- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

Xterra made its debut in 2000 and since then has elbowed its way into the sport utility vehicle field, offering a good "bang for the buck" product.

For 2002, Xterra receives a fresh face lift. Square headlights and fog lamps were traded for round, and they frame a new "flying V" grille. Certain models also get a noticeable hood bulge, which hints at changes beneath.

Xterra is offered in two- and four-wheel drive, five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, with base XE or optional SE trim levels. Three engine options are offered ranging from a 143-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder to a supercharged, 210-horsepower, 3.3-liter V-6. My test truck was an SE equipped with automatic transmission and the middle motor in the Xterra lineup a normally aspirated 3.3-liter six which is rated at 170 horsepower.

The Xterra SE is a nicely equipped SUV. Standard features include the 3.3 six, automatic transmission, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, limited-slip differential, engine and fuel-tank skid plates, a roof rack and roof top cargo holder, side-mounted step rails, halogen headlights and fog lamps. Inside, the sound system boasts eight speakers and a six-CD capacity, with remote controls on the steering wheel. Air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, door locks and mirrors are also part of the SE package.

The Xterra is a compact, convenient-sized ute that provides ample room for adults and their belongings. Xterra measures 44.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the rear seats in place, expandable to 65.6 cubic feet with seats flopped forward. The back is accessed by a one-piece, swing-up hatch, and the lift-over height is modest. A pull-out screen shields belongings from inquiring eyes. In addition to the inboard storage, the tubular, full-length roof rack adds hauling options up top.

Incorporated into the rack is a good-sized front-end cargo basket, with hooks to attach bungee cords. Even the cosmetics of the rack work: The tubular rails match up with the side steps and give the Xterra a bit of a custom look. Unlike in 2001, the pop-up sunroof is no longer standard on SE models. The move makes sense when you consider that your sky portal formerly sat directly under the cargo basket a less than inspiring view. Speaking of views, Xterra's visibility is good, with just minimal obstructions presented by body pillars.

Xterra is built on a full ladder frame, based on the Frontier pickup's platform. With its sturdy construction and a part-time, shift-on-the-fly, four-wheel-drive system, Xterra is ready to roll off-road. Angles of approach and departure on the SE V-6 4X4 are 33 and 28 degrees, respectively, with a generous ground clearance of 10.3 inches. The Xterra's tidy exterior dimensions are an asset on- or off-road. Some utes are so big that you wish they could inhale to get through skinny passages. No such worries here.

Nissan markets the Xterra as having, "Everything you need, nothing you don't." As befits this motto, most options are available individually, and the packages, where offered, are very specific. SE level Xterras have but one option the aforementioned sunroof. XE options include one catering specifically to off-roaders. The Enthusiasts Package is available only on XE-level V-6 4x4s and includes front tow hooks, fog lights, ceiling tie clamps, a first-aid kit, tilt wheel, map lights, rubber floor mats, a limited-slip differential and manual locking hubs.

Xterra offers three motors for 2002. The 3.3-liter six I drove seemed well suited to almost all situations. The only occasions where I was wishing for more oomph a long, slow uphill climb and a highway on-ramp merge in heavy, fast traffic are nothing that the extra 40 horses of the supercharged motor wouldn't easily solve. My guess is that the 143-horsepower, four-cylinder engine would feel a little short-changed in the power department. For those who tow, the six-cylinder Xterras can handle up to 5,000 pounds. Ride quality on- and off-road in Xterra is good for the breed.

Nissan has made Xterra a popular choice in the compact SUV class by its straightforward approach to packaging on a well-engineered vehicle. Buyers can dress 'em up or strip 'em down and be assured that their utes are not afraid to get down and dirty.


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