2002 Nissan Xterra SE-SC

by Greg Wilson

It’s been only two years since Nissan introduced the compact Xterra sport utility vehicle, but it’s already been upgraded with new front-end styling, a new interior, and a new, optional 210 horsepower supercharged 3.3 litre V6 engine. As small SUV’s go, the Xterra remains one of the most rugged and capable off-road vehicles while still being a capable everyday grocery hauler.


2002 Nissan Xterra SE-SC
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Supercharged engine adds muscle to Xterra

New front-end styling and a revised interior design are the most visible changes to the 2002 Nissan Xterra, but the most significant change is the availability of Nissan’s 210 horsepower supercharged 3.3 litre V6 engine on the top-of-the-line SE-SC model. That puts the Xterra into a tie with the Jeep Liberty 3.7 V6 for the most horsepower in the small SUV class.

Base Xterra XE and mid-level SE models continue to offer the unsupercharged 170 horsepower 3.3 litre V6 powerplant – still a gutsy, high-torque, overhead valve engine that’s well-suited to off-road adventures, and is also somewhat quieter than the supercharged engine.

Xterra buyers should note that the XE and SE-SC models are available with both manual and automatic transmissions, while SE models have a standard automatic transmission – but not a manual transmission.

In Canada, all Xterras come with standard part-time 4WD – in the U.S., Xterras are also offered with 2WD.

A face-lift, already

2002 Nissan Xterra SE-SC 17 in wheel
2002 Nissan Xterra SE-SC 17 in. wheel
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It’s only two years since the first Xterra was introduced, but Nissan decided a freshening was due. My guess is that they’re trying to win back some of the attention lost to all the new small sport-utes that have come onto the market in the last two years. All 2002 Xterra’s have new round headlamps instead of rectangular ones, a new honeycomb-style grille with an integrated tubular bar, and a redesigned lower bumper with new round foglights instead of rectangular ones. As well, there’s a new hood with a raised power bulge, and new 17-inch off-road tires and alloy wheels on supercharged Xterras, 16-inch tires and alloy wheels on non-supercharged SE Xterras, and 15-inch tires and steel wheels on XE models.

Though it’s difficult to tell XE models from SE models, there are some exterior differences. XE Xterras have black trim around the headlights and grille, and a silver roof rack, step rails, wheels and front lower fascia. SE models come with a dark titanium finish on all exterior trim and wheels. SE-SC models have the larger 17 inch wheels and tires.

Interior gets sportier

Inside, the 2002 Xterra has a sportier instrument panel with increased use of metallic-look plastic dash trim. The instruments are now housed in three round gauge pods and the gauges in the supercharged Xterra have a new dark blue background instead of a grey background (XE models still have grey gauges). The centre control panel now flows in one continuous arc from the top to the bottom, and the dash-mounted 12 volt powerpoint has been relocated from the bottom of the stack to the middle.

Xterras now have a new darker grey finer-weave seat fabric with a tighter mesh design in the seat inserts — supercharged models have special charcoal-coloured seats. Neither leather upholstery or wood trim are offered on the Xterra. Other across-the-board changes include a glove box that is 25% larger, a new side map pocket, a map light with integrated compass (SE models), new pull-out rear cup holders instead of fixed ones, and four interior 12 volt power points. Many Xterra owners will be happy that the previous pull-and-twist handbrake has been replaced with a foot-brake. For safety, all Xterras now include dual stage front airbags which deploy at different rates depending on the severity of a crash.

New supercharged engine

Top-of-the-line SE-SC Xterras have a standard, supercharged 3.3 litre V6 engine, the same engine used in the Frontier SC Crew Cab pickup truck. It produces 210 horsepower at 4800 rpm and 246 lb-ft of torque at 2800 rpm (with automatic transmission) and 231 lb-ft of torque (with manual transmission). The supercharger, an engine-driven air compressor that forces more air into the cylinders, is an Eaton Roots-type blower that is fully warranted by Nissan under their five year powertrain warranty.

The benefit of a supercharger, when compared to a turbocharger, is immediate throttle response and increased torque across the rev range — useful when climbing hills or carrying loads. Superchargers cause the engine to use more fuel, but Transport Canada’s fuel consumption guide indicates that the supercharged Xterra uses less than ten percent more fuel than the unsupercharged model. However, it does use Premium fuel while the unsupercharged engine uses Regular gas.

As before, the Xterra is built on the Frontier pickup truck platform which includes a rugged ladder-type frame, a solid rear axle with dual leaf springs, and an independent front double wishbone suspension. The Xterra includes power assisted recirculating ball steering and standard front disc/rear drum brakes, the latter with a four-wheel anti-lock braking system that automatically adjusts for loose surfaces when travelling in four-wheel-drive. Xterra’s also come with a standard limited slip rear differential and front and rear skid plates to protect the engine and fuel tank.

Driving impressions

2002 Nissan Xterra SE
2002 Nissan Xterra SE
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It’s fairly obvious from the moment you get in to the Xterra that it is more truck-like than such car-based SUV’s as the Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V. The Xterra looks and feels heavier than other small SUV’s, and in fact it is. It weighs 150 kg (330 lb.) more than a Jeep Liberty and almost 400 kg (881 lb.) more than a Ford Escape or Honda CR-V (all of which have car-like unit body structures).

The Xterra’s extra weight takes some of the steam out of its powerful supercharged engine: the Xterra will accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 9.8 seconds, compared to 9.6 seconds for the Liberty, 9.0 seconds for the Escape, and 10.5 seconds for the CR-V (which has a four cylinder engine). Still, the supercharged Xterra is about a second quicker to 100 km/h than the non-supercharged Xterra.

Perhaps more importantly for day to day driving, the Xterra’s engine develops its maximum torque at much lower engine revolutions than its competitors which gives it more responsiveness. The Xterra leaps off the line when pressed, and can be depended upon to respond to throttle input at just about any speed. Like most superchargers, the Xterra’s makes a whining sound under acceleration, but it’s not obtrusive and it seems quieter than in the Frontier SC pickup. On the highway, the engine can barely be heard, doing about 2300 rpm at 100 km/h and 2700 at 120 km/h in fourth gear with the automatic transmission.

2002 Nissan Xterra SE
2002 Nissan Xterra SE
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Though the supercharged model has significantly more horsepower and torque than the standard Xterra, it has same maximum towing capacity rating as the regular Xterra: 2269 kg (5000 lb.) when equipped with an optional 4-speed automatic transmission, and 1588 kg (3500 lb.) when equipped with the standard 5-speed manual transmission. Towing capacity is determined not just by engine power, but by the capability of the body to handle the weight, the capability of the brakes to handle the extra load, and by the capacity of the driveline to handle the ‘heat load’ of towing. “In the case of Xterra we rate all M/T’s at 3,500 lb. and A/T’s at 5,000 lb. as this is the heat load the driveline can handle on a sustained basis and, therefore, we will permit this under the terms of our warranty,” said Nissan Canada’s Director of Marketing, Ian Forsyth.

The part-time 4WD system with auto-locking front hubs can be engaged on the fly up to 40 km/h. As with all part-time systems, Low Range must be engaged when the vehicle is stopped. In my opinion, the Xterra ranks with the Jeep Liberty and TJ as one of the best off-road 4X4’s on the market. Its torquey V6 engine, high ground clearance, short wheelbase, short front and rear overhangs, big tires, skid plates, good visibility, and low range gear give it the ability to cross creek beds, fallen trees, small boulders, and steep inclines and declines with relative ease. Unlike most car-based SUV’s, the Xterra is designed for serious off-pavement excursions as well as general duty pavement use.

Interior impressions

The Xterra’s driver’s seating position is quite high relative to the road, and visibility is very good in all directions. Even vision to the rear, which is often blocked in other SUV’s by a huge spare tire on the tailgate, is clear in the Xterra – the Xterra’s spare tire is mounted underneath the cargo floor.

The seats are comfy and supportive and the Xterra’s gauges are now enclosed in three separate pods surrounded by metallic-look trim. I found their dark blue background hard to see on gloomy winter days, but turning on the parking lights solved the problem.

On the centre instrument panel, the three dials that control the heating and ventilation system are easy to grip even if you’re wearing gloves. My test vehicle had the standard, uplevel 280 watt sound system with a 6-disc in-dash CD changer, AM/FM radio, eight speakers, and audio controls on the steering wheel.

The shift lever for the automatic transmission is on the floor, and next to it is a smaller lever for engaging four-wheel-drive. Shift choices are 2Hi (rear-wheel-drive only), 4Hi (part-time 4WD that spreads engine torque evenly to the front and rear axles), Neutral, and 4LO (a low range gear for slow, steep descents or ascents.)

Behind the shift levers are two large cupholders which are designed to hold mugs as well as cups. Between the front seats is a tall, bi-level armrest/container that holds CD’s and includes an interior 12 volt powerpoint for charging phones. A shallow top level container features a lid that opens away from the driver to make it easier to access.

My test car had a flip-up glass sunroof with a removeable panel – this is not like the more popular sliding glass sunroof with a sliding sunshade.

The Xterra’s rear seat has plenty of headroom and legroom, but it’s a bit of a squeeze for three adults. The rear seat and the roofline, by the way, are raised to provide better forward visibility for rear passengers. Rear passengers have two pull-out cupholders, a 12 volt powerpoint, overhead map lights, and storage pockets in the rear doors.

The rear seats are split 50/50, but the seatbacks don’t fold perfectly flat. To solve this, the rear seat cushions must be removed by pulling them out. This is easy to do, but you must find a place to store the cushions.

The rear hatch door opens upwards, and is easy to lift, but the liftover height into the cargo area is a fairly tall 863 mm (34 inches). Also, the rear hatch door does not offer a separate rear liftglass. The rear hatch opening is quite large: 1.2 m (4 ft.) wide, and 838 mm (33 inches) tall, and the cargo area is quite roomy: from the cargo door to the back of the rear seats, the cargo floor is 914 mm (36 inches) long. With the rear seats up, there’s 1260 litres (44.5 cu. ft.) of cargo space, and with both rear seats folded down, there’s 1857 litres (65.6 cu. ft.) of space.

The cargo area features a sliding privacy cover, a 12 volt powerpoint, and two open storage bins behind the rear wheelwells. There are six tie-down clips in the ceiling and four on the floor � this allows the owner to secure large objects, like camping equipment, in the cargo area. Optional accessories, like bike racks, are also available from Nissan. The floor is carpeted, and the lower half of the walls are protected from scratching by a fabric liner.

The standard tubular aluminium roof rack will hold 57 kg (125 lb.) of gear, and includes a washable roof basket for storing wet sports gear like skates, flippers, snorkels, fishing gear, or what-have-you.

Competitor overview

As I mentioned, the Xterra is a heavier, more rugged SUV than most compact sport-utes. It’s not quite as nimble on the road, and its supercharged V6 engine uses more gas than most of its competitors. But if you need a true off-road vehicle that isn’t afraid to tackle the rough stuff, the Xterra is one of the best, if not the best compact SUV for 4X4 adventures. At the same time, it’s a perfectly good daily driver with room for four adults and plenty of cargo room.

Price and features

2002 Nissan Xterra XE
2002 Nissan Xterra XE
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The 2002 Xterra XE starts at $29,498 with a manual transmission, or $30,698 with an automatic transmission. The SE with a standard automatic transmission is $33,298, and the top-of-the-line supercharged Xterra SE-SC is $33,298 with a manual transmission and $34,498 with an automatic. My SE-SC test vehicle came to $35,466 with freight.

For comparison, a Jeep Liberty Limited Edition starts at $28,680, a Ford Escape XLT starts at $30,010, and a Honda CR-V EX is $28,700.

The Xterra is built at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee plant.

More info can be found at Nissan Canada’s consumer web-site, www.nissancanada.com

Technical Data:

2002 Nissan Xterra SE – SC
Base price $33,298
Options $1,200
Freight $968
Price as tested $35,466
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact SUV
Layout longitudinal front engine/rear-drive/PT 4WD
Engine 3.3 litre V6, SOHC, 12 valves
Horsepower 210 @ 4800 rpm
Torque 246 lb-ft @ 2800 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic (5 speed manual std.)
Curb weight 1918 kg (4228 lb.)
Wheelbase 2649 mm (104.3 in.)
Length 4521 mm (178.0 in.)
Width 1788 mm (70.4 in.)
Height 1885 mm (74.2 in.)
Cargo capacity 1260 litres (44.5 cu. ft.) seats up
  1857 litres (65.6 cu. ft.) seats down
Towing capacity 2269 kg (5000 lb.)
Fuel consumption City: 15.5 l/100 km (18 mpg)
  Hwy: 11.8 l/100 km (24 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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