Pros: Looks, Price, and External Durability
Cons: Gas Mileage & Internal Durability
Let's face it, you're looking at an Xterra because it is an eye-catching piece of machinery that exudes American freedom and fun - and it doesn't cost you 30 grand. However, you have your concerns because you've heard that the Xterra gobbles up gasoline and that the ride is very "truck-like". Here's my take on your internal conflict.
First the positives. I have owned my 2002 Nissan Xterra XE for seven months and I still get a twinge of excitement when I walk up to it and prepare to step into the cockpit. It just looks that good. The seats are basic, but comfortable. The controls are also very simple - perfectly placed and easy to operate. If you need every gadget, bell, and whistle - look elsewhere. The CD player has excellent sound but the radio is anemic and the speakers could be placed better. The air conditioning and heat work very well, and there is ample interior storage room.
Contrary to the other reviews, I find the Xterra's ride very enjoyable. Does it ride like a Mercedes Benz or Lincoln Navigator? No. Does it ride and handle like a well-built truck? Yes. I am yet to take the vehicle off-road, but its nice to know I can and it will hold together. I commute every day in this vehicle and have driven 12-hour days on vacation and have no complaints. I am also a 31 year old "no-frills" guy. If my situation was different I might look for more creature comforts in a vehicle.
Now the negatives. Probably complaint numero uno is the plastic and vinyl used on all surfaces in the Xterra. I assume the point was to make the interior easy to clean, but almost anything will scratch it. Sort of ironic that this vehicle can handle any terrain the outdoors can dish out, but if you brush up against the interior of the door with your jeans, the rivets will scratch it up. I am fairly careful with the vehicle, but after seven months I already have several interior dings and scratches.
The second complaint is the gas mileage. It's poor. I go through a lot of gas. This vehicle is just to heavy too allow for decent gas mileage. I have the standard V6 engine which is adequate, but somewhat underpowered. I would definitely avoid the 4-banger and maybe look at the V6 with supercharger. Expect higher maintenance costs down the line with the supercharger, though.
Do the positives outweigh the negatives? In my opinion, yes. More importantly, is there a better true SUV for the money? In my opinion, no.