Some think it looks like the illegitimate offspring of a Pathfinder and a classic Mercedes-Benz 300SL, but the Zaroot may actually be the best example of how well Nissan has forged a distinct, integrated global design.

Less than five years ago, president Carlos Ghosn told all who'd listen that Nissan would recover based on the introduction of exciting products that consumers desired--and its turnaround has been nothing short of astounding. The Zaroot, a look into Nissan's next generation of crossovers, bristles with innovation. Like many other vehicles, the Zaroot is built off the Altima platform; this new concept has striking, rugged styling. "The Zaroot is aimed at customers with an active lifestyle. Like their skis or snowboards, mountain bikes or climbing gear, they'd use the Zaroot as an essential element of their sporting equipment," says Ryouichi Kuraoka, product chief designer responsible for the Zaroot project, working out of Nissan's Tokyo-based Creative Box design center.

Up front, the Zaroot clearly is a Nissan SUV, dominated by the company's current three-section grille, established with its current truck lineup. Flanking the grille are round projector headlights, one of the few circular design elements. Aft of the A-pillar, the design is bold and angular.

The Zaroot's profile is dominated by gullwing doors, hinged at the outer perimeter of its roof between what would be the A- and C-pillars of a conventional SUV. Closed, it shares a kinship with the current Pathfinder, especially the curved roof section above the front and rear bucket seats, which terminates at the forward edge of the flat roof above the cargo compartment. The doors have been shortened at their base, facilitating opening in tight parking spaces, accomplished by having the bottom part of the door drop down, almost like a runningboard. Eliminating the B-pillar may not be practical, but provides exceptional access to the interior compartment.

All styling themes of the front continue in back and are reinforced by the short overhangs. This hints at the Zaroot's potential off-road capabilities. The top-hinged, one-piece tailgate offers easy access to cargo. Getting beyond the concept vehicle surface finishes, the compartment's vinyl floor appears designed for low maintenance and scuff resistance.

On the inside, four thin-shell bucket seats help maximize interior space. The floating, full-length center console, running from the dominating center stack rearward, is fabricated from a single piece of aluminum. The console houses switches for the electronic traction systems, the transmission controls, and storage compartments. The cabin's earthy tones (browns, black, and dark gray accented with alligator-skin leather upholstery) give the Zaroot a warm look, and the ribbed vinyl flooring facilitates interior cleaning.

Mechanically, the Zaroot is equipped with Nissan's electronic All-Mode 4x4 system, giving it all-terrain capabilities. While there was no mention of what would lurk under the hood, it's safe to assume that a variation of Nissan's respectable V-6 would fit, probably mated to a modified version of the CVT from the Murano.

Nissan's designers have positioned the Zaroot in the heart of the current SUV and crossover marketplace (see chart). While slightly shorter overall than the Xterra, it rides on a wheelbase almost four inches longer, emphasizing its wheels-pushed-to-the-corners look, at the same time improving its approach and departure angles. The Zaroot's combination of dramatic styling and innovative interior packaging gives us reason to believe Nissan will continue its current string of successes, searching out new segments to explore.

Size Comparison
 2005 MuranoZaroot Concept2005 Xterra2005 Pathfinder
Wheelbase, in111.2110.2106.3112.2
Length, in187.6177.2178.7187.6
Width, in74.070.972.872.8
Height, in65.565.474.972.8

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