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.

Along with the S/C option, Nissan tweaked the Xterra for 2002. A new grille with round headlights in a matte gray surround gave the face some character, as did the "power-bulge" hood treatment. This more aggressive styling update worked well with the standard roof rack (with equipment bin), flared wheelwells, and asymmetric tailgate. Nissan added an off-road options package that year, including manually locking hubs, tow hooks, and a limited-slip rear differential. For 2003, traction control was available on the SE trim level, and side curtain airbags were now optional throughout the line. Nothing of note changed for 2004, as Nissan had a new Xterra in the wings for 2005.

Reliability ratings for the Xterra are generally good. The 2001 model has had troubles with the exhaust-gas recirculation system and, on the 3.3-liter, problems with the distributor. Issues with the fuel pump connectors have been noted; If they fail, the vehicle becomes inoperable. Owners have also complained about supercharger rattle. According to Nissan's service instructions, this may be partly due to owners using non-premium fuel, which could prompt the engine control unit to put the supercharger into fail-safe mode, causing the rattle. Finally, Xterra owners have carped about poor fuel economy (around 14 mpg with the supercharger) and a trucklike ride. Well, it is a truck-based 'ute, designed for rough roads and hard living. Know that going in.


2000-2004 Nissan Xterra
Body type Four-door SUV
Drivetrain Front engine, RWD/4WD
Airbags Dual front
Engines 2.4L/143-hp DOHC I-4; 3.3L/170-hp SOHC V-6; 3.3L/180-hp SOHC V-6 (2002-on); 3.3L/210-hp SOHC supercharged V-6
Brakes, f/r Disc/drum, ABS
Price range, trade in/retail (KBB) $1750/$3980 (2000 RWD XE); $8600/$13,035 (2004 SC 4WD)
Recalls Too many to list; see www.intellichoice.com
NHTSA frontal impact rating, driver/pass Four stars/four stars
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