Pros: Great handling & cargo room, great price
Cons: "Rugged" ride, not a lot of leg room in the back, spare interior
Last fall, I started looking for something to replace my beloved 1992 Mazda Miata. I purchased a fixer-upper 1921 bungalow 7 years ago, and I'd been creatively hauling home renovations supplies, like jack hammers and lumber, in my Miata, and I was ready for a "grown-up" vehicle. I wanted something with more room but that wouldn't use lots & lots of gas, and that was interesting looking, functioned well inside & out, for not a lot of money. I also wanted a manual transmission, which is just my personal preference. It makes me feel as though I have a little more control in difficult weather. And, though I'm a 38-year-old woman, I didn't want a soccer mom mobile.
When I started my search I was looking at Muranos, Xterras, and Hyundai Santa Fes, because of how those were rated by Consumer Reports. I quickly marked the Murano off the list because, though it's a really beautiful vehicle, it was much more than I wanted to pay, especially considering how much vehicle I could get from the Xterra & Santa Fe for the money. After much research, I landed on the Xterra, mainly because I liked the adventurous looks of it, I could more easily find one with a manual transmission, and because of the reliability of Nissan. And, the 2002 model, which I purchased, was Nominated for the 2002 Motor Trend Sport/Utility Of The Year.
Consequently, I purchased a 2002 model with 32,000 miles on it from Carmax last fall for $11,500, which I thought was very reasonable, especially for a Nissan. I've driven it for a little over a year now, and I really couldn't be more pleased. Here are my impressions so far:
Interior:The Xterra is a "rugged" SUV. The interior is fairly plain, with nondescript upholstery. Mine, especially, because it's the only trim level that offers a manual transmission, is fairly plain. It has manual locks & windows, no cruise-control, etc. Something I really like is that the cup holders are removable, flexible rubber, and can easily be washed in a dishwasher. I wish that this model had the plastic floor in the back, like newer models have. Then I wouldn't have to cart around a blanked to layout anytime I'm hauling anything messy. The one I have has a fairly icky polyester-like carpet that lines the floor and soaks up any dirt or liquid pretty quickly. Thankfully, it's dark gray.
Ride & Handling:The Xterra is on a truck chassis, and it rides like a truck. If you're looking for the ride of any of Nissan's higher end SUVs, this vehicle is not for you. Having said that, I've taken several road trips in the Xterra, and I've been more than happy with the comfort level. I even drove my 80-something grandparents on a 3 hour trek recently, and they fared just fine. The leg room in the front is great - I'm 5'7", and I'm frequently in heels, and I have no trouble using the pedals comfortably. I have several men friends who are 6'2" and above, and they have plenty of leg room & head room. However, there's not a lot of leg room in the back seat. That's one of a few complaints I have. I wish there were just an inch or two more space in the back seat. Regarding the handling, I've been really pleased. I was concerned about roll overs, but honestly, I've mistakenly taken some turns at fairly high speeds, and my Xterra hangs in there just fine. I love the manual transmission, and after driving through my first Oklahoma winter, I can say I can say I really couldn't ask for more control or better handling. Also, I love that I can drive up a curb or through a field when I need to. I know that sounds terribly adventurous - I'm really not - it's more for parking at large events, or when I'm trekking to friend's homes who live in rural areas.
Cargo space & Exterior: Love the roof rack! I was able to haul my own Christmas tree home this year for the first time ever, which was nice. I threw it on the roof rack and easily tied it down by just stepping up into the vehicle by grabbing the hand holds and the roof rack itself. The cargo space is plentiful (which likely accounts for the lack of leg room in the back seat), and I use it all the time. I just picked up a new overstuffed leather chair for my mom and had no trouble getting it in the back. The only thing I'm not crazy about is that the back seat bottom have to be removed in order to lay the seats down flat, and there's really no good place to put them, so they end up getting banged around a bit. A more careful person likely wouldn't have that problem, though. Lastly, I'm glad I don't have running boards. I'm frequently in a suit or skirt for work, and I've noticed that when I get into a vehicle that has running boards, it's easy to rub up against them and get whatever mud or guck is on them on your pants or skirt. I thought they might be a help when my elderly grandparents were riding with me, but my sister's Pathfinder has them, and they really just get in the way. We still have to use a plastic step for my grandparents to climb in, so they're really no help. Maybe if you had kids or were petite, they might be, though?
Reliability In just over a year, I have had two problems. First, I had a short in the electrical system that caused my dash lights & brake lights to go out while on a short road trip, which was difficult. I used my hazards all the way home, took it into the shop and 6 days later, the mechanics found the short and repaired it. I also had to replace a portion of the driver's side seat belt. Thankfully, I had the extended service plan from Carmax, so I only paid $50 for each repair. I have no idea what the repairs would have cost if I'd not had the extended service plan. I'm guessing the electrical short would have been quite pricey, considering the cost of a mechanic's time for 6 days.
Lastly, I just love this vehicle. Great looks, functionality, reliability, and I'm still very happy with the price. I'm taking it on a 1500 mile road trip this fall, and I have no doubts that I'll love driving it the whole way.