2013 Nissan Frontier and Xterra PRO-4X

Oct. 18, 2013 By Stephen Elmer, Photos Courtesy of Nissan
Nissan Xterra PRO-4X

Buying a vehicle directly from an OEM with hopes to drive directly into muddy, rocky terrain leaves you with few options. Sure, automakers sell trucks and SUVs, but most are catered toward the lowest common denominator; meaning families that will likely never leave the pavement.

Nissan is one of the few manufacturers still offering multiple off-road ready vehicles, straight from the factory. Within its current lineup, two vehicles sit above the rest when it comes to off-road preparedness, the Frontier midsize pickup truck and the Xterra SUV.

Nissan Frontier PRO-4Xa

Even at the very base level, both of these vehicles have characteristics that are sought after by every off-road enthusiast:  a fully boxed, all-steel ladder frame, a steel double-wishbone front suspension and solid axle leaf spring rear suspension, with stabilizer bars front and rear.

Power for both vehicles is delivered from a 4.0-liter DOHC V6, rated at 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque, hooked up to either a five-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission.

Itís not just about the hardware though. Nissan makes sure to tuck all underbody hardware up higher than the frame rails, to make sure driver donít drag important parts across rocks and obstacles on the trail. That means that a minimum of 8.9 inches (4x4) or 8.6 inches (4x2) of running ground clearance is available.

Both the 4x4 versions of the PRO-4X Frontier and Xterra provide nearly 9 inches of ground clearance.

If these base-level amenities donít seem like enough to you however, Nissan takes things a step further. Both the Frontier and Xterra can be dressed up with tougher equipment that will help you tackle trails the same day the vehicle is picked up.

In the case of the Xterra, Nissan offers the PRO-4X model. These off-road ready SUVs are setup with Bilstein high-performance monotube gas shocks, skid plates covering the oil pan, fuel tank and transfer case along with a rear-tire deflector for airing down before tackling the trail. The Bilsteins help to eat up the bumps and washboard, while all that extra armor offers peace of mind when large rocks are a concern.

Depending upon your cargo, the truck-bed option of the Frontier or the rear-seat stroage of the Xterra offer unique options.

The Xterra can be had with either 4x2 or 4x4, but of course the four-wheel drive will be the only choice for off-roaders. It is a part-time four-wheel drive system that comes complete with 2WD/4HI/4LO modes and electronically controlled transfer case. While those options can be had on standard Xterra models, those outfitted with the PRO-4X package also receive an electronic locking rear differential along with hill descent control and hill start assist.

As the names suggest, both of these hill systems will help Xterra drivers climb up or down steep grades in a controlled manner that allows the driver to focus on the driving and worry less and throttle control. 

Hooking up with the ground on PRO-4X models are six-spoke 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels fitted with with BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A tires.

Driver's-side view of the Nissan Xterra

That covers all of the functional goodies that come along with the PRO-4X moniker, but Nissan offers a long list of interior and exterior accessories that will help make the Xterra PRO-4X a real Swiss Army knife. For example, all PRO-4X models receive roof-mounted off-road Lights in the air dam, silver headlight inner color, auto on/off headlights, black bodyside molding, fold-down front passenger seat with backboard, unique gray/white cloth seat fabric, sunglasses holder (overhead console) and even an outside temperature display in the rearview mirror. Most are small things, but they could come in handy when the Xterra is 100 miles from the nearest road.

The final point worth mentioning is the flat load floor in the back of the Xterra that features a tie-down system (above), for those that need to haul gear along with them while out wheeling.

Now on to the Frontier. This little pickup truck actually has two separate off-road packages, both of which are slightly different. First, there is the Frontier PRO-4X.

As they are based on the same platform, the PRO-4X Frontier receives many of the upgrades that are tacked onto the Xterra PRO-4X. These include Bilstein off-road high-pressure shock absorbers, skid plates on the fuel tank, oil pan and transfer case, an electronic rear differential locker with 4-wheel limited-slip (ABLS) and 16-inch aluminum-alloy off-road wheels with large BFGoodrich 265/75R16 Rugged Trail tires.

Nissan Frontier Desert Runner

Buyers who want the extra functionality of a pickup bed but still want to tackle the trails can buy a Frontier PRO-4X, but Nissan offers another off-road package for those with plans of hitting the sand dunes: The Nissan Frontier Desert Runner. Essentially, the Desert Runner gets many of the PRO-4X upgrades, but with a few tweaks to make sure that this truck is properly equipped for the sand. Carried over are the Bilstein shocks and the upgraded tires and wheels, though the Desert Runner doesnít get the under-body armor that the PRO-4X models do, as sand doesnít pose a risk of denting or smashing anything important.

The other major difference is that the Desert Runner is only available in 4x2, meaning that it also doesnít get a rear locking differential.

Style is also a concern of the Desert Runner, demonstrated by the satin chrome ring accents around white-face meter gauges, fog lights, a painted rear bumper, Desert Runner decals, Desert Runner tailgate badge, Satin Chrome grille and a trip computer.

Nissan offers true off-roaders an alternative to the aftermarket, allowing them to avoid high installation costs. In a market that is consistently moving toward providing more vehicles that ďdo it all,Ē it is nice that Nissan still offers niche products, catering to those among us who love to leave the asphalt and spend a day in the sand and dirt.

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