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Xterra stays true to its original mission

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Now in its second generation since its introduction in 2000, Nissan’s Xterra sport-utility vehicle has stayed remarkably true to its original mission.

It retains its rugged body-on-frame architecture, while many of its earlier competitors, such as Ford’s Explorer, have gone the unibody route for more carlike on-road performance at the cost of reduced off-road capabilities. (Jeep’s unibody-based Grand Cherokee is a pointed exception, but its pricing puts it into a different class).

From its inception Xterra has had a comfortable, highly functional interior. Would-be buyers, cross-shopping with Jeep’s iconic Wrangler, should find the Nissan more livable in mundane, day-to-day chores such as commuting to work or ferrying the kids to school.

2012 Nissan Xterra PRO-4X
VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door, five-passenger, midsize SUV
BASE PRICE: $30,720
PRICE AS TESTED: $31,910 (incl. delivery fees)
POWERTRAIN: 4.0-liter, DOHC V-6; 261 horsepower; 281 lb.-ft. torque; five-speed automatic transmission; four-wheel drive
WHEELBASE/LENGTH: 106.3″/178.7″
CURB WEIGHT: 4,417 pounds
EPA FUEL RATING: 15 mpg city/20 highway (regular grade)

Features such as raised second-row “theater” seating and excellent outward visibility make Xterra’s cabin a pleasant place for passengers to wile away the miles.

The interior’s design and materials tend toward the purposeful, with an abundance of hard plastics and washable upholstery, but all are assembled with obvious attention to detail.

Xterra 2.0 grew a bit in all dimensions as it switched to the larger, stronger F-Alpha platform shared with Nissan’s full-size Titan pickup. This structure also underpins the Frontier pickup, Pathfinder and Armada SUVs and Infiniti’s über-luxe QX56.

Power for the Xterra is provided by Nissan’s ubiquitous 4.0-liter V-6. Its 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque provide ample power for on- or off-road adventures. But you’ll pay for that get-up-and-go at the pump.

Under way, the Xterra surprises with its smooth, composed manner whether on potholed city streets or high-speed highways. Handling is confident, aided by responsive steering. Powerful brakes add an extra layer of security.

Even as buyers’ tastes shift toward more carlike utes, there’s still a sizeable coterie of outdoorsy types which will find much to embrace in the Xterra.