Vehicle Overview
The Xterra’s bold styling makes it clear that Nissan’s lower-priced midsize sport utility vehicle is meant to attract youthful shoppers. Sales since its debut as a 2000 model have demonstrated the Xterra’s appeal. As reported by Automotive News, Nissan sold 86,757 Xterras during 2001, which represents a slight drop from the 2000 figure, but that total is still well ahead of sales of the more costly Pathfinder.

Following the lead of the Frontier pickup truck, a supercharged engine became available last year for the Xterra. The SUV received a restyled front end that included a power-bulge hood. The Tennessee-built Xterra is actually based on the Frontier and was introduced as a basic, lower-priced running mate for the Pathfinder.

The Xterra is available with rear-wheel drive (RWD) or part-time four-wheel drive (4WD), and it comes in XE and step-up SE trim levels. A four-cylinder and V-6 engine are available, and the V-6 may be supercharged. Non-supercharged V-6 models get an additional 10 horsepower this year, making 180 hp available. Vehicle Dynamic Control with traction control is available for the first time, but it is offered only in 4x4 models. A tire-pressure monitor is also offered. All XE V6 models now have 16-inch alloy wheels and side step rails. Dual 12-volt power outlets go into the engine compartment.

V-6 models get driver’s seat height and lumbar support adjustment for 2003. The optional Rockford Fosgate audio system gets a boost from 210 watts to 300 watts. Side curtain-type airbags now come as a stand-alone option. A Rugged Leather Package for the SE features suedelike door fabric inserts.

In general, the Xterra is traditional in overall appearance, but it has its own highly noticeable styling touches, including flared fenders, a black grille and a higher roof than some rivals. Nissan started the Xterra’s design by using the Frontier’s pickup chassis and 104.3-inch wheelbase. The Xterra measures 178 inches long overall and stands 74 inches tall. A tubular aluminum roof rack holds 125 pounds, and tubular side step rails are installed. This adds another bold detail, even if it’s not so useful for riders who may actually need help climbing aboard. There’s even a built-in basket for carrying up to 30 pounds of wet or dirty clothes or whatever the owner cares to haul.

The Xterra is equipped with seats for five occupants. Split rear seatbacks fold down, and the back cushions are removable. Available accessories include mounting points for two mountain bikes, tie-down hooks, ceiling hooks and a first-aid kit. Kayaks and snowboards can also be hauled. Storage pockets provide ample places for smaller items. Cargo volume is 65.6 cubic feet with the seats folded down.

Under the Hood
A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine develops 143 hp, and the optional 3.3-liter V-6 now produces 180 hp in regular form and 210 hp when supercharged. All of the Xterra’s engines are borrowed from the Frontier, and they team with either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission. The four-cylinder comes only with RWD, and the V-6 is available with RWD or 4WD. Nissan’s 4WD system has true offroad agility and shift-on-the-fly capability at speeds of up to 25 mph. The Xterra’s towing capacity is 2,500 pounds with the four-cylinder engine and 5,000 pounds with the V-6.

Antilock brakes are standard. Side curtain-type airbags are available as optional equipment.

Driving Impressions
In performance, handling and even ride comfort, the Xterra scores strongly. If only this SUV weren’t so flamboyantly youth-oriented, it would warrant an unqualified recommendation for buyers of all ages and backgrounds. Such factors as storage versatility can be just as important for family-oriented buyers as for young singles carrying their friends.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for
From the 2003 Buying Guide
Posted on 10/23/02