Despite its large size, the Xterra still can attain plenty of speed. Although the car is hesitant when the throttle is first depressed, the power really kicks in at mid and high revolutions per minute. 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 80mph with ease.
The power-assisted front and rear vented disc brakes are firm and responsive, and they allowed us to stop quickly in traffic without throwing us against the dashboard.
Steering is responsive, although it's not supertight. More input is required when the four-wheel drive is engaged. The double-wishbone front independent suspension does not feel designed for passenger comfort; the ride was pretty rough on even the best-paved roads.
Turns feel rather precarious in the 2006 Nissan Xterra. The car has a high center of gravity because of the clearance beneath the chassis, which allows extra space to pass over rocks and debris. But on the pavement, it gives the driver a sensation of instability, especially around tight corners. Body roll is prevalent, which caused our stuff in the front and backseats to knock around quite a bit.
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. Turns felt even more precarious on hillsides, however, and at one point, we thought we might tip over. For those who like to play away from the asphalt on a regular basis, the Xterra is available in a specific Off-Road edition that includes Bilstein off-road performance shocks, fog lights, and an electronic-locking rear differential. Hill-descent control and hill-start assist are also available on the 4x4 Off-Road model.
The most disappointing thing about the 2006 Nissan Xterra by far is its gas mileage. Depending on the transmission, the car gets between 16mpg and 17mpg in the city and 21mpg to 22mpg on the highway. With those numbers, the 21.1-gallon gas tank doesn't last long; we had to fill it up twice during a three-day review period with moderate driving.
The 2006 Nissan Xterra also does poorly in the emissions department. The EPA gives the Xterra a 6 out of 10 (with 10 being the highest) on its air-pollution scale, which reflects pollutants that cause health problems and smog. Its greenhouse gas score, which is based on the car's carbon-dioxide emissions, is a dismal 3 out of 10 for the automatic transmission and 4 out of 10 for the manual. Had the car done better in this area, we might have given it a higher rating for performance.
Decent visibility is the first noticeable safety attribute of the 2006 Nissan Xterra. The car sits higher than others in its class, which gives the driver a commanding view of the road. Large rearview mirrors and good window placement and design minimize blind spots. But the height of the Xterra makes it a prime candidate for a rearview camera or at least a park-distance warning, as visibility immediately behind the car isn't great.
Standard safety features include dual-stage front air bags with seat-belt sensors and active front head restraints, as well as lower anchors and tethers for children (LATCH). In addition, the chassis features zone-body construction with front and rear crumple zones; hood-buckling creases with an energy-absorbing steering column; and steel side-door guard beams. Our test model came with the supplemental air-bag package, which includes driver and front-passenger side-impact air bags and roof-mounted curtain air bags for additional side-impact and rollover protection.
The four-wheel antilock braking system uses electronic brake-force distribution to help all wheels brake equally, as well as active-brake limited slip to help the driver recover control of the car in case of a slide or a skid. Models with four-wheel drive also include a G-sensor that adjusts the ABS according to terrain, whether it's the road, the rocks, or the snow. Vehicle dynamic control helps correct oversteer (the back end coming loose) or understeer (the car plowing forward).
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2006 Nissan Xterra a four-star front crash rating, a five-star side crash rating, and a three-star rollover rating.
The 2006 Nissan Xterra is backed by a 36-month/36,000-mile limited warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile limited power train warranty.