During Nissan’s last financial hardships in the early 2000’s, it was the then-new Xterra, and to a lesser extent, Frontier, that pulled the automaker back from the brink of economic disaster. The U.S.-built trucks were initially marketed as an outdoor lover’s capable transport to any recreation activity. Similarly, the current and widespread car industry struggles are met by a freshening up by Nissan of both models for 2009.
Good or bad, with declining truck sales from all manufacturers, the Frontier and truck-based Xterra are virtually unchanged mechanically from previous versions that were last redesigned in 2005. For 2009, both the Xterra and Frontier receive new front ends with revised grills. But more significant than either vehicle’s minor facelift, which is rather bland in many people’s opinion, is that Nissan is initially including the optional technology package at no charge on all but the X trim level of vehicles. This enticement for buyers includes an advanced Rockford Fosgate audio system, XM Satellite Radio (only on automatic transmission models), a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, steering wheel audio controls and an auxiliary input iPod jack. Besides the redesigned front end, Off-Road models receive new roof-mounted off-road lights, new wheels and seats and standard roof-mounted curtain side-impact airbags with rollover sensors. Unchanged is the 4.0-liter DOHC V6 engine carried over from the previous year, that produces 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque available with either two or part-time four-wheel drive. Transmission choices include a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic. Fuel economy ranges from 14-16 mpg in the city and 20 mpg driving on the highway. The Frontier truck lineup will also get updated and include a new PRO-4X off-road version, complete with heavier duty hardware. Also available on both Nissans are two more colors: Red Brick and Navy Blue. These subtle cosmetic changes, especially when not accompanied by any mechanical or fuel efficiency upgrades to boast about, may not be enough to shore up falling sales for the compact SUV. U.S. Xterra sales reportedly fell 45 percent in the last quarter and are at least 37 percent behind this same time last year.