- Vehicle: Nissan Xterra (1st Gen)
- Style: Off-road Build
- Lift: 5"
- Wheels: 35 inch
- Owner: Colby
- Build Level: Advanced
- Budget: $$$
- Location: Bay Area, California
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!
List Of Modifications
- 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
- 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
- CD player and sub
- Cobra CB radio
- lots of patches
- custom-built rear cargo area shelf
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.
Parts Recommended by Offroadium
- General Tire Grabber X3 All Terrain – 35×12.5″ R15
- MaxxHaul 7011 Roof Basket – 46″ x 36″
- Rhino-Rack Sunseeker Awning – 6.6ft 2.0m available in various sizes
- ARB Portable Air Compressor
- MAXXTRAX MKII Safety Recovery Boards
- WARN M8000 Series Electric 12V Winch – with Steel Cable Wire Rope
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 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.
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.
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
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
Off-road Capability Score: 60/70
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.
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.
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.
- Rugged body-on-frame platform is durable and modular for customization
- Affordable to purchase
- Impressive clearance and articulation when lifted
- 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!
Matt is a professional mechanic, experienced off-roader, writer and founder of Offroadium. With over 15 years immersed in the off-road community and 100,000+ miles logged on rugged trails across the Americas, Grabli shares extensive real-world knowledge. He previously worked as an automotive technician before shifting focus to specialty off-road projects. His passion is prepping capable rigs for off-roading and helping others to build the 4x4s of their dreams.