vehicles.
First-generation Xterras have a variety of optional extras, including front and rear auxiliary 12-volt power points, retractable cargo covers, up to 10 floor hooks and ceiling tie-down clips, storage nets, and even an interior-mounted dual bike rack. Audio systems are rather bland--even the top-line 100-watt system with CD changer can sound muddy.
Problems were few for the Xterra: Early-build vehicles were recalled for faulty wheels that could develop stress cracks, and some automatic transmissions needed their shift-cable lock plates replaced due to possible breakage, leaving the PRNDL indicator out of sync with actual gear selection. Some later vehicles had faulty fuel-tank inlet shutter valves and ABS sensors that weren't properly sealed, which could increase the chance of wheel-bearing corrosion. Check with ALLDATA.com for the most accurate service bulletins.
As many Xterra owners were likely to opt for some occasional soft-roading on the weekends, be sure to check for proper alignments, secure ball joints, and perform a general underbelly inspection for possible damage due to nearsighted spotters. With that stated, the Xterra is a tough SUV and a good preowned bargain for anyone looking to go deeper into the backcountry--or at least look like you can.