JAPANESE BODY ON FRAME SUVs COMPARED HEAD TO HEAD
We are fortunate enough to own both a 2010 Nissan Xterra Off Road (primarily my wife’s rig) and a 2018 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off Road (primarily my rig). Both of these vehicles are extremely capable off-road, but there are some interesting comparisons and differences.
These 5th Generation 4Runners and 2nd Generation Xterra models overlap for five years, from 2010 to 2015. They have a lot more in common than differences, yet I can’t help comparing them.
- The 2nd generation Xterra “Off-Road” was renamed the Xterra “Pro 4X” in 2011. This SUV was produced from 2005-2015.
- The 5th generation 4Runner “Trail Edition” was renamed the 4Runner “TRD Off-Road” in 2017. This SUV was produced from 2010 to present.
Similarities in the Xterra and 4Runner
- Japanese Body and Frame Midsized SUV’s
- Similar sized V6 Engines with 5-speed transmissions
- Manufactured to actually go off-road
- Factory Skid Plates
- Locking rear differential
- 5000-pound towing capacity
- Seating for five
- Excellent Reliability Records
Both vehicles have a locking rear differential and the ability to turn off unwanted traction devices. While the Xterra has “Hill Descent” to automatically regulate the speed of your descent down a hill, the 4Runner has “Crawl Control” which has the ability to work downhill and uphill, and you have several settings on the speed of the crawl.
The 4Runner also has “Multi-Terrain Select” which regulates wheel spin with throttle and brakes on various surfaces for increased traction. The 4Runner has “A-Trac” which helps keep torque on the wheel with less traction.
Another feature I like on the 4Runner (TRD models only) is the manual transfer case to shift into 4H and 4L, as opposed to the dial control on the Xterra. Sometimes the Xterra takes quite a while to actually shift into 4H, as you watch a blinking indicator on the dash, waiting and hoping it engages.
This can be a little nerve racking on occasion when driving in snow. Also, something just feels better about manually shifting into four while drive, as opposed to twisting a dial on the dash.
The 4Runner is a pretty enjoyable everyday driver. It tracks smooth down the highway with comfortable seating and a nice driver position. The 4Runner also has nice amenities, such as power seats, puddle lights, power rear window, optional sunroof, daytime running lights, lots of power outlets and a well-lit dash. The interior is spacious and control knobs are easy to grasp. It just feels good to drive.
Although the 4Runner is more comfortable and refined as an everyday driver, the Xterra does excel in a few areas, including incredible visibility out the back. It’s also nimbler than the 4Runner and it gets up and goes quicker when you step on the gas. This may be from the lighter weight, different gear ratio’s or something else, but it is definitely quicker and more responsive than the 4Runner.
Overall the 4runner just wanders less and feels more modern and sophisticated as an everyday driver. Perhaps the coil spring rear suspension in the 4Runner as opposed to the leaf spring rear suspension in the Xterra is another reason the 4Runner feels a little more refined and a little less truck like driving on the pavement.
STORAGE AND CUBBIES
The stock roof compartment on the Xterra is nice. You can throw muddy shoes (we like to trail run) and wet clothes up there and quite a few other things, although it is not terribly deep, it holds more than you might think. The Xterra also has a pretty deep bin under the rear cargo area that fits jumper cables, recovery strap, tools and quite a bit more, and a couple more cubbies on each side of the back-cargo area, great for bug spray, sun screen, and more. The Xterra has two glove boxes and a nice center console for storage up front.
The 4Runner just does not have the same amount of storage but does have a generous center console storage bin and a nice storage area on the passenger side of the cargo area for jumper cables and a few other items. If you are one of the few with the sliding rear cargo deck, you do have a shallow storage area under there too. This all being said, I have to keep a tool box in the back of the 4Runner to store some of my gear, whereas the Xterra, I can get away without the extra tool box.
BACK WINDSHIELD WIPER
Okay, this one might seem trivial and you wonder why I bring it up, but it has actually been a big deal. The rear wiper on the back of the Xterra is almost worthless. It fails to clear even small amounts of snow or mud. In fact, it can’t even successfully clear all the water off the window. I took it back to the dealer three times after I purchase the Xterra and finally realized it’s not broken, it’s just a horrible design. The wiper arm applies such little pressure onto the window, it can’t clear much of anything, it just smears it across the window and/or the blade just skips over it. Whoever designed the Xterra wiper obviously didn’t live where it snows.
The 4Runner rear wiper is wicked cool coming out of the spoiler and clears the window crystal clear, whatever is on it. It’s a weird thing to be excited about, but that was one of my favorite things on my new 4Runner. I guess a functional rear wiper is one of those things you don’t appreciate until it doesn’t work.
No Contest here, the Rockford Fosgate system in the Xterra is 100 times better than the Premium Audio System in the 4Runner TRD Off-Road. Only the 4Runnner Limited has had the option of the JBL sound system (pre-2019), although I have heard the JBL system is better than the premium system, people say it’s still not that spectacular.
The Rockford Fosgate system in the Xterra has full, powerful, high-quality sound and deep base, which includes a sub-woofer mounted under the driver’s seat. It is truly awesome. Our kids like to borrow the Xterra just to use the sound system. I have replaced all eight of my 4Runner speakers with high-quality speakers, which has much improved the sound but still does not compare to the Xterra. At least it’s no longer cringe-worthy.
The stock 4Runner speakers have extremely tiny magnets, which produce very little base. Not sure if Toyota was trying to save a few pennies here, or more likely was trying to shave every little bit of weight off the truck, as the stock speakers feel like feathers. Note, the Xterra Pro 4X did get an upgrade in its final years with a small LCD display for the stereo, back up camera and navigation system. Still with the superior sound from the Rockford Fosgate stereo.
OFF ROAD PROWESS
From my off-road trail time in the Xterra, limited time off-road in the 4Runner and everything I have read, both of these SUV’s are very capable off-road. They are both body on frame trucks, with four low and high gear options, lots of low-end torque, locking rear differential and close to 10 inches of standard ground clearance.
The Xterra shines a little more in some areas with a slightly better approach and departure angles, being a little smaller and nimbler, stock off-road lamps (ok, I barely ever use these, but nice to know they are there) and better visibility.
The 4Runner shines a little more in some areas like more electronic tractions aids, manual transfer case (On TRD models), pre-drilled threaded holes in the frame to easily add rock sliders and huge aftermarket for armor, sliders, winches, skid plates and other off-road accessories and modifications.
SIDE NOTE – BULL BARS AND NERF BARS:
From my pictures, you can see we have a bull bar on our Xterra. This does reduce your approach angle, so if you’re trying to push your truck to the limits off-road, I recommend you skip the bull bar. We still have a good enough approach angle and my wife likes the looks of the bar, plus feels a little safer with commuting every day through a forested area, heavily populated by deer. Unfortunately, deer collisions are a common occurrence where we live, although we have been lucky so far.
The other accessory you might skip if you are trying to maximize your off-road ability is running boards or nerf bars, especially if you don’t have a lift. They hang down and reduce your clearance. Also, they are not made to withstand impacts or pressure and can tear off and/or bend striking the ground, rocks or logs. A better choice is rock sliders, which tuck up higher on the frame and are made to take a beating. Rock sliders can double as a step, although will likely be a little higher step.
Certainly, nothing wrong with bull bars, nerf bars or running boards, just know there is sometimes a tradeoff for the looks and convenience. Do what you want though, it’s your truck. For example, your wife being able to climb in the truck is probably more important than losing a little clearance on the trail. Just depends on your personal needs, uses and priorities. If everyone’s rigs looked the same, it would be a boring world.
With the 4Runner’s slightly better gas mileage and gas tank that holds two more gallons than the Xterra, you do notice the better cruising range. Also, with the larger cargo area, the 4Runner is just a more capable vehicle for longer trips with more room to bring extra gas and other supplies.
Well, I guess this is pretty subjective. I love the looks of both vehicles, but the 4Runner has that bad ass factor about it and looks a little more modern than the Xterra. The headlights on the Xterra look a little dated. I do like the iconic asymmetrical lift gate on the Xterra, which actually houses a first aid kit. Neither one looks like all the unibody SUV clones coming off all the assembly lines now. Whether you’re in an Xterra or a 4Runner, you stand out from the crowd.
NISSAN XTERRA (2nd Generation) DETAILS:
NISSAN XTERRA SPECS:
• 4.0L V6 with 261 Horsepower, 281 ft torque
• 15-16 mpg city / 20-22 mpg highway
• Ground Clearance 9.5 inches
• Approach Angle 33.2 degrees
• Departure Angle 29.4 degrees
• Wheelbase 106.3 inches
• Width 72.8 inches
• Curb Weight 4438 lbs.
• 5000 lbs. towing capacity
TOYOTA 4RUNNER (5th Generation) DETAILS:
TOYOTA 4RUNNER SPECS:
• 4.0L V6 with 270 Horsepower, 278 ft torque
• 17 mpg city / 20-21 mpg highway
• Ground Clearance 9.6 inches
• Approach Angle 33 degrees
• Departure Angle 26 degrees
• Wheelbase 109.8 inches
• Width 75.8 inches
• Curb Weight 4750 lbs.
• 5000 lbs. towing capacity
WINNER: Well, it depends
If your buying new, the choice is easy. The Toyota 4Runner is the last true body on frame, mid-sized, Japanese SUV sold in the States. I don’t think you will be disappointed, it’s an awesome rig.
If you’re looking for used, particularly 2010-2015, you do have a choice between the two. I would recommend looking at the 2013 Xterra and newer to get the LCD monitor in the dash or the 2014 4Runner or newer for the updated body design, Entune, and some other interior improvements. So, I guess the sweet spot looking at these two vehicles used would be 2014 and 2015 model years.
If you are looking for a less expensive, more bare-bones Japanese SUV that is truly capable off-road, the Xterra is actually a nice truck and you will likely be extremely happy with it. It has great storage, functional roof rack, nice visibility, a high-end stereo, locking rear differential and good approach and departure angles. It has a certain unique personality to it that we actually love.
If you are looking for an off-road capable Japanese SUV that is a more comfortable everyday driver and better equipped for longer trips or overlanding, the Toyota 4Runner is probably your best choice. The power seats are very comfortable, cargo area generous, lots of traction aids and off-road gadgets, highly customizable, manual transfer case, sunroof option, looks badass and just fun to drive.
Or if you like spending a ridiculous amount of money on gas, you can buy them both. Haha. There are quite a few facts and plenty of opinion in this article. I hope you found it interesting and feel free to ask questions or comment. Enjoy those trails!