Mudslinger Nissan's tough Xterra SuperCharged not

By Wheels
Posted on November 17th, 2001

Last month Nissan Canada posted its best-ever sales month fuelled by sales of sport-utility vehicles, including the the revamped Xterra.

Nissan's October sales of 6,611 cars and trucks smashed the record of 5,597 vehicles set in May, 1973.

The 200-hp barrier was shattered last year with the larger, more powerful engine in the revised Pathfinder 3.5. Now the threshold is eclipsed again with a supercharged motor in the 2002 Xterra. My tester was a top-of-the-line SE SuperCharged model.

As sport-utes have paraded uptown, wood and leather have been added inside. Xterra caters to those with plainer tastes. Even with every available option, there is no wood (real or fake).

The only available leather wraps the steering wheel and gearshift knob. Everything is entirely functional.

The new hood with its power dome makes room for the supercharger. It completes a redesigned front end with round headlights and tubular bar grille.

The supercharged engine was introduced on the Frontier Crew Cab SC pickup last year, coupled only to an automatic transmission. Now it debuts in the Xterra, where it can be teamed with either the four-speed autobox or, for the first time, a five-speed manual transmission.

I tested both gearboxes for a week in the first such evaluation of the new Xterra on Canadian soil.

Supercharged versions of Xterra and Frontier were evaluated last month at the Canadian Car and Truck of the Year TestFest at Shannonville Motorsport Park, east of Belleville.

Performance testing at the event by auto writers confirmed that the Xterra is quicker. It's acceleration is almost a full second faster at 9.8 seconds from 0-100 km/h.

Much of that time is taken up by shifting the manual transmission's long-throw lever. Consequently, passing acceleration shows up an even greater difference of almost two seconds at 8.5 seconds from 80 to 120 km/h in third gear.

Xterra's boosted V6 pulls like a V8. For those who must know, the supercharger is an Eaton Roots-type blower. That means reliable and efficient but noisy.

With the five-speed, the supercharger was quieter. It has a slightly lower torque rating, so the automatic has the screws turned up a little higher to put comparable muscle behind its fewer gear ratios.

Another strike against the automatic transmission was the sloppy shift lever on the floor. In Drive, it could be wobbled around. Otherwise, the quality of the parts was exemplary.

Assembly was good.

Beyond the new engine and front end, Xterra's updates for 2002 include a new dash, with controls that show how it should be done. Without removing hands from the steering wheel, the lights, wipers, stereo and cruise controls can be manipulated.

Three round knobs high on the centre stack dial up the ventilation. Below is a stereo that swallows six CDs. The only item out of place is the rear wiper/washer switch on the lower left of the dash.

There are numerous unique little features that distinguish the Xterra. A large roof rack has a wind defector and removable basket. Unfortunately, it creates a lot of wind noise at highway speeds.

The roof line kicks up over the raised rear seats. The tailgate is non-symmetrical, with a window the extends down on the right and has a bulge on its lower left corner that houses an emergency first-aid kit. (Xterra owners are more likely to be active, outdoorsy types.) Even the centre high-mounted stop light is asymmetrical The light, one-piece tailgate opens and closes with ease. Unlike most of today's SUVs, the rear window does not open separately.

All of the ingredients for off-roading are dialled in. This is a good basic off-road SUV. It is simple and straightforward, with body-on-frame construction, leaf spring rear suspension and part-time four-wheel drive.

Ride is smooth as long as the road remains flat.

A lever controls the two-speed transfer case for reliability in the woods. The system itself is dated. It can shift on the fly into 4WD, but to completely disengage, the vehicle must be backed up a couple of meters.

Furthermore, 4WD cannot be used all the time since it locks the front and rear wheels together, causing them to bind up on hard, dry surfaces. Consequently, this is a rear-wheel-drive vehicle only for most driving.

Other, more sophisticated, systems (like the one on Nissan's own Pathfinder) allow all four wheels to be powered on dry pavement, giving extra grip all the time.

In Canada, the 2002 Nissan Xterra is priced from just under $29,500. That's the standard XE.

The fully equipped SE SuperCharged model starts at about $33,300, and the automatic transmission adds a further $1,200.

That makes it reasonably priced for an off-road-ready SUV. The extra power makes it all the more playful. No wonder the company is setting sales records in this country.

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