- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2003

The Nissan Xterra rewrote the book on compact sport utility vehicles when it was introduced in 2002 and has kept up with the times in its 2003 version.

It remains a vehicle aimed at the young, active, sport-minded buyer. It is perfect not only for off-roading, but for skiing trips, surfing and other outdoor adventures. That said we expect many older buyers will head for their Nissan store in a hope of appearing youthful.

In 2002, Nissan added a supercharged V-6 version producing 210 horsepower and 246 foot-pounds of torque. For 2003, the horsepower on the standard 3.3-liter V-6 has had its horsepower upped by 10 to 180 and added two additional foot-pounds of torque to 202.

Xterra is also available in a four-cylinder model with a manual transmission.

The test model was the top-of-the-line V-6 with four-wheel drive. This 180-horsepower model has plenty of pep. Based on the Frontier compact pickup, the Xterra makes no pretense of being a crossover vehicle. Its ride is somewhat stiff, but this pays off in off-road or sandy conditions.

Like most SUVs, it is somewhat thirsty, getting 16 miles per gallon city and 20 highway. The test vehicle averaged 17.1 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving.

The test car was loaded to the gills with three option packages that upped the base price of $23,399 to $26,515. It must be admitted that if I were buying I would be tempted by all three packages.

• The premium audio package included the Rockford Fosgate Audio System 300-watt six-in-dash CD changer with eight speakers including a subwoofer. It also included steering-wheel audio controls.

• A power package provides power windows, door locks and mirrors plus remote keyless entry. Cruise control, door fabric inserts plus map and a vehicle security system are also added.

• The Sport package adds a limited-slip differential, heavy-duty alternator, dual 12-volt power outlets, fog lights and front tow hook.

Proving the Xterra is no phony SUV, standard features include skid plates to protect the fuel tank and engine with four-wheel drive and a two-speed transfer case.

A somewhat rough ride did not distract me from the XE version’s virtues.

It comes with standard 16-inch alloy wheels and the availability of a tire-pressure-monitoring system. It wasn’t included on the test car, but I would order it if I were planning some off-road adventures.

For 2003, all Xterra models feature a tough, rugged front and styling, large round headlights with surrounding frame and a front fascia with the Nissan flying “V” grille and round fog lights.

The test XE model is set apart by black trim around the headlight and grille, with a silver-colored roof rack. One of the nice things about the Xterra is while it is an SUV it doesn’t look like the rest of the pack. Its styling is original and is one of many reasons its popularity hasn’t dimmed with time.

The interior designers haven’t been idle. Revised in 2002 model year, a number of further enhancements have been added including height and lumbar support adjuster for V-6 models plus a new headliner for all non-sunroof models.

The instrument panel has been redesigned with three “cockpit-style” round gauges. There is a new console with side map pocket plus pullout rear cup holders and four power points.

Enhanced safety features include optional curtain side-impact supplemental air bags and standard dual-stage front supplemental airbags with sensors and rear child-seat anchors.

What you see is what you get in the Xterra. It is a youth-oriented sport utility that will be at home on sandy beaches, snowy roads or the open countryside.

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