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The Post Where I Talk About Vehicles

December 3, 2004

I know by the glazed eyes that most of you do your best to feign interest when I start talking about automobiles, though you could really care less.  And, that’s all well and good, but this is my blog, and I can discuss whatever I want.

Today, I want to discuss "my next vehicle".  It will be some time – a year or more – before I retire my Xterra in favor of a newer collection of metal and plastic.  Because of the way my brain is wired, however (some might say obsessive compulsive…or psychotic), I can’t help but explore my options far in advance.  I will agonize over the decision for months and months, before finally, and firmly, deciding what I want.  Then I will be extraordinarily happy with my choice for twelve to fourteen months before wanting something new.

Well, that’s not true.  I love my Xterra.  In spite of its faults, it is best vehicle I’ve ever owned.  With minor modifications (an engine designed in the last decade, four-wheel drive, and a way to listen to my iPod without the terrible FM modulator) I’d be happy to hold onto it for several more years.  And, thinking about what else was available when I got it, there’s nothing else I’d have preferred in its stead.

That said, what am I looking for in a new vehicle?  Basically, more of the same, with a few minor changes.  Let’s review:

I want something with a high step-in height.  Something I can slide into, rather than having to contort my body into weird positions to enter.  This basically means an SUV or a pickup (or a minivan I guess, but…yeah right).

I want something mid-sized.  Nothing too big – I do work and drive downtown, after all.  But nothing too small, either.  Every time I’m behind a Ford Escape and looking at its scrawny suspension arms, I cringe.

I want four doors.  Room for five passengers (or a passenger and three dogs).

I want a V-6 (a good compromise between gas mileage and power) and an automatic transmission.  I’d absolutely flip-out-love-to-have a standard, but think it would quickly become annoying in the face of daily rush-hour traffic.  And besides, Jamie can’t drive a standard.

I want that V-6 to accept regular gasoline.

I want four-wheel drive with an honest-to-goodness transfer case.  Now that the Defender’s up for sale, I want my next vehicle to be capable of mild offroading.  Not on the Defender’s level, of course, but I’d love to be able to do some light trails at Barnwell or Mason.

I want a rear locking differential.  See above.  A locker can lend a whole lot of capability to a vehicle, and help make up for the limits of independent front suspension.  These may seem rare, you think, but you’d be surprised.

Of the vehicles that meet these criteria, two stand out.  The Nissan Xterra and the Toyota Tacoma.  One is an SUV, the other a pickup.  Both have been completely redesigned for 2005.  Both have four doors, five-speed automatic transmissions, and 4.0 liter V-6 engines.  Both come with offroad packages (SE Offroad for the X, TRD for the Taco) that feature rear locking differentials.  And, both are midsize.

Up to this point, I’ve been torn between the two, and figured that my ultimate decision would revolve around rather I want a pickup or an SUV.  An open or enclosed cargo area, basically.  Both have their benefits and their drawbacks.

But then, today, James Healey of USA Today went and reviewed the 2005 Nissan Frontier.

I can hear you interrupting me now.  "Whoah!  Where’d the Frontier come from?  You were talking about the Tacoma and the Xterra.  What gives?  Why is there cat food in my pocket?"

Long story short, the new Xterra and Frontier are very nearly mechanical twins.  Same engines, same drivetrains, same cabin layouts (minor variations in finish, though).  So, basically, a review of the Frontier is almost as good as a review of the Xterra.  And, it’s all I have to go on for the moment, since the new X doesn’t launch until February.

So, what did Healey say?  The Frontier is a "likely candidate for the small-truck crown", and, if no glaring defects emerge, it "will be a hard package to top".

Powerful words, especially considering that he’s already reviewed the 2005 Tacoma, and found it wanting.

So, if the Frontier is this good, and the Xterra is its mechanical twin, that bodes extremely well for Nissan’s chances to keep my business.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Kay permalink
    December 4, 2004 4:50 pm

    What makes you think we feign interest when you start talking cars. If anything, we’ve listened too well.

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