Lifting and Off-Road Prepping Nissan’s Capable Gen2 Xterra

Photography: Brandon Cody

  • The N50 is the second-generation Nissan Xterra boasting a practical 4.0-liter VQ40DE engine that makes 265hp.
  • Unlike Toyota’s SUV, the Xterra shares a truck frame with its Frontier compatriot from Nissan, making it perfect for off-roading.
  • ARB’s stout product lineup outfits this Xterra with a heavy-duty steel bumper, enclosed winch setup, LED fog lights, and its renowned Old Man Emu suspension system.
  • Hawk Performance braking components efficiently slow down the added bumper weight.

Anyone who has access to an internet connection knows that the modified off-road market is constantly abuzz with 4Runner this and Tacoma that. It has gotten to the point where any observer would think they’re the only Japanese SUV/truck choices for off-road, overland, and 4×4 fun, but they’d be wrong. Nissan’s Xterra and Frontier are not only formidable alternatives to the Toyota craze; they’re cheaper and just as capable, too!


If search results directed you here looking for a solution for your Xterra, then you already know your stuff. For those who don’t, go ahead, open a new tab, and search for some off-road Xterras. You’re going to be glad that you did. These things are like a best-kept secret. Take this particular one, for example. It’s a 2012 PRO-4X model, equipped with a 265hp 4.0-liter VQ40DE engine, and has a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds. Sound familiar? Those are almost identical specs to the 2012 4Runner. However, I’ve noticed the average price of the Xterra on the used market is nearly half of its 4Runner rival. Despite this and the Xterra sharing a truck frame with its Frontier pickup truck brother, it hasn’t been adopted as an off-road variant as heavily as its Toyota competitor. Well, today, we change that by outfitting this PRO-4X with all of the entry-level bits necessary for a fun weekend on the trails.


We’re back at R/T Tuning in Montgomeryville, PA, our go-to local tuning shop. These guys can do everything from in-house dyno tuning and performance part installs to track alignment and corner balancing in their modern, professional facility. We like to throw them curveballs now and then, too, by bringing them something out of their realm, and they handle it with ease every single time.


ARB originates from the rugged, desolate region of Australia’s Top End. Since 1975, the company has been supplying a burgeoning 4WD community with quality offerings. Today, it has become Australia’s largest manufacturer and distributor of 4×4 accessories, no small feat given the vast amount of off-roading that occurs there.

We have a few different mods from ARB to better equip this PRO-4X for off-roading fun.


First things first, yes, it’s really called that. Second, we can’t let this SUV sag with the additional weight of an off-road steel bumper and winch setup on the front, so properly enriching the suspension capability was first on the list. For that, the ARB Old Man Emu 4×4 suspension kit was a no-brainer because it’s not just a set of springs like other companies offer. The Old Man Emu contains heavy load front coil springs, Nitrocharger Sport front and rear struts, medium load rear leaf springs, a sway bar fitting kit, new U-bolts, and extra bushings for the leaf springs. By doing this, the kit doesn’t just tackle the vehicle’s lift height but tunes the suspension to ensure it’s suited to whatever conditions the SUV will encounter. The installation was pretty straightforward, removing the old suspension pieces and replacing them with the upgraded alternatives. We decided to equip a set of wheel spacers and some new control arms while R/T Tuning was in there.


Next is the ARB Deluxe Winch Bumper with the company’s LED fog light kit. This duo is not your average off-road bumper. ARB’s powder coated steel solution integrates a bull bar up top and a fully engineered mounting solution underneath. Paired with what went into its creation, this setup combines LED fog lights and indicators for more versatile and safer remote travel equipment. The install wasn’t necessarily a walk in the park, but it wasn’t out of the realm of what’s possible in a home garage.

With the factory bumper removed, Pat at R/T Tuning held the ARB piece in its approximate location to gauge what else needed to be modified. Meanwhile, the Superwinch Tiger Shark 9500 winch with synthetic rope was fastened into place. As its name suggests, this winch is rated for 9,500 pounds, uses a 5.2hp motor, and 3-stage planetary gearing with a 218:1 ratio. More than enough grunt to help this Xterra (or a fellow off-roader) if needed in a pinch.

Pat continued by trimming the factory bumper to fill in the open pockets surrounding the ARB steel option, further proving this to be both a rugged and clean fitting bumper setup fit to handle whatever situation presents itself in the wild or on the street.


The same way this beefy bumper combination’s added weight alters the suspension’s ability to control the vehicle, the same can be said of its additional strain on the vehicle’s braking system. To remedy this, we turned to our trusty brake experts at Hawk Performance. R/T Tuning fitted the LTS pads and Talon series cross-drilled and slotted rotors to bring the pedal feel back to normal while improving the stopping power simultaneously. It’s an easy upgrade for anyone increasing general or rolling mass in their off-road vehicles. It would be a shame if you bought bumpers, wheels, tires, water tanks, a roof tent, gas jugs, ladders, bedding, recovery kits, and all sorts of other do-dads but didn’t have the braking power to bring it all to a halt at the stoplight around the corner from your house. Even worse, to lose brakes while out on the trails far away from civilization, yikes. Do yourself a favor if you’re looking into off-road upgrades; make sure brakes are on your list.

With the modifications complete and the install finished, this rival to the 4Runner/Tacoma is ready to hit the trails. There’s certainly more than one way to mod a car, and there are certainly more cars than one to mod. Don’t be afraid to look for different chassis to execute similar functions. As long as there is aftermarket support for a chassis — like ARB offers for this Xterra — the sky is the limit.