Scary SUV Monsters: 1992 Chevrolet Suburban vs 2008 Nissan Xterra

Sbsd 10 31

Happy Halloween, Autopians! We’ve looked at some scary cars on here before, and today, of course, will be no exception. So hold on tight, because with one of today’s cars there’s no going back, and with the other, there’s no going very quickly.

First let’s look at Friday’s results:

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Seems the once-mighty Camry might be showing some cracks in its armor. I don’t think there is a bad choice between these two, but the Ford does feel like a whole lot more car for the money. But the Camry seller won’t have any trouble moving that one, I’m sure.

Speaking of moving cars, today’s choices are somewhat challenged in that department. If you were to find yourself in a horror movie and had to get away from the monster chasing you, and these were your only escape options, well… It’s been nice knowing you. Let’s take a look. You can cover your eyes and peek through your fingers if you need to.

1992 Chevrolet Suburban – $1,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 5.7 liter OHV V8, 4 speed automatic, part-time 4WD

Location: Rainier, OR

Odometer reading: 246,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yes, but reverse is out

I think I’ve spoken before about my fondness for the Chevy Suburban. These big friendly beasts of burden are just good at everything… except maybe parallel parking and conserving fuel. And with the GMT400 generation, the Suburban really came into its own as a comfy people- and stuff-hauler. Add four-wheel-drive, and you have a great way to explore the wide-open spaces.

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In this case, however, better leave yourself enough wide-open space to execute a mother of a U-turn, because the 4L60 automatic transmission in this Suburban won’t go into reverse. The seller says it drives fine otherwise, with a basic throttle-body fuel-injected 350 V8 supplying the power. It also has brand new tires on it, so apparently the seller thought it was worth that effort.

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This Suburban has the “barn doors” in the back, which I still think is the way to go. This one doesn’t appear to have a third row of seats, so don’t plan on bringing more than four friends along. The outside is scruffy and faded, but only has a little rust, and no obvious damage.

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The inside is no prize either, with saggy seats and stained upholstery. And it looks like someone attacked the headliner; Michael Myers maybe, or Freddy Krueger. There is also a large crack in the windshield, bad enough that it should probably be replaced. But cosmetic damage at a quarter million miles is no big deal; the sketchy transmission, on the other hand, gives me pause.

2008 Nissan Xterra – $2,400

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Engine/drivetrain: 4.0 liter DOHC V6, 5 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Wildomar, CA

Odometer reading: 250,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yes, but no first gear

“Everything you need; nothing you don’t” was Nissan’s advertising tagline for the Xterra. After the Pathfinder moved to a unibody design for its second generation, and became more of a comfy family cruiser than an off-road machine, the Xterra took its place as Nissan’s body-on-frame SUV offering, sharing its underpinnings with the Frontier pickup.

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For its second generation, the Xterra got bigger, tougher, and thirstier, with a four-liter version of Nissan’s VQ series V6. In this case it’s backed by a 5 speed automatic, sending power only to the rear wheels. This particular automatic seems to be stuck starting out in second gear instead of first. I don’t know if this is some form of “limp mode” for Nissan, or what, but the seller says it drives fine on the highway, but accelerates sluggishly. I bet the already-bad fuel economy is even worse now, as well.

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Cosmetically, this Xterra is filthy, but in reasonably good condition. The seller says everything works inside, including the air conditioning. But come on – would it have killed you to clean the junk off the seat and vacuum the thing before putting it up for sale?

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I’ll admit, I always liked the Xterra’s tough-guy looks. The fat fenders, kicked-up roofline, and blocky shape make it look ready for anything. I know that’s the idea, and I’m falling for sneaky designer tricks, but I can’t help it. I like these things. But make mine a manual.

So that’s our Halloween edition of Shitbox Showdown. Two black SUVs, both with transmissions infested by demons. Time for you to choose the lesser of two evils.


(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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45 Responses

  1. You are fooling yourself if you pick the Xterra. Nissan parts are still outrageously overpriced and that thing is cramped, filthy, and due to have all kinds of electrical glitches. And you’ll have to replace the timing chain guides (again) because they are designed to wear out and eat your engine.

  2. Growing up in Texas, Suburban was the “official” vehicle of Texas for most of 1980s and 1990s. That’s why Chevrolet and GMC often launched them at State Fair of Texas or in Texas instead of bigger fries in Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York.

    The first school bus that I rode when I was kid in mid-1970s was a three-door Suburban (sixth generation) so I got bitten by Suburban bug ever since. Several friends of mine had one or two as their family vehicles. I’ve come to appreciate the roominess and its abilities to haul many stuff and passengers. Technically, four passengers could sit across the seats albeit tight fit before the seat belt law came into force.

    The biggest advantage of Suburban is how easy it is to find the parts anywhere, including local auto part stores and junkyards even in the remote parts of Texas.

    So, full disclosure here: I am biased toward Suburban when voting which one to buy…

  3. If you can’t bother to clean the car before putting it for sale… I’ve got to believe you didn’t do a whole lot of other things to it (that you should have).

    I need reverse… but I can swap a transmission.

  4. God I hate Suburbans. Absolutely loathe them. There’s no way I could ever picture myself driving one under any circumstances. This particular Nissan is also awful, and realistically I would never pick either of these, but the Xterra get my vote here by virtue of not being a Suburban.

    1. I once got stuck in a Suburban in a quarter inch of clay on a graded dirt road in Nebraska. I put it in four and it made no difference, I might as well have been on a road of greased marbles. The road had a slight dip between two small hills that were only about twenty feet long and at the bottom the road was wet from a rain storm the prior day. We had to stop there for a school bus that was at the to of the hill in front of us and that was all it took. My friend and I had to walk to town to get a tow truck. The driver wisely opted to walk down to attach a winch cable and was able to pull the Suburban out in about five minutes. I suppose pretty much anything could have had the same problem, but the experience put me off Suburbans, and school buses, for good.

  5. My parents bought a 2007 Nissan Xterra back in ’08. Even then it was a trashbin of a vehicle. It was uncomfortable to ride in, painful to drive, the braking was dangerously sensitive, the throttle was deceptively aggressive. In the end it met its fate as a trade-in on a Subaru Forester after my father got tired of fixing a car that shouldn’t have had that many issues.

    That being said that Chevy looks very tired. Can I pick neither?

  6. As the folks have stated, the bad smelling Chevy is the winner.
    I can go into an auto wreckers anywhere in North America and get it back on the road again, cheaply.

    The Nissan secretly wants an LS swap and that’s expensive.

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