Our Xterra was a 4x4 model, which means that it is able to switch between 4WD and 2WD at the touch of a dial. Selecting 2WD sends power out of the rear wheels only and is the best mode for optimal fuel economy on dry public roads. The 4WD splits the power delivery between the front and rear wheels for the best grip when going off-road. We noticed that our Xterra's turning radius was moderately increased in 4WD mode. A third mode, 4WD Lo, is a low-geared, high-traction crawling mode that is best used for rock crawling and creeping out of low-traction situations, such as ice or snow. 4WD Lo can only be engaged when the vehicle is in neutral with the brake depressed; it limits the vehicle's overall speed.
For all intents and purposes, the Xterra is a body-on-frame truck. As a result, it rides like a truck: bumpy and rough with a good deal of body movement. Over rough patches of highway, we felt every pockmark and pothole the road threw at us; and over uneven expansion joints, the Xterra tossed its passengers around the cabin like little rag dolls. However, larger bumps, such as speed bumps, rocks, and curbs, tackled at lower speeds, were soaked up with surprisingly little protest.
Where the Xterra comes into its own is with cargo capacity. The extreme SUV feature a cavernous rear storage area with enough room to store a pair of mountain bikes (with the front tires removed) or ski equipment for a weekend in the mountains. The load-in height is a bit on the tall side, but not unmanageable. The rear area features a wipe-clean floor and can be augmented with accessories from Nissan to hold bikes, snowboards, and other equipment in place.
The Xterra also comes standard with a roof rack with an integrated storage box. This box features a plastic grate floor to allow moisture to escape, perfect for drying a wet jacket or wetsuit as you head home at the end of the day. In order to help reaching the roof rack on the 75-inch tall Xterra, Nissan has included steps on either side of the rear bumper.
The 2010 Nissan Xterra S is a brute: it's big, dumb, and simple. For some drivers, this is part of the Xterra's charm. There's a lot of space out back for cargo and a very cool roof rack with an enclosed storage bin. It may not offer the complex terrain controls of, for example, the Land Rovers, but there aren't too many places that the Xterra can't go with its reasonably torquey V-6, tallish ground clearance, and locking 4x4 system with low gearing.
However, as a tech car, the Xterra S is about a decade behind the times. The S trim level's single option audio system is devoid of any advanced entertainment tech. There isn't even an aux-input, and GPS navigation is flat out unavailable. All of this results in a seriously low comfort score which, in turn, brings the Xterra S' overall score down. Of course, stepping up to the SE or Off-Road trim levels adds many of these features, including a better audio system, Bluetooth, Garmin navigation, the ability to spec an iPod interface, and that elusive auxiliary input.