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New Car/Review


Nissan Xterra SE 4WD (2001)

SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 26,099
     Price As Tested                                    $ 26,698
     Engine Type              SOHC 12-valve 3.3 liter V6 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 200 cid/3275 cc
     Horsepower                                   170 @ 4800 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               200 @ 2800 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  104.3"/70.4"/178.0"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     4176 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  19.4 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                          P255/65R16 all-season
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/four-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/five-door
     Domestic Content                                 60 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            15/19/17         

     0-60 MPH                                       11.0 seconds
     Payload                                          885 pounds
     Towing capacity                                 5000 pounds
                * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

It's fortunate that Nissan invested heavily in the marketing of its SUVs and pickups because that segment of the industry is still booming.

With its Xterra SUV, the company saw a market for a basic SUV with true off-road abilities. With either base XE or uplevel SE trim like our tester, Xterra sales may have helped Nissan avoid financial disaster.

OUTSIDE - Xterra is based on the company's new Frontier pickup. In fact, from the front doors forward, it's hard to tell the difference. New for 2001 are different front sheetmetal and unique parabola headlights, along with a refined rear end treatment with deeply tinted glass. Its rugged good looks make it appear as if can climb almost any boulder-strewn incline or washed-out river bed, and it can. Of immediate notice is Xterra's stepped roof line, which was necessary because of the location of the fuel tank. It's located under the rear seats, unlike the Frontier pickup, which has its tank located under the pickup bed. The unique, asymmetrical rear window blends well into the tall rear doors, which have vertical door handles like its cousin, the Nissan Pathfinder. A set of tubular side steps and an active-lifestyle roof rack are part of the package, while a removable gear-basket tucks forward and holds up to 30 pounds of dirty, wet sports equipment.

INSIDE - Its interior is almost as functional as a Swiss Army knife. Active enthusiasts will appreciate the abundance of handy items such as tie-down and ceiling hooks, "shirt pocket" storage nooks, a 12-volt power port in the rear cargo area and a retractable cargo cover. We'd like to see a bit more room at the bottom of the rear doors, which now complicates entry/exit, and a relocated seat recliner lever, parking brake release handle and some ancillary switches. We like the vision from the back seat due to its stepped-up theater-style seating, but the cushions themselves are flat and uncomfortable. Those are just minor quibbles, though, since we found that securing rear child seats is quite user-friendly, and its huge amount of cargo space allows a pair of mountain bikes to be stored upright inside.

ON THE ROAD - While the standard Xterra powerplant is a twin-cam, 16-valve, 2.4 liter four cylinder engine, SE power comes from a 3.3 liter V6 with single cams atop each cylinder head. It produces 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. It uses a cast iron block and aluminum heads, and with its ability to crank out its maximum amount of torque at a low 2800 rpm, the 4X4 version lists hill climbing as its specialty. A four-speed automatic transmission works best for off-roaders who like to sit back and enjoy the climb, but for those die-hard four-wheelers, a five-speed manual is available with either engine choice. Its part-time 4X4 system means that even though it can be shifted into 4WD on-the-fly via a floor-mounted shifter, it must be stopped and reversed a bit to disengage the system. What we feel is needed is the 250-horse V6 of the Pathfinder under its hood, along with a high-tech automatic 4X4 system, but adding such sophisticated mechanicals would lift its price out of reach of its intended market.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - A beefy full-frame chassis is beneath the Xterra. Based on the underpinnings of the Frontier pickup, it uses independent double wishbone front suspension with coil springs and a solid, or "live," rear axle suspended by leaf springs. Remembering that Xterra's roots come a from pickup, it's understandable that the on-road ride is stiff and full of jolts and bumps. Off-road, however, it easily soaks up terrain, and navigates large obstructions with its generous ground clearance. It has standard skid plates under the engine and fuel tank. Its recirculating ball steering system is adequate, but not razor-sharp, which can be expected, while our tester's oversized 16-inch all-season tires squealed loudly and suffered a bit from sidewall flex in our impromptu slalom course. Front disc and rear drum brakes come standard with an anti-lock braking system (ABS).

SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags, side-impact door beams and front seat belt pre-tensioners are standard.

OPTIONS - Floor mats, $79.