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Weekend Athlete: 2008 Nissan Xterra

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Carrying camping gear is easy, as it usually is, but for some reason car designers seem fixated on giving you either enough room for four people or enough room for four people’s gear. It seats five, you say? Yeah, it’ll seat five if you and your friends are members of the Lollipop Guild.

If you members of the Lollipop Guild, first let me say I’m a fan of your work. Second, you’ll all want to circle around back and check out the height of the load floor. It was just fine for me, which suggests it could be too high for shorter athletes.

The seat-folding system is one of the old-school kind, where you flop the bottom forward then flop the back down, but it uses intuitive loops and can be done with one hand. Ditto for raising the seats, and this earns the Xterra big points.

The bike slips right in thanks to a wide cargo area, but the Xterra isn’t long enough to hold it with both wheels on. It is the rare vehicle today that will let you put a bike in with all wheels on, so I’m not going to ding it a ton for that, but it will keep the Xterra from ever being picked first in the Weekend Athlete kickball tournament.

Now for the grades. To better assist my fellow athletes, I’m making the scoring system more transparent. If you’re all about the bike and never camp, or vice-versa, hopefully this will help you decide if a vehicle does what you want it to:

Weekend Athlete Scores (Out of 10)

Ease of loading gear 4.5: Shorter folks will want to make sure the load floor isn’t uncomfortably high. Also, when carrying a full complement of camping and biking stuff, it requires a bit of thought to get everything just right, which hurts a larger vehicle such as the Xterra. But it is a nice, wide opening, and it doesn’t have a stupid swing-out door.

Ease of seat operation 7: Simple, one-handed operation is nearly perfect.

Bike hauling — 5: Yep, I’m not dinging it for making me remove a wheel, but it isn’t much better than most. And to me, average gets you a 5.

Locker room cred — 9: It looks tough, but it’s the easy-clean cargo area and roof-mounted wetsuit box that seal the high ranking.

All-around — 7: Solid, but not spectacular.

Photo of Bill Jackson
Former assistant managing editor Bill Jackson manages the Research section, and he enjoys triathlons and cross-country skiing. Email Bill Jackson

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