The 2006 Nissan Xterra isn't one of those midsize SUVs that blends into the background. Even though the design isn't new, its big, boxy shape and unique grille still catch the eye while you're driving on a road full of functional but blasé automobiles. Not to say that all who look are pleased; comments on our test car ranged from cool to plain old ugly.
This 2006 Motor Trend Sport/Utility of the Year boasts a powerful V-6 engine and is fun to get dirty. But rough suspension and a tipsy feel around corners can make for a less-than-enjoyable driving experience on the road. In addition, the vehicle lacks some of the creature comforts that on-the-go adventure seekers would find handy. The eight-speaker audio system with subwoofer sounds good, but other tech treats, such as a navigation system, Bluetooth, and an auxiliary jack, are not an option. A connector for an iPod is available, but it doesn't support other types of portable music players.
Owners of the 2006 Nissan Xterra will suffer most at the gas pump. The car gets an EPA-tested 16mpg in the city and 21mpg on the highway, but those who haul heavy stuff or play a lot off-road will see those numbers go even lower.
The 2006 Nissan Xterra starts at $20,050 for the basic X trim level with rear two-wheel drive. Our SE edition with four-wheel drive had a base price of $27,650 and included XM Satellite Radio ($350), body side molding ($110), carpeted floor mats ($110), and the supplemental air-bag package ($700)--for a grand total of $29,525, including a $605 destination charge.
When climbing into the cabin of the 2006 Nissan Xterra, the famous line from the 1967 film The Graduate comes to mind: "Plastics." The dash, the moldings, the center console, and other trim are wrought with man-made material. The plastic used seems durable and practical, but other materials would have been nice as accents to break up the monotony. Our car did come with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, which provided added comfort and grip.
The displays, while easy to read, aren't terribly attractive. The instrument panel, with its orange backlight and black and white gauges, looks boring and dated. This is especially disappointing for a vehicle that is, according to Nissan, "equipped to push boundaries."
When it comes to accommodating passengers, we found the 2006 Nissan Xterra almost an example of the Tardis Effect in reverse: The car looks huge but isn't all that roomy inside. The backseat in particular is small and cramped, and it offers little legroom. Front-passenger seats have decent support and are large enough to accommodate most adults but offer a limited amount of adjustability. On the plus side, the convenience of the abundant, deep cup holders, ample center-console space, built-in sunglass storage compartment, and three 12-volt power adapters might console otherwise uncomfortable occupants.
This rough-looking stereo is the high point for cabin electronics.
The eight-speaker, 380-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system produces good, clear sound, even at high volumes while driving on the freeway. Steering-wheel controls handle volume, track, mode, and even power. Our car came prepped for XM Satellite Radio; consumers get free activation and three months of service when buying the car new. Sirius Satellite Radio is also available, so buyers won't have to feel forced into choosing one service over the other.
The 2006 Nissan Xterra's six-disc CD changer plays MP3s and shows ID3-track information with the touch of the display button. Bluetooth functionality and an auxiliary jack are missing, but Xterras with the six-disc CD changer will support an OEM interface for an iPod. The optional adapter connects the Apple music player to the car stereo via a cable in the glove compartment and is controlled from the in-dash radio or the steering-wheel buttons. Unfortunately, the connector can't be used with other brands of MP3 players.
Nissan makes a decent navigation system in some of its other models, such as the 2006 Nissan Murano, but this feature surprisingly is not an option on the Xterra. Bluetooth is also not offered, but this is of less importance for an off-road vehicle. Cooling and heating controls are basic but adequate, and the knobs and vents aren't as durable as they should be for a car designed to take a lot of use and abuse.
Rear space is adequate for hauling large items, but the hard plastic floor causes things to slide around, even when using the cargo nets. A sliding cargo-area organizer is available for an additional $150, which we think should come standard, at least on the more expensive models. The built-in first-aid kit is handy, as long as owners remember to refresh and replenish supplies as needed.
The 2006 Nissan Xterra comes standard with a powerful 4.0-liter, 265-horsepower DOHC V-6 engine that puts out 284 pound-feet of torque. The drivetrain is available in both a rear-wheel drive and a shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive system, which switches the car into four-wheel drive and back with a simple turn of a knob. Towing capacity for all models is listed at 5,000 pounds. Our SE model is available with only a five-speed automatic transmission, but other Xterra trim levels come standard with a six-speed manual transmission, with the automatic optional.
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.
The 4.0-liter V-6 produces good power for the Xterra, but it gets lousy mileage and poor emissions ratings.
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.