Nissan's pickup truck may not be the most stylish on the road, but what it lacks in visual flair it more than makes up for in comfort and quality. The test truck, a black extended-cab model, performed flawlessly over a week and more than 400 miles - some of them rough and bumpy. The XE model is new for 1994. It offers many of Nissan's most popular options - such as air-conditioning, chrome wheels and full gauge package - for less than it would cost to add those options individually. PERFORMANCE The standard engine in the Nissan 4x4 is a single-overhead cam, 134-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder. This engine has three valves per cylinder - two intake valves and one exhaust valve. This is something of an unusual arrangement; most engines either have two or four valves per cylinder. With two intake valves instead of one, more fuel and air are forced into the engine's combustion chambers, and that helps to increase power. The 2.4-liter engine feels just like a truck motor should: tough and powerful. With the 4x4, Nissan engineers apparently did not labor tirelessly to eliminate every trace of the engine's noise and vibration as their counterparts over at Toyota did with the quiet-running T-100. The Nissan engine pulls strongly at low speeds, even when you engage the four-wheel-drive system. To shift into four-wheel drive, all you have to do is move a small lever near the floor-mounted stick shift. Our test truck came equipped with a five-speed manual transmission. This is generally a decent gearbox. However, acceleration can be a bit sluggish in fourth and fifth gears. I discovered that it's best to use the first three gears to accelerate and the fourth and fifth gears to maintain cruising speed. Forget about passing slower traffic in fourth or fifth gear. The engine just isn't strong enough. One other thing: The clutch pedal in our test truck had to be pushed hard all the way to the floor before the truck would start. This safety feature prevents the engine from starting and jumping forward when the transmission is in gear. Fuel economy was good at 19 city and 22 highway. If the four-cylinder engine and stick shift are not to your liking, the Nissan 4x4 can be ordered with a 153-horsepower V-6 and a four-speed automatic for another $1,070. HANDLING The Nissan 4x4 could be called a sports truck. Its fat 15-inch tires and long wheelbase provide a firm, sturdy and stable ride. The XE model is outfitted with standard power-assisted steering and a superbly strong front-disc/rear-drum brake system. On the road without a load, Nissan's 4x4 offers a very comfortable ride. The truck is a blast to drive over bad terrain. That's because you can feel how well it is built - its frame is stiff and tight - and because it can take one heck of a beating. I tested the XE on a rain-soaked dirt road and on an off-road course. Even when you are tr aveling over thick sand and through deep potholes, the XE remains easy to drive. I did not hear one squeak or rattle, even though some of the test-driving bordered on abuse. This isn't to say Nissan's truck is perfect. With its bed filled with a load of boxed paper, the suspension system loses its composure. It had a tendency to bounce considerably over such things as parking lot speed bumps. Fortunately, most of us don't drive trucks fully loaded all of the time. FIT AND FINISH The outside of the XE isn't flashy - and neither is its interior. In fact, it's about as simple as they come. The two cloth-covered bucket seats provide reasonable comfort for short, in-town trips, but I was not able to complete a two-hour trip without feeling lower back fatigue. The XE King Cab came with two fold-out rear seats. They are simply not adequate for adults. Because the seat cushion is so close to the cab floor, your knees touch your chin when you sitd wn. However, with the seats upthere is a good amount of room behind the front seats to store small items. I have one other minor gripe about the interior: The radio is too far away from the driver. To change stations, you must lean forward and stab at the small buttons. Other than that, the interior offers an easy-to-read set of analog gauges and sensible placement of most switches and controls. The air conditioner deserves special mention because it blows air so powerfully cold. In all, Nissan's 4x4 XE offers a solid value. Truett's tip: Nissan's four-wheel-drive pickup is a well-built, rugged and fun-to-drive truck. It offers good value for the money and Nissan's sterling reputation for long-lasting quality.
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