2002 Nissan Xterra Review
Edmunds' Expert Review
- Rugged looks and the off-road capability to match, lots of room inside.
- Uncomfortable front seats, poor on-road ride and steering, four-cylinder and normally aspirated V6 lack power.
A truck-based compact 'ute for those who actually plan to use it like it's featured in Nissan's TV commercials.
A so-called mini-SUV doesn't have to be a hybrid compromise, and for proof, look no further than the 2002 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 small by comparison.
The Xterra competes in a market brimming with new models, including the all-new 2002 Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Jeep Liberty and Suzuki XL-7, as well as the already established mini-ute crowd like the Ford Escape, Kia Sportage, Mazda Tribute and Toyota RAV4. 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 muscular styling is what sells it. For 2002, Nissan has updated the previously bland nose to include black-framed round headlights, a new front fascia with the Nissan flying "V" grille and round foglights. A new hood, with a 48mm raised "power bulge" center section, lends a powerful look echoed by the signature Xterra flared front fenders. Additional changes can be found inside the cabin, including updated gauges and climate controls, new seat fabrics and a relocated parking brake.
Unlike many of its small SUV competitors, the Xterra is based on a real truck: Nissan's Frontier compact pickup. The result is a mini SUV with numb-steering and sloppy handling -- a rarity in this class and something consumers might not like after the novelty of the tough styling wears off. 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 upscale 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 and two-speed transfer case is engaged using a floor-mounted lever.
The Xterra's standard motivation comes from a 2.4-liter inline four that makes 143 horsepower. XEs and SEs can be ordered with a 170-hp 3.3-liter V6 or a new supercharged version of this engine that produces 210 hp. 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. How well it succeeds at this task 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.
Most helpful consumer reviews
Features & Specs
NHTSA Overall Rating
- Frontal Barrier Crash RatingOverallNot RatedDriver4 / 5Passenger4 / 5
- Side Crash RatingOverallNot Rated
- Side Barrier RatingOverallNot RatedDriver4 / 5Passenger5 / 5
- Combined Side Barrier & Pole RatingsFront SeatNot RatedBack SeatNot Rated
- RolloverRollover2 / 5Dynamic Test ResultNo TipRisk Of RolloverNot Rated
More About This Model
When Nissan's Xterra debuted as a 2000 model, it found instant popularity among outdoor sports enthusiasts, such as kayakers, mountain bikers and skiers, who wanted a no-nonsense SUV that would serve their needs. It was also well received by those who wanted to project an image of being outdoor sports enthusiasts ... but we digress. The early advertisements made it plain that the Xterra was a serious, truck-based (full-frame construction) no-frills SUV that could handle almost anything, not a cute ute with car-based origins, unibody construction and limited off-road capability. There was even the option of a first-aid kit to handle those injuries one might suffer while enjoying nature.
In spite of its success on the sales charts, the Xterra could've stood improvement. Our gripes centered around the truck's lack of pep, no surprise considering that the V6's 170 horses were charged with hauling around two tons of SUV. You do the math. And the interior design was a bit bland, as well, though this was in keeping with the back-to-basics nature of the Xterra.
Enter the 2002 model, which addresses those shortcomings and throws in a few other treats for good measure. We drove pre-production models of the '02 Xterra and came away feeling that Nissan has responded well to our (OK, not just our) criticisms.
The Xterra is once again available in two trim levels, base XE and uplevel SE, and buyers have a choice of two- and four-wheel-drive versions. XE models are not the strippers one may assume them to be, as air conditioning, a 100-watt stereo with CD player, dark-tinted glass, roof rack, antilock brakes and skid plates (we told you they were serious) all standard. SE models add 16-inch alloy wheels fitted with 265/70R16 tires (in place of the 15-inchers on the XE), foglights, step rails, cruise control, power windows/locks/mirrors, the first aid kit, keyless entry/security system, extra power points (four total), rear wiper and an upgraded sound system with in-dash six-disc CD changer and steering wheel audio controls. For the true audiophile, or anybody who likes their music loud and clear, a new Rockford-Fosgate sound system option will be available. This system cranks and will have Xterra owners running errands just so they can enjoy its incredible sound quality.
Starting with a quick walk-around, the first thing that grabs attention is the new front end. The former plain nose didn't really go with the rest of the Xterra's aggressive body style. Round headlights, a beefy grille and a "power bulge" hood tie in better with the meaty truck's look. New 17-inch alloy wheels are optional on those Xterras fitted with the available supercharged V6. Inside, the '02 Xterra trades the previously featureless dash design for an exciting, sports car-like theme with three individual instrument pods in front of the driver and a larger console. A foot-operated emergency brake replaces the primitive, under-dash pull-type used before. We'd still prefer a pull-up e-brake between the seats, which makes holding manual tranny models on hills (on- or off-road) easier while working the pedals.
Whoa! Did we mention a supercharged V6 under the hood?! Yep, offered in the Frontier in 2001, the force-fed six-shooter imbues the Xterra with greatly improved sprinting ability. The new mill makes for a total of three engines available in the Xterra. Base two-wheel-drive XE models come with a 2.4-liter four-banger making 143 horsepower and 154 pound-feet of torque, matched to a five-speed manual gearbox (the only tranny offered with this engine). Four-wheel-drive XEs and all SEs come with the familiar 170-horsepower/200 lb-ft 3.3-liter V6. This V6 can be hooked up to either the manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. Optional on all XE and SE models, the supercharged V6 pumps out 210 horsepower and 246 lb-ft of twist (231 lb-ft with a manual tranny) and can also be had with automatic or manual gear changers.
Driving around Monterey, Calif., on the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, the supercharged V6 showed off its considerable low-end and mid-range power. Brisk acceleration from rest makes the Xterra feel lighter than its considerable mass of 4,100 pounds. From 0 to around 45 mph, this thing is quick. But after that velocity is attained, the acceleration curve drops off so much that upper range performance, such as when passing or merging on the freeway, doesn't feel any stronger than that of the (non-supercharged) V6. Having most of the newfound power concentrated down low makes more sense from an application viewpoint. When towing a trailer or tackling off-road terrain, low-end grunt, not top-end power, is what is needed, and in this respect the blown V6 is spot-on. However, we feel that the power should've been spread a bit higher.
Apart from the optional fast-twitch muscles, the '02 Xterra's driving dynamics are familiar to anyone who has driven older versions. That is to say the steering feels a bit lazy and the suspension is on the soft side. But these are not necessarily demerits. The slower steering ratio means that the Xterra will handle off-road situations better by not overreacting to steering inputs and misplacing a tire. The softer suspension provides a more comfortable on-road ride than some other utes' stiffer setups and yet is capable when challenged off-road.
Will the revamped Xterra be able to hold off the charge of the new Jeep Liberty, as well as a number of other fresh challengers? A small-SUV comparison test would be a great idea, and we will be conducting one very soon. Stay tuned.
Used 2002 Nissan Xterra Overview
The Used 2002 Nissan Xterra is offered in the following submodels: Xterra SUV. Available styles include SE 4WD 4dr SUV (3.3L 6cyl 4A), SE 2WD 4dr SUV (3.3L 6cyl 4A), SE S/C 4WD 4dr SUV (3.3L 6cyl S/C 4A), XE-V6 2WD 4dr SUV (3.3L 6cyl 4A), XE 4WD 4dr SUV (3.3L 6cyl 4A), SE S/C 2WD 4dr SUV (3.3L 6cyl S/C 4A), SE S/C 4WD 4dr SUV (3.3L 6cyl S/C 5M), SE 4WD 4dr SUV (3.3L 6cyl 5M), SE 2WD 4dr SUV (3.3L 6cyl 5M), XE S/C 4WD 4dr SUV (3.3L 6cyl S/C 4A), SE S/C 2WD 4dr SUV (3.3L 6cyl S/C 5M), XE 4WD 4dr SUV (3.3L 6cyl 5M), XE-V6 2WD 4dr SUV (3.3L 6cyl 5M), XE 2WD 4dr SUV (2.4L 4cyl 5M), XE S/C 2WD 4dr SUV (3.3L 6cyl S/C 4A), XE S/C 4WD 4dr SUV (3.3L 6cyl S/C 5M), and XE S/C 2WD 4dr SUV (3.3L 6cyl S/C 5M). Pre-owned Nissan Xterra models are available with a 3.3 L-liter gas engine, with output up to 210 hp, depending on engine type. The Used 2002 Nissan Xterra comes with four wheel drive, and rear wheel drive. Available transmissions include: 4-speed automatic. The Used 2002 Nissan Xterra comes with a 3 yr./ 36000 mi. basic warranty, a 3 yr./ 36000 mi. roadside warranty, and a 5 yr./ 60000 mi. powertrain warranty.
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Should I lease or buy a 2002 Nissan Xterra?
Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.