Sometime after the term "sport" got jammed ahead of "utility" to create the modern SUV, Nissan surmised that leather-lined, rolling breadboxes had drifted from the original intent. Not a ton of sport, and decreasing utility. The antidote was the Xterra.
Based on the Frontier pickup, that first Xterra is, as seen with a modern perspective, a tad dowdy -- your typical four-door, two-box shape notable only for the roofline bump at the B-pillar. But where the sheetmetal lacked inventiveness, Nissan's ad campaign for the Xterra more than made up for it. Hikers, surfers, and mountain bikers were featured prominently as denizens of the Xterra frontier, actually using the vehicle as many soccer moms imagined they might use their Land Rovers.
To fulfill the image set by the ads, Nissan edged toward the Jeep side of the trail. Body-on-frame construction comes from the truck, as do the various drivelines, available with rear or four-wheel drive. For the first year, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder was the base engine, mated to a five-speed manual in the XE trim level. At 143 horsepower, this is not the Jet Ski-hauling package of choice. Most Xterras were sold with the 3.3-liter, 170-horsepower V-6 stuck ahead of a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. An XE could be optioned up with the bigger engine and auto, but the SE came standard with the V-6. Only the V-6 models could have 4WD, an old-school, off-road-only system with automatic locking front hubs.
Recreation warriors wanted more juice, so in 2002, Nissan updated the first-gen Xterra with a supercharged version of the 3.3-liter V-6, rated at 210 horses--a modest boost, but even better was the torque bump of 46 pound-feet over the normally aspirated engine's 200. (A 10-horse increase came with the non-S/C engine that year.) The S/C was available only with the automatic, but was offered with either rear or 4WD.