The 2009 Nissan Xterra may be more refined, but I just don't like it.
I want to.
I think it looks really cool when you walk up to it. The straight-line design conveys a kind of high-tech ruggedness. The vehicle's face is smushed as if a giant grandmother squeezed it just a little too long. There's an appeal to the Xterra.
And when you see people riding in one, they always look so happy -- and young. These are the people who kayak on Monday, bungee jump Wednesday, skydive Saturday and then go clubbing.
While I'm no spring chicken, I don't consider myself old either. The 40s are the new 30s aren't they? I could krump, if I knew what it was.
But the Xterra, despite the exterior refresh for this model year -- the front end was reworked and an optional roof light package is now available -- and a few interior upgrades (I'll get to those later), it never connected with me. It doesn't fit my lifestyle of work on Monday, work on Tuesday, sleep in on Saturday and get ready for work on Sunday.
The ride was bumpy and noisy, kind of like my 20s. The interior felt cheap overall and offered too many plastic parts for my liking.
It may have the off-road prowess of a wildebeest, but I've never felt the need to drive out to see a wildebeest. If I want wildebeest, I'll ask the waiter.
Just because I didn't like this SUV doesn't mean it's a bad vehicle. I'm sure there are plenty of people who drive their Xterras and love every minute in them -- then again, just because they like them, doesn't mean it's a good vehicle either.
The high driving position provides good lines of sight and the seats are very comfortable. Lots of people like trucks. And the Xterra is certainly a truck.
Built on the same platform as the Nissan Frontier pickup, the Xterra uses a fully-boxed steel frame. The double-wishbone front suspension and solid axle leaf spring suspension in back make it ride like a truck. It has more of a truck ride than many pickups. Every bump is hard and jarring.
Along Interstate 75, a road great for testing a vehicle's suspension, Xterra nudged and jostled me. By the time I got out, I was ready to make an appointment for my benchmark colon check.
Additionally, the high ride limits the vehicle's speed. You can hit 80 mph pretty easily but then it starts to feel light on the road and the speed-sensitive, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering loosens up. In my 20s, I may have felt indestructible, so that kind of driving wouldn't bother me. Today, I know better, so I slowed down.
Furthermore, the wind noise leaking into the cabin was extremely high. Fortunately, my test vehicle came equipped with the 300-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo system with eight speakers and a subwoofer. If you can't have a quiet ride, have a really loud one.
The 4-liter V-6 is an excellent powertrain and provided plenty of power. It produces 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. The five-speed automatic transmission was smooth through upshifts and downshifts. The Xterra never hunts and pecks for a gear, and I liked its confidence.
My test vehicle also came with Nissan's technology package, a bundled set of options that focus on making the driving experience much more modern. Aside from the Rockford Fosgate stereo, it includes steering wheel audio controls, an auxiliary jack for your personal music device, XM Satellite Radio and a Bluetooth Hands-free phone system. The Bluetooth was easy to connect and worked well, despite the noisy ride.
The interior was comfortable, though, there was just too much shiny plastic throughout the vehicle. I understand the need for some of it -- it's easy to clean and if you're out rock climbing or mountain biking, you want something that is versatile and wipes up quickly. But the plastic cargo area also means if you put groceries back there, they will slide around at every turn. I imagine the people driving Xterras never have mundane grocery shopping on their activity lists. I do.
Nissan does provide tie-down hooks on the floor and ceiling, but those are made for much bigger items than groceries.
The Xterra offers plenty of space for five adults. The interior volume is impressive and the second row is nearly as comfortable as the front bucket seats.
I can see how it can be a fun vehicle for the right person. It looks cool -- the rugged exterior is tamed with a good interior. It can connect to your phone and iPod and carry all of your stuff for those weekend adventures.
Maybe that's why I don't like Xterra: I'm jealous of that young, hip lifestyle and the vehicles that carry laughing people off to the woods.
No, after putting in the mandatory 100 miles in the Xterra, I parked it in the driveway and thought it over. I'm not envious, I've already enjoyed my 20s -- and I've got no desire to relive them.
While the Xterra has an extra helping of styling, it doesn't meet the minimum standard I hold for ride and handling.
Style may get you through the early years, but substance trumps it every day of the week.
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