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2011 Nissan Xterra Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2011 Nissan Xterra was new.


Performance: 7.7

The 2011 Nissan Xterra is a good option for those who want a rugged off-roader with plenty of utility and space. Its 4.0-liter V6 has lots of power, especially for an affordable compact SUV. However, its on-road ride simply can't compete with its car-based crossover competitors such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Then again, they can’t compete with the Xterra when the pavement ends.

  • "It's worth noting that compared to newer crossover SUVs, all of these vehicles come with the inherent downsides of thirsty fuel consumption, a truck-like ride and cabins that aren't exactly cosseting. If this is too much for you, consider the Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-7 and Subaru Forester. All you'll really lose is the off-road ability. Well, that and the easy ability to transport that elk." -- Edmunds
  • "Unlike some SUVs, it's a truly capable off-roader, with an available new PRO-4X off-road edition." -- Cars.com
  • "If you're looking for a wild child who loves to get dirty, the Xterra is an able adoptee." -- Car and Driver
  • "Xterra makes no apologies for being a rugged, go-anywhere SUV truck." -- MSN
  • "The Xterra is a truck-based SUV and must be driven like one -- though the ride quality is better over pavement disruptions than earlier SUV generations were." -- Cars.com

Acceleration and Power

With a 4.0-liter 261-horsepower V-6 engine, the 2011 Xterra has plenty of power for any situation. It also boasts a 5,000-pound maximum towing capacity, which is excellent for its class. However, all that power impacts fuel economy, which is a major drawback. The EPA rates the 2010 two-wheel drive model (2011 two-wheel drive estimates aren’t in yet) at 16/20 mpg city/highway rating with the six-speed manual transmission and 15/21 with the five-speed automatic. The 2011 four-wheel drive model nets 16/20 and 15/20 with the manual and automatic, respectively. Several other off-road SUVs offer better fuel economy, with the Jeep Patriot achieving the most miles per gallon.

If you can handle its fuel economy, reviewers say the Xterra’s powertrain delivers the acceleration you need on the highway and the torque you need on the trail.

  • "Thanks to the 2011 Nissan Xterra's powerful V6, performance is sure to satisfy." -- Edmunds
  • "Strong from a stop and around town. A 2WD SE did 0-60 mph in 7.1 seconds in our test. The automatic reacts quickly enough to throttle inputs, but passing at highway speeds can be a bit labored with either transmission." -- Consumer Guide
  • "The 4.0-liter is a gutsy motor with a growl for an engine note." -- Car and Driver
  • "When merging on the freeway, we had the initial sensation of not being able to accelerate fast enough, then discovered several seconds later that we had somehow reached 80 mph with ease." -- CNET

Handling and Braking

Reviewers find the Xterra's on-road ride and handling decent, but say it falls short when compared to others in its class. Smoother car-based competitors include the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, while better-riding off-roaders include the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota 4Runner.

  • "On the road, the Xterra maneuvers confidently with precise steering and relatively minimal body roll.” -- Edmunds
  • "Fast cornering induces marked body lean, plus some tail hop over bumps; Off-Road's stiff suspension bounces even more. The steering feels slow in parking and quick direction changes, but Xterra has a relatively tidy turning circle for easy close-quarters maneuvering. Stopping control is unexceptional." -- Consumer Guide
  • "Handling is good if the Xterra isn't driven too hard, and the brakes provide short stops. Although improved, the ride is predictably truck-like despite the longer wheelbase and gets choppy over some roads." -- MSN


All Xterra models are available with four-wheel drive at no extra cost but for true trail runners, the rugged PRO-4X model is by far the best value. Among its many features are standard four-wheel drive, roof-rack-mounted off-road lights, Bilstein off-road performance shocks, skid plates, an electronic locking rear differential, hill descent control, hill start assist, and a first-aid kit. However, note that the PRO-4X model's stiff suspension takes quite a toll on ride comfort when you're driving on pavement.

  • “With its truck-derived underpinnings, the Xterra offers impressive off-road performance due to its long suspension travel and high ground clearance, though its ultimate in-the-dirt capabilities fall short of the Wrangler's.” -- Edmunds
  • "Off-road, our Xterra slogged its way through a muddy field without much difficulty. The engine had plenty of torque, and we didn't feel much slippage." -- CNET
  • "It doesn't have the pure off-road prowess of a Jeep Wrangler, but it doesn't have the twitchy on-road behavior, and its 65.7 cubic foot cargo area kicks Wrangler's butt when it comes time to haul the gear." -- About.com

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