2002 Nissan Xterra Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Supercharged performance and interior refinements add appeal.
Nissan's Xterra is, well, it's cool. It's cool to have a basket for your wetsuits on the roof rack. It's cool to have an interior mountain bike rack. It's cool to be rugged. It's cool that it's retro at the same time that it's a trendsetter. And now it's cool to have a supercharged engine, a new option for 2002.
With its special blend of style and function, the Xterra has been a huge success ever since Nissan launched this compact sport-utility in 2000. The Xterra concept has prevailed beyond Nissan's expectations and hopes; heck, it's still just catching on, and for 2002 it has a more powerful engine, an updated interior and a restyled front end with new headlights and a bulging hood.
Two Xterra models are available: XE and SE. Three engines are available: a four-cylinder, a V6, and a new supercharged V6. For V6 models, there's a choice of two- or four-wheel drive.
The base 4x2 XE ($17,999) comes with a four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission. Nissan's 2.4-liter double overhead-cam four-cylinder unit is rated at 143 horsepower. Four-wheel drive is not available with the four-cylinder engine. Standard equipment includes a tubular roof rack with removable gear basket, air conditioning, a 100-watt audio system with a CD player, anti-lock brakes and a full-size spare tire.
XE V6 ($19,199) models come with a 3.3-liter single overhead-cam V6 that produces 170 horsepower.
SE ($23,199) models come standard with the V6 engine and such equipment as fog lamps, tubular step rails, upgraded seats, cruise control, an in-dash 6-CD changer, first aid kit, power windows, locks and mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, tilt steering wheel, remote keyless entry and larger (16-inch) wheels and tires.
A supercharged V6 engine that produces 210 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque is available with either trim package. Even larger, 17-inch wheels and tires come along with the supercharged engine on SE S/C ($24,499) versions.
XE and SE come standard with a five-speed manual, and a four-speed automatic is available ($1000). Four-wheel drive is available ($2000).
To make room for its supercharged engine, the 2002 Nissan Xterra needed a new raised hood with a power bulge. But Nissan didn't stop there. The California design team crafted new round headlights and a new front fascia to give the sport-utility an even more rugged and muscular look. Essentially, the 2002 Xterra got a new front clip. This new look is enhanced by the availability of three new colors: Shock Blue, Sedona and Molten Lava.
The Xterra has visual distinction that says rugged. For 2002, bigger tires add to this. SE comes standard with 265/70R16 tires on alloy wheels, while the supercharged model gets 17-inch alloys with 265/65R17 BF Goodrich off-road tires.
Rugged is carried through with a thick tubular aluminum roof rack with black airfoil; matching step rails; stout fender flares; handsome alloy wheels; beefy grille and front bumper with big radiator vents and recessed halogen fog lights; vertical handles on the trailing edge of the rear doors; a two-tiered roof with a tall square back having a bulge in the tailgate for the first aid kit; and, if you crawl under the vehicle, you'll see skid plates under the engine and fuel tank.
The tall, flat rear bumper with gripped surface makes a perfect stand for reaching the roof rack, but it's difficult to get up on, because there is no grab handle. If you're tall enough, you can hang onto the rear corner of the rack from the side of the vehicle and swing yourself up, but only rock climbers will love it. Considering the vehicle's hype about function, this is a significant if small oversight. Nissan says the Pathfinder is similar, and nobody ever complained. Maybe not, but Pathfinder owners carry groceries more often than kayaks.
In the same vein, the optional removable plastic gear basket at the front of the rack is an excellent idea (think of sloppy ski or hiking boots), but there's no net to cover it-that's another accessory you have to buy.
For 2002, the Xterra gets a new instrument panel with a three-gauge, cockpit-style instrument cluster. A large new console is outfitted with map pocket, power ports and push-out cup holders. The XE has gray gauges while the SE's are bluish. Also new are the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning controls. The glove box is 25 percent larger.
The long-criticized, dash-mounted, pull-and-twist parking brake has been replaced with a foot-operated pedal system. This is a big improvement, though we'd still prefer a traditional hand-brake lever. The manual shift lever is on the tall size.
For 2002, the front seats are comfortable and supportive. The bucket seats fit well and provide good lumbar support. The fabric appears durable and resistant to stains.
The console layout is tidy and handsome, appropriately spartan. A CD changer holds six CDs, which can be selected with the six radio station buttons. There are two cool buttons for the four-way flashers and rear window defogger, rectangular and totally flat on the face of the aluminum-looking panel. The heater controls are three big switches with wings. There are front and rear auxiliary DC outlets in addition to the cigarette lighter, and big fixed cupholders front and rear. Cruise control and radio controls are located on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, with wide spokes located at 3, 9, 5 and 7 o'clock. The whole padded center is the horn, the best and safest operation because of quick access. The horn is tinny but strong, a no-frills statement.
We took the Xterra windsurfing, and missed the cool accessory seat covers made of wetsuit material. Other nice available cabin details include the side window demisters and rear heat ducts, smart storage crannies, as many as 10 cargo hooks on floor and ceiling, and a strap on the tailgate to close it from the inside.
Rear seating is not the most comfortable. There's not much side support. Rear-seat passengers can slide their feet under the front seats, but it's a little tight, an inch less than the smaller Toyota RAV4. There's lots of headroom, though. The roof is raised over the rear seats to allow for their elevation, providing a nice view through the windshield.
Because it's built on the Frontier pickup truck platform, Xterra's engineers must have been challenged to squeeze everything in, while providing lots of good cargo space (65.6 cubic feet with the seats folded down, 44.5 cubic feet with the seats up).
The 50-50 rear seatbacks fold down fairly flat, but the seat bottoms must be removed. So, depending on circumstance, you either leave them in your garage or they become loose cargo of their own. At least they're featherweight.
The 2002 Xterra feels tighter than last year's model. It feels smoother and more refined than before. Thanks to high-tech sound insulation in places not normally insulated, the 2002 Nissan Xterra is quiet at freeway speeds. However, floor the throttle and the single-cam V6 gets pretty loud. And the luggage rack hisses in the wind.
The Xterra sways at gusts and leans in curves, not surprising given its height and boxy shape. That big vertical rear window provides excellent visibility, but it gathers dust and dirt like crazy. The rear wiper/washer is optional on the XE, but should be considered standard equipment for anyone who drives in anything less than perfect conditions on a dry road.
The Xterra is nimble at slower speeds, feeling lighter than its 4130 pounds. The steering is very nice. At higher speeds there is a slight lag in the steering from the on-center position, but the straight-line ride is very nice.
The suspension takes bumps well; it sometimes has a bit more trouble with dips, which can be felt in the pit of your stomach similar to the feeling from a fast-stopping elevator. The suspension does a great job on washboard gravel roads. In corners, there's less sway than you might expect given the high center of gravity, but the head toss is significant over rutted and potholed dirt roads.
The front suspension is double wishbone; the rear is leaf springs with a solid axle. Power steering is by recirculating ball. The chassis rides on the backs of 10 individually tuned dual-rate rubber chassis mounts, so there's no harshness there at all. At the same time, the ladder chassis from the Frontier is certainly strong. The Xterra rides much better than the Frontier pickup.
Get the optional limited-slip rear differential if you drive off road for the increased traction it provides.
The naturally aspirated 170-horsepower 3.3-liter V6 is challenged to smartly drag the 4WD Xterra's body weight of 4130 pounds.
The 210-horsepower supercharged V6 benefits from an Eaton supercharger designed specifically for Nissan's 3.3-liter V6. Unlike a turbocharger, the supercharger delivers its power the moment the driver pushes on the throttle. It delivers strong torque (246 pounds-feet of torque at 2800 rpm), though it doesn't turn the Xterra into a rocket. Acceleration is accompanied by that supercharger whine, which some people like and others don't. For 2002, Nissan has taken measured to reduce noise from the supercharger: a hood insulator was added, a thicker windshield is used, and a baffle was installed in the front fender well on supercharged models.
We haven't tested an Xterra with the little twin-cam 143-horsepower four-cylinder engine, but guess that it must be downright burdened. Maximum torque of 154 foot-pounds for the four-cylinder engine comes at 4000 rpm versus peak torque of 200 foot-pounds for the V6 at just 2800 rpm-and lower is better for accelerating up steep hills or pulling away from an intersection.
Nissan's four-speed automatic transmission shifts up and down very smoothly, and its electronic calibration avoids hunting on hills-as long as you're not in overdrive.
The four-wheel antilock brakes are big enough, although rear disc brakes would be a welcome upgrade from the rear drum brakes. The drums are understandable, however, because the Xterra is built on the Frontier platform, and the pickup is perfectly fine with rear drums.
With its recently upgraded exterior and interior and with an available supercharged V6 engine, the 2002 Nissan Xterra is much more than a solid contender among compact sport-utility vehicles. It's downright cool.
XE ($17,999); XE V6 ($19,199); SE ($23,199); XE S/C ($22,799); SE S/C ($24,499).
Options As Tested
Utility Package ($999) includes additional power outlet, ceiling tie-down hoods, first aid kit, cargo cover, tilt steering wheel, step rails, variable intermittent wipers, 16-inch alloy wheels and 265/70 aspect tires; Power Package ($1299) includes speed control, reading lights, dual power mirrors, power windows, power door locks, keyless remote entry, cloth trim door panels, alarm system.
XE V6 4x4 ($22,199).
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