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A blue 2017 Nissan Pathfinder is shown from the side off-roading in a desert after leaving a used Nissan dealership.

Off the Pavement, Down the Trail: The Best Used Nissan SUVs for Off-Roading

When you think of off-road capable SUVs, what models immediately come to mind? While the Jeep Wrangler often gets top-billing as “King of the Trail,” you have plenty of other options beyond the iconic Willys. Believe it or not, many of those options are sitting on the lot of your used Nissan dealership, where SUVs like the Pathfinder, Xterra, and Armada are secretly waiting to get a little mud on the tires.

How do you know which model best suits your needs? While the Pathfinder might be the oldest to make the list, its age proves its longevity and its ability to meet the evolving demands of drivers. The Xterra is an enthusiastic SUV that looks the part of an off-road warrior, while the Armada is a surprise addition as a full-size SUV that, with a few modifications, can hold its own on the trail. Here’s a closer look at each model and what you can expect to find at your local used Nissan dealer.

A silver 2020 Nissan Pathfinder is shown from the side off-roading in the snow.

Nissan Pathfinder (1986 to Present)

The Pathfinder is a remarkable SUV that blends sophistication and style with rugged capability. It’s managed this balance since its debut in 1986 when the first-generation Pathfinder took the segment by storm with its bold design, blocky wheels, and ladder frame that immediately distinguished it from every other SUV on the road. These design details were more than aesthetically pleasing, however, and extended the Pathfinder’s capability on the trail, earning it widespread praise for its off-road prowess throughout its first-generation run. Today, a first-generation Pathfinder is a rare and worthy find, especially since you can outfit the rig with an aftermarket suspension lift, a solid axle conversion kit, and a steering upgrade to improve its handling and maneuverability on the trail.

The success of the first-generation Pathfinder set the stage for its second and third generations, the latter of which is a great find on the used lot because of everything it offers. You’ll find the second-generation Pathfinder (1996-2004) is lower in price and offers plenty of power with its 3.3-liter V6 engine, which was impressive for the time. However, Nissan continuously updated the Pathfinder’s powertrain and, by the third generation, drivers reaped the benefits with a 4.0-liter V6 that delivered 266 horses and 288 lb-ft of torque. If you’re looking for more capability and power, search for a third-generation Pathfinder outfitted with the Titan’s 5.6-liter V8 engine – an option that churns out 310 horses and 388 lb-ft of torque. When paired with aftermarket accessories like a suspension lift, this power will take the Pathfinder even deeper into the woods.

For drivers looking for modern technology, newer features, and off-road capability, start your search for a fourth-generation Pathfinder. Built between 2013 and 2020, these newer models fetch a higher price than previous generations, but they offer an array of intuitive technology like voice recognition, Bluetooth capability, navigation, smartphone integration, a premium sound system, and touchscreen display. These models blend luxury with efficiency and capability, adding to their versatility and their ability to meet the vast demands of both your workweek and weekend.

Nissan Xterra (1999 to 2015)

Of Nissan’s top-three off-road rigs, the Xterra is next in the lineup and, unlike the others, looks the part of a trail-ready SUV. Introduced in 1999, the Xterra catered to its audience as an adventurous SUV that delivered everything you could possibly want and need, from its capable engines and four-wheel-drive system to its bold exterior color palette and array of aftermarket accessories. It was like the Swiss Army knife of the Nissan lineup and proved as much both on and off the trail.

Nissan sold over 88,000 Xterras in the first year alone, which means there are plenty of first-generation models still available and on the road today. These first-generation models are an exceptional value whether you find the base XE or the top-tier SE with either the 2.4-liter four-cylinder or the beefier 3.3-liter V6 engine under the hood. What makes this generation so impressive is the fact that some models feature a manual-shift transfer case and a limited-slip rear differential, both of which improve the Xterra’s capability and handling on rugged terrain.

The second-generation Xterra (2005-2013) built on the success of the first-generation model and ushered in a host of improvements to give drivers more power, capability, and spaciousness. Nissan exchanged the Xterra’s 3.3-liter V6 engine with a powerful 4.0-liter V6, built the SUV on an upgraded frame, and added the Off-Road package with its Modified Dana 44 rear axle and selectable locking rear differential. These upgrades earned the Xterra numerous awards in the off-road realm and make the second-generation SUV a great find on the used lot, especially considering the vast availability of aftermarket accessories that make it easy to modify the Xterra exactly to your driving and off-roading needs.

A blue 2020 Nissan Armada is shown from the rear driving on an open road.

Nissan Armada (2004-Present)

At first glance, the Nissan Armada doesn’t look like any off-road rig that you would dare to take on the trail, so what makes it a worthy contender and a great find on the used lot? For starters, its powerful V8 engine, innovative technology, and a long list of available modifications make it trail-worthy. The fact that newer models are a variant of the Nissan Patrol, which likens the SUV’s performance to the rugged Range Rover without the high price tag, is another major selling point.

Making its debut in 2004, the first-generation Armada (2004-2016) was built on the Titan truck platform and proved to be wildly capable with its 5.6-liter V8 engine churning out 317 horses and 385 lb-ft of torque, yielding a maximum towing capability of 9,000 pounds. This capability and the available Off-Road trim, which was discontinued in 2011, make the first-generation Armada an attractive buy for those who enjoy rugged adventures with family, whether that means light off-roading, towing the family camper for a weekend getaway, or hauling the boat to the lake for the weekend.

The second-generation Armada (2017-Present) marks a significant shift for the SUV since Nissan redesigned the Armada on the Patrol platform. The Patrol is Nissan’s overseas off-road warrior that proves a full-size SUV can satisfy any need for adventure. The fact that the Patrol platform made its way to the American Armada isn’t lost on off-road enthusiasts who know the change means more capability and versatility from the full-size SUV. We see as much in Armada’s longer and wider frame that adds stability along with its more powerful Endurance V8 engine that delivers up to 400 horsepower, making it powerful both on and off the pavement.

Where Will Nissan Take You?

Shopping for a used Nissan is a great investment because you not only know what you’re getting with the Nissan brand, you’re also getting a better deal. New cars start to depreciate the moment you drive them off the lot, which means you’re losing money before the ink is dry on the paperwork. When you’re planning to venture off-road in a vehicle, depreciate hits even harder since off-road rigs are more prone to dents, dings, and scratches on the trail. This is why so many off-road enthusiasts opt to purchase a used vehicle as their trail-runner.

As you can see, Nissan offers several outstanding off-road SUV options that can satisfy your sense of adventure. The Armada and the Pathfinder might look luxurious on the outside, but they’re more than capable of getting a little mud on the tires. Just think of their added luxury and convenience features as Nissan’s way of proving that roughing it doesn’t have to be rough at all. As for the Xterra, you won’t find a more iconic off-road warrior in the Nissan lineup than this bold SUV. Designed specifically for adventure, the Xterra might be discontinued, but it garnered a cult following of drivers who know, appreciate, and love everything the SUV has to offer long after the pavement ends and the trail begins.