Used 2002 Nissan Xterra Review

Edmunds expert review

A truck-based compact 'ute for those who actually plan to use it like it's featured in Nissan's TV commercials.

What's new for 2002

Nissan's popular Xterra SUV receives a variety of updates for the 2002 model year. Front-end styling is updated, and the bulged hood hides a newly optional supercharged V6. Inside, there are revised gauges, seat fabrics, climate controls, two additional power points and a bigger glovebox. Also standard are dual-stage front airbags, rear child-seat anchors, variable intermittent front windshield wipers, a rear window wiper and a foot-operated parking brake. In terms of options, a new in-dash six-disc CD changer is available on XE Xterras and standard on SE models. Nissan has also made the sunroof optional instead of standard. Finally, as a tribute to dedicated Xterra owners, an Enthusiast Package is available only on XE V6 four-wheel-drive models. It includes ceiling tie clamps, a first aid kit, a tilt steering wheel, foglights, front tow hooks, map lights, a limited-slip differential, manually locking hubs and rubber floor mats.

Vehicle overview

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.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.