Have you ever wondered what happened to the 4x4? The forerunners of today’s sport-utility-vehicles, they were rugged, affordable machines designed for serious off-road driving, and a far cry from the leather-lined luxury SUVs that now fill most suburban driveways. Well, apparently Nissan remembers, because they’ve just released a new model called the Xterra. Now, Nissan claims that the Xterra is a return to the days of honest, affordable 4-wheel-driving. But can a machine like the Xterra offer today’s SUV buyers what they really want?

It certainly can if what you want is a solid, no nonsense performer more concerned with work and play than surrounding you with needless power doo-dads and yards of leather. That’s because Nissan sees the new 2000 Xterra as a sort of mobile toolbox for your life.

Inside this 4-door toolbox, the manually adjusting, cloth bucket seats are large, firm, with good thigh support. The driver faces a tilt steering wheel that also serves as storage for the cruise controls and a set of basic, easily read analog gauges. The climate controls at the top of the center stack look dated, but are clearly marked and functional. And so is the premium, 6-speaker, AM/FM/CD stereo on our Xterra SE tester.

Like all good toolboxs, the Xterra comes with plenty of storage pockets located conveniently throughout the cabin. But those in the Xterra’s rear stadium-style seats will find that, while the view is good, the room is rather cramped. Plus the bottom cushions of the rear bench seat must be removed for the 50/50 split seat backs to fold flat. Do that, and you’ll have 65.6 cubic feet of cargo space for your tools and toys.

If you need more room, there’s always the rugged tubular roof rack that crowns Xterra’s tall greenhouse. A greenhouse body that rides atop a 104.3 inch wheelbase and separate, tough ladder frame that’s shared with Nissan’s Frontier pickup. The Xterra’s front half, from the bumper to the doors, is also shared with Frontier. But the bulging fenders, stepped rear doors and roofline, and the tall liftback, with its protruding pod, give Xterra its own personality.

Under the hood, the Xterra’s preferred get-up-and-go comes from a 3.3 liter, single-cam, 12-valve, V-6, with 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. It’s standard on SE 4x2s and XE and SE model 4x4s. Both manual and automatic transmissions are available. A 143-horsepower 2.4 liter, inline-4 is standard on the base XE, again with either a manual or automatic gearbox.

But, it was the V-6, running through the 4-speed automatic that moved us to 60 in 10.2 seconds and on through the quarter mile in 17.7 seconds at 78 MPH. With off-roading its primary mission, the Xterra is geared to deliver plenty of torque at low rpms. So, it literally jumps off the line and there is good mid-range punch. Only as you approach 5,000 rpm’s does the capable V-6 run out of steam.

Hauling the Xterra SE in from 60 in a stable average of 130 feet, are 10.2 inch vented discs in the front, and no nonsense 11.6 inch drums in the rear. ABS is standard on all models.

Terrain management and ride quality are handled by a rugged part-time, shift-on-the-fly, 4-wheel drive system and 2-speed transfer case, and the Xterra’s long travel double wishbone suspension found under the front, and the rear solid axle with leaf springs. While the Xterra’s steering handles tight off-road trails well, a faster run through our test slalom overworked the power steering pump. Still, we like the strong on-center bias, even if the system is a little slow to respond. And, like some other SUVs, the Xterra displays considerable body roll. That trait, while annoying on-road, really improves off-road comfort.

Now, being acquainted with a professional mechanic or two, we know a top of the line toolbox doesn’t come cheap. That’s not a problem with this toolbox, however. Sticker on the base 4x2 XE is just $17,869. That’s less than the car-based Honda CR-V mini-ute. The 4x4 XE begins at only $21,019. While a well equipped 4x4 SE, like our prototype, is $26,069.

With a long list of available goodies ranging from interior and exterior racks for bikes, skis and kayaks, to pet dividers, the 2000 Nissan Xterra is aiming to take mobile toolbox trickery to new heights. And we don’t know of any large toolbox that rolls out of the garage easier than the Xterra.


  • Engine: 3.3 Liter Sohc 12-valve V-6
  • Horsepower: 170
  • Torque: 200 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 10.2 Seconds
  • 1/4 Mile: 17.7 Seconds @ 78 MPH
  • 60-0 MPH: 130 Feet