So you want a little adventure rig but you’re not willing to take out a second mortgage for a used Wrangler. I bet you’re already looking at old Toyota 4Runners and Jeep Cherokees, but have you seen how cheap Nissan Xterras are these days?
Some of you might remember the Xterra landing on the SUV market like a superhero shockwave-stomping into a fight scene. Good grief, did that thing get hyped. Every commercial and print ad had the thing ripping over rocks, kicking up dirt and rescuing mountain bikers/extreme kayakers who were undoubtedly listening to Limp Bizkit which, yeah, got popular the same year the Xterra was released.
I want to call the styling a mashup of 90’s design ideas, but let’s call it what it is: a juvenile knockoff of the Land Rover Discovery. Clearly, it was great.
Today it actually looks pretty simple and relaxed compared to the harsh lines on modern trucks and SUVs, but the Xterra is still distinctive enough to be interesting. And since there are only about six first-generation Discos left running, I’m probably the last person to draw the comparison.
The Xterra is a basic body-on-frame SUV. The interior and exterior are simplistic, but the vehicle’s new enough to have viable climate control and you’re probably not going to have to worry about rain leaking in. The Xterra does have independent front suspension, which isn’t optimal for enduring off-road abuse or easy lifting, but it does make road travel much smoother.
What’s more interesting about these trucks is that they can fit four people comfortably and be configured with four-wheel drive, a V6 engine and a five-speed manual transmission. And according to my cursory research, decent-looking old ones can be snatched up for, like, $3,000.
And it’s so easy to find one in lifeguard yellow, which is, clearly, the way to go.
In general, used Xterras seem to undercut similarly straight-looking 4Runners by at least $1,000, and I don’t know if you’ve been trying to by an old Jeep Cherokee lately, but they’re quickly going the way of the BMW E30. What was once a great bargain is now either garbage or “appropriately priced.” In other words, they’re getting tough to buy for cheapass auto enthusiasts like myself.
The Xterra does not enjoy the depth of aftermarket options that you have access to as a Toyota or Jeep owner. But Nissan repair parts won’t be hard to get, and the immense quantity of Xterras I’m seeing in a quick Craigslist search leads me to believe they’ll be plentiful at pick-and-pull junk yards.
Now of course, some readers will have already scrolled to the comments to say that the old Xterras are crap. It is true that these vehicles are said to have improved significantly with the 2005 redesign that lasted all the way until the model’s demise in 2015, but those models still cost actual money. And once you’re in the $10,000 neighborhood in this market, you might as well start looking at Land Cruisers or seriously sorted-out 4Runners.
Cherrypickers will be looking for Xterras with superchargers or factory locking rear differentials too, and those are sweet features if you can find them. There again though, you’re getting out of the bargain basement.
But if you’re just looking for a fun 4x4, and don’t want to mess around with weird stuff like Scouts and Isuzus, but don’t quite want to pay for a 4Runner or a nice Jeep, an early Xterra will be just peachy.