I've owned a Sahara (shorty) and was happy with it (TJ). When the second baby came along, I needed something where I could fit two large dogs, two kids, and all the crap that comes with carrying all that. I looked in to the Unlimited Jeeps and came back less than impressed. Unless you go for the over the top, top of the line MOAB, the long wheel base makes them questionable in the dirt.
So, I ended up with an 05 Xterra (I think SE) that had a bunch of extras installed by the PO. Running boards, side step bumper, class III hitch, VDC, tint...A nice rig. I outfitted it with a set of General Grabber ATs and been happy ever since.
More civilized on road, certainly quieter than the Jeep. The only think I dislike is the shift on the fly for the 4H and 4L, and the VDC system. It applies brakes when slipping, when traction is lost, et cetera. I shut it off when I need to - I feel safer that way.
because it makes the vehicle less predictable when sliding and such.
There is enough room for everyone, all the stuff we carry, and the gas mileage is decent 17-20mpg. Mine is a 6 speed stick, and the V6 has more oomph than I need. It will comfortably cruise at 40 in 6th gear (gas saver) or pass a car at 85 in 4th gear (quick passing to avoid danger).
Every winter, I get lazy with groceries and drive the rig up to my deck over a decent hill. The Jeep would push through 3ft of unpacked snow. The Xterra starts slipping at 2.5ft of unpacked snow. But, it will clear two feet without any problems. The hill shape/angle has a lot to do with it though.
Mine now has 90k miles on it and the only thing the truck needed was a new serpentine belt, belt tensioner, and a little electronic fan speed modulator. All in all, aside from gas and oil changes, it needed about $200 worth of maintenance in the past three years I owned it.
There are not many SUVs with a stick shift these days, and I will never buy a CVT vehicle.