1st Gen Nissan Xterra Off Road Build with 35 Inch Tires and Lift

  • Vehicle: Nissan Xterra (1st Gen)
  • Style: Off-road Build
  • Lift: 5"
  • Wheels: 35 inch
  • Owner: Colby
  • Build Level: Advanced
  • Budget: $$$
  • Location: Bay Area, California
Nissan Xterra overland build new

The first generation Nissan Xterra remains a highly capable and popular platform for off-road builds even 20 years after its debut. In this feature, we’ll showcase an extensively customized 2003 Nissan Xterra owned by Colby from the Bay Area equipped to take on challenging trails.

This 1st gen Xterra sports a beefy set of 35×12.5R15 off-road tires wrapped around aftermarket wheels, giving it a menacing stance. It has been lifted with a 2″ body lift and 3” suspension lift, allowing it to clear the massive tires and improve its approach/departure angles. Read on to find out more!

Affiliate disclosure: we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you if you buy through some of the product links in this post.

Nissan Xterra offroading without doors - doors off

List Of Modifications

Engine

  • NRG plugs, wires
  • AEM air filter

Suspension & Lift

  • 2″ body lift
  • 3” suspension lift
  • AC UCA’s
  • AC rear shackles
  • add a leaf from a Bronco

Wheels & Tires

  • 35×12.5R15 General Grabber tires
  • 15×8 steel deep dish rims with 4.75 backspacing and 6×5.5 bolt pattern

Exterior Modifications

  • Rocky Road sliders
  • Addicted Offroad stinger bumper
  • Warn M8000 winch with Factor 55 ProLink
  • Warn Premium Locking Hub
  • LED Pod lighting
  • 13” LED bar
  • MaxLux LED rock lights
  • Custom fit rear bumper from a Jeep
  • 3 gallon RotoPax mounted on rear hatch
  • ARB awning
  • hi-lift jack
  • firestik antenna
  • quick disconnects to remove doors

Interior Modifications

  • CD player and sub
  • Cobra CB radio
  • lots of patches
  • custom-built rear cargo area shelf
Nissan Xterra 35 inch wheels and offroad tires

Wheels


Roof Rack


Accessories

To ensure proper fit and compatibility, we recommend you verify any selected parts or accessories with a qualified professional or seller prior to ordering.

Off-road community rideout

Off-road Build Summary

Perhaps a closer look at this stunning 2003 Nissan Xterra 4×4 will let you know why do I say so.

It’s owned by Colby from Bay Area, California and he’s been building it little by little over the last 5 years. It took a long way from a stock off-road capable daily driver to a real trail-worthy rig. We reached out to Colby and asked him to give us a break down on all of the aspects of his build to give you an example of a proper Nissan Xterra off-road build.

Engine and Exhaust

The vehicle is powered with a pretty reliable 3.3 VG33 engine which is mostly stock besides some NRG plugs, wires, and an AEM air filter. The exhausts system is represented with Magnaflow CA cats and a Flowmaster single chamber muffler.

Suspension and Wheels

Fitting 35s on Xterra wasn’t a simple task taking into consideration the fact that factory recommended size for this truck is 29-30”. 2” body lift, 3” suspension lift consisting of AC UCA’s, AC rear shackles, and a random add a leaf from a Bronco allowed Colby to maximize the clearance of his eX and install the full-size off-road wheels – 35×12.5R15 General Grabber. Steel deep dish rims are sized 15×8 with 4.75 backspacing and 6×5.5 bolt pattern.

Nissan Xterra steel bumper with a stinger

Interview With The Owner

Matt Grabli: What inspired you and why did you choose this model for your project?

I like that it’s different, it not a modded rig that you see every day. Also challenging because the aftermarket support is so much less than for a Jeep or Toyota.

Matt Grabli: Who would you like to mention or thank for the help on your project?

My wife for dealing with me always wondering what I can do next, my good buddy Siah who helps me run Off Trak Overland, and my other buddy Tuk who always helps me rebuild something on it.

Matt Grabli: Anything else that you would like to tell us about your vehicle?

It’s been an adventure! I’ve just been building it little by little over the last 5 years. There’s always something to do or add to the mod list…but overall, I’m very happy with it. It’s been very reliable.

Nissan Xterra on 35s and 15 inch steel rims

Why 1st Gen Xterra is Perfect for Off-roading

Thanks to massive influence of the social media, recreational offroading and outdoor travels today capture more minds than ever before. Bright pictures of stunning landscapes and tricked out 4×4 trucks show up on our timelines nearly every minute. But what does it take to get yourself one of such 4×4 rigs that’s capable of taking you up to the mountains and pulling through beaten forest trails? Today we’re taking an in-depth look at one of the most capable SUVs from the 2000s that can easily do all of above without costing you an arm and a leg. As you can already see from the pictures it’s nothing else but a good old Nissan Xterra.

Remember this old ad from the early 2000s with crazy sandboarding, waterfall bodyboarding, and insane mountainboarding?
It wasn’t just a basic SUV that could barely handle an unpaved road after the rain like the majority of today’s crossovers. This vehicle was aimed at the real fans of the active lifestyle, surfers, mountain bikers, climbers, extreme kayakers, forest rangers, overlanders, etc, the people who know what does it mean to take something to the extreme and enjoy offroading at it’s best.

Nissan Xterra dispatched to the market in 1998 and began tearing apart the competitors made by Jeep and Toyota from the day one, and soon after, it became the key player in the segment of compact sport utility vehicles, winning numerous nominations from the automotive journalists of that time.

Thousands of fancy pictures of lifted 4Runners and Cherokees on social media have pushed Xterra away from the wishlists of modern 4×4 fans, but if you’ll take a closer look at this rig, you’ll realize that it’s probably one of the best options on the market for a budget-minded enthusiast.

⚙️ Technical Details

Model: 1st Gen Nissan Xterra


Production years: 1999-2004


Approximate prices on the market (Used): $3,000-$5,000


Engine: 3.3 L VG33E V6


Drivetrain: Four-Wheel-Drive


Construction: Body On Frame


Traction Enhancement Devices: Limited Slip Differential


Low Range: Yes


Stock wheel size: 265/65R17 31″


Offroad Wheel Size: 35″


Build Level: Advanced


Budget: $$$

See Also
Honda CRV off road build with 34" 285/75R17 BF Goodrich T/A KO2 tires


Off-road Capability Score: 60/70

How did we get this score?

Lifted nissan Xterra built for off-road expedition

Mechanic’s Opinion

As an avid off-roader and 4×4 enthusiast, few vehicles offer as much rugged truck capability per dollar as the 1st generation Nissan Xterra. Built from 2000-2004 on a stout body-on-frame platform, this compact SUV lays the foundation for transforming into a highly capable overland rig or rock crawler without breaking the bank.

Finding a Solid Base

Budget $3,000 to $10,000 for a reasonable example as an off-road build candidate. While higher mileage versions can be had for very cheap, it’s worth stepping up in price for ones with service records and minimal rust. Condition is especially key since repair costs will pile up fast on these 20+ year old trucks. Early production Xterras with rear limited-slip differentials are preferred for maximizing traction off-road.

Who This Platform Is Good For

The Xterra truly shines for 4×4 enthusiasts focused on customizing a vehicle tailored to off-road adventures or tackling demanding trails. Its body-on-frame construction offers far more robustness over unibody crossovers when taking hits from rocks or venturing far off the beaten path. Expect to get your hands dirty with wrenching though – the age of these trucks means maintenance won’t be cheap if paying shops. Refer to Nissan Workshop manual to do things right.

Common Problem Areas

While solid as a whole, inspect the following areas closely when shopping for a suitable Xterra build candidate. Throughout the years I noticed some of the following issues on client’s vehicles:

  • Rusted oil pans from road salt exposure
  • Timing chain defects that could lead to engine issues
  • EVAP system problems causing gas pump clogs/splashback
  • Steering column joint corrosion resulting in cracks
  • Weak steering components and limited suspension articulation

Where To Invest Modification Dollars

Suspension, Armor and Protection

Since ground clearance and flex are lacking from the factory, items like lift kits, skid plates, body armor and beefier suspension components should take priority. Longer travel shocks and deleting rear sway bars dramatically improve how this rig handles rocks or rugged terrain. A winch and other recovery gear are musts for remote travel.

Nissan Xterra rock crawler

Engine and Driveline Upgrades

Depending on planned use, rebuilding or replacing the engine may be required depending on current mileage and tune. Upgrading differentials with aftermarket rear locker provides a huge benefit for conquering uneven terrain (ARB air lockers are available for these vehicles), as do upgraded driveshafts and axle components to cope with larger tires.

As with any off0road build, tailor the modifications to your intended adventure style. But starting with a bargain-priced Xterra truly lets you maximize bang for the buck spent on parts. These trucks might not attract the flashiest builds, but will competently traverse terrain that leaves AWD crossovers stranded.

How we test?

Offroadium Verdict & Score Explained

We have created our own rating and classification system to differentiate and evaluate the off-road capabilities of vehicles showcased on Offroadium. Based on it, we can conclude the following:

Off-road Capability Score: 60/70

With its rugged body-on-frame construction (+5 points), upgraded suspension lift allowing 35′′ tires worth 30 points, rear limited slip differential (+10 points), and protective exterior mods like sliders and skid plates (+5 points), this extensively customized 1st gen Xterra rates very highly for off-road competence. We give it an overall capability score of 60 out of 70.

Complexity Level: Advanced

From engine and drivetrain upgrades to handle larger tires, to long travel suspension components and heavy duty armor, Colby invested in quality parts to push the Xterra’s trail handling to the limits. This level of customization earns an Advanced rating.

Budget: $$$

With significant lift components, premium shocks, and upgraded driveline parts incorporated over a multi-year build, Colby likely has around $$$ invested in this capable overlander. Combined with the affordable donor Xterra, it delivers impressive adventuring abilities per dollar.

Pros

  • Rugged body-on-frame platform is durable and modular for customization
  • Affordable to purchase
  • Impressive clearance and articulation when lifted

Cons

  • Older truck, so more prone to rust and high maintenance costs
  • No real locking differentials (but LSD does that for most situations)

We hope that Colby’s example of Nissan Xterra overland build will help you to build your own Ex and make it an ultimate getaway rig for your family and friends!

View Comments (6)
  • Love this. I have an 02 that I am building now (I had a 99 new when they came out). Not as much after market for sure but I got a rebuilt engine from Promar for $2600, add that to the $1900 I paid for the vehicle and this is a very capable platform for not much money. Thanks for posting this article. Just what I needed while we are sheltered in place. 🙂

    • Thanks! I appreciate it. Follow us on Instagram and FB for more build reviews! Good luck with your project!

  • Great write up. I am going to use some of your mods for my 01 xterra 3.3 4wd. Where do you get the door quick disconnects? Love that!

  • I know it’s been a minute since the article came out.Awesome rig. Where can I find those disconnects for the doors

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