What's New for 2001
SE models come with titanium interior accents as well as a premium audio system boasting 100 watts of peak power and a six-disc in-dash CD changer. New steering wheel-mounted audio controls can be used to operate this system. The rumored 3.3-liter supercharged V6 is, at this point, MIA, but console yourself with a new color called Gold Rush and restyled 16-inch alloy wheels.
A so-called mini-SUV doesn't have to be a hybrid compromise, and for proof, look no further than the 2001 Xterra (terra for the land it crosses and X for the generation it intends to target). Although it sits squarely on the large side of the mini-SUV scale, don't be alarmed by the truck's physical size; the price is tiny by comparison. It competes in a hotly contested market, against the likes of the newly introduced Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute twins, along with the already established mini-ute crowd (Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Toyota RAV4, Jeep Cherokee and Suzuki Grand Vitara). In this increasingly crowded segment, the Xterra must rely less upon its unique niche appeal and more on its value and rugged good looks.
Designed at Nissan Design International (NDI), the Xterra's styling is what sells it. It looks tough, muscular and modern. Taillights form modular, geometric shapes, much like the bulging wheelwells and tailgate first-aid kit storage panel. The cool powdercoated tubular roof rack comes with adjustable rails for carrying cargo of all shapes and sizes. For smaller items, there's even a plastic cargo tray up front that will hold 30 pounds of odds and ends, but on SE models it blocks the standard glass pop-up sunroof. We only wish stylists would lose the featureless front end for something a little less, uh, featureless.
Unlike many of its small SUV competitors, the Xterra is based on a real truck: Nissan's Frontier compact pickup. Despite its relatively sophisticated double-wishbone front suspension, Xterra makes do with dual leaf-spring rear underpinnings, front disc/rear drum brakes, and slow, numb recirculating-ball steering.
The result is a truck that actually drives like a truck -- a rarity in this class and something consumers might not like after the novelty has worn off (it'll take about 500 miles, we'd guess). Big, knobby tires are great for off-roading, but if you spend most of your time on pavement, you'll notice that they grip poorly and squeal plenty.
Offered in two trim levels, the Xterra can be purchased as a base XE or sporty SE model with two- or four-wheel drive, a four-cylinder or V6 engine, and a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive system is engaged using a floor-mounted lever.
The Xterra's standard motivation comes from a 2.4-liter inline four that makes 143 horsepower and 154 foot-pounds of torque. An optional 170-horsepower 3.3-liter V6 generates 200 accessible foot-pounds of torque and moves the Xterra from 0 to 60 in 10.8 seconds. Outdoor enthusiasts can tow up to 5,000 pounds with the V6 and an automatic transmission, and antilock brakes are standard on all models.
The Xterra is being marketed as a bare-bones mini-SUV to avoid treading on the toes of its bigger and more upscale brother, the Pathfinder, but how well it does that is questionable. The Xterra is nearly as long as the Pathfinder and offers an inch more legroom for rear passengers. But the well-equipped 250-horsepower Pathfinder, marketed to a wealthier clientele that wants prodigious power and luxury amenities, serves to make the Xterra the better bargain for those looking for basic transportation. We deem their mission to be a success, even if the definition of a "mini-SUV" gets murkier all the time.