2002 Nissan Xterra Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Sue Mead Sue Mead Editor
July 9, 2001

You review the '02 Xterra and Frontier  

CARMEL, Calif.— Not long ago, Nissan was on the automotive endangered species list. Owner loyalty was declining and products were dated and late to market. The "Nissan Revival Plan" has turned all of that around going deeper, farther and faster than planned — and it shows.

Recently, when Nissan brought the automotive press to this coastal region of California to evaluate its lineup for the 2002 model year, virtually all of its products are now new or significantly changed (with the exception of the Quest).  And, changes have brought new buyers-younger, better educated and with higher household incomes.

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Of note, in the popular light truck market are some changes to the Nissan Frontier and Xterra for 2002. Since this pair first appeared on the American scene not that long ago, the Frontier and Xterra have opened new doors to traditional pickup truck and SUV buyers, aided by a sleek marketing campaign starring extreme sportsmen and a Lenny Kravitz soundtrack.

Each has been a success, while the Xterra has practically become a cult truck. For 2002, both have been updated, improved and rejuvenated with new drivetrains, new styling and, in the case of Frontier, a total of 19 possible configurations for a single model line.

This Japanese automaker, with manufacturing facilities in the U.S., couldn't have picked a better time.  With a slowing economy and an increased emphasis on the youth market by many carmakers, it makes sense to improve on products that attract buyers who may have smaller bank accounts, but who demand vehicles that combine a youthful cool with mature practicality. 

Twin-barrel mudding

This double-barrel offering does just that by mixing equal parts performance, athletic style and technological advancement. The Xterra, for instance, with its edgy looks and the trappings of a serious off-road SUV, straddles the line between being a practical highway people-carrier and utilitarian 4x4 mountain bike-toter.  And, that dual personality becomes even more pronounced for buyers who choose the all-new supercharged V-6 engine option-an industry "first" in the compact SUV segment.

2002 Nissan Xterra

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2002 Nissan Frontier

2002 Nissan Frontier

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The Frontier, with its many possible configurations, combines a comfortable crew cab with a long pickup bed.  Popular overseas for years now, this multipurpose adaptation of the construction worker's grocery-getter is also made stylish enough for lay-people's consumption.  The Frontier also features aggressive styling and the optional supercharged motor for performance on and off the job. It's a "first" in its class, as well.

These twin turbos certainly will make a strong first impression when they make their public debut in August. The Xterra maintains its headstrong, no-frills looks, but has received a front-end makeover.  Round headlamps, a thick metal grille and a center-bulging hood that accommodates the supercharged engine option combine for a freshened look that is still signature Xterra.  Highlighting its rugged face are a series of new trim and paint options in bold blues, reds and titanium metal finishes.

Frontier shares what Nissan calls a "modern industrial" style, as well, and both vehicles have interior upgrades.  In the cockpit are new aero-industry inspired round gauges, smooth HVAC control surfaces and additional amenities that emphasize the practical nature of these trucks.  Power outlets, map pockets and a larger glove box all add utility for campers, climbers, tailgaters and commuters.

Both vehicles will be available with Nissan's all-new supercharged 3.3-liter V-6 engine that produces 210 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque (with automatic transmission).  This system, based on a Roots-type blower developed with Eaton Corp. and warranted by Nissan, has been developed to help enthusiasts get a little more bang without stretching their bucks too far.  For Frontier customers, the supercharged option is part of an up-level trim package, while Xterra drivers can get the S/C drivetrain without any other additional features.

Capable, but trucky

Our ride and drive route included paved and hard-surfaced dirt roads, but no off-road driving that required the use of 4WD. But, then again, we’re familiar with the capabilities of each of these products in the true backcountry, where they are quite competent and efficient. So, what's new from a drivers' perspective? From the outside, design changes are subtle, but appealing. And, inside, the overall look is freshened, while the ride is quite the same — capable, but "trucky." It's a bit noisy and it rides a bit rough. But, Nissan makes no bones about that, a refreshing stance in a world where most manufacturers claim their SUVs and light trucks are car-like. Few are.

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2002 Nissan Xterra

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What clearly stands out with Frontier and Xterra is what's under the hood. The supercharged engine is a performance package that improves responsiveness, and, therefore, brings increased passive safety enhancements (getting on and off the freeway, executing passing maneuvers and general accident avoidance maneuvers, for instance), which makes this pair more fun to drive.

Nissan's Larry Dominique likes to compare this pair to a "base canvas for owners to start their own painting." The Frontier, with 4x2, 4x4, regular and supercharged motors, three trim levels and configurations including King Cab, Desert Runner, Frontier Crew Cab and Frontier Crew Cab Long Bed, has a total of 19 possible variations.  And, Xterra comes in three trim levels, 4x2 or 4x4 drive and the option to add the supercharged motor on the two top trim levels.  Both also offer a choice between automatic and manual transmissions.

2002 Nissan Frontier

2002 Nissan Frontier

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This array of options, as well as the improvements inside, outside and under the hood, is more than simply a cosmetic's package, says Nissan.  They are part of this rejuvenated automaker's promise to offer "everything you need, nothing you don't" in its utility vehicles.

Offering a blend of rugged usefulness and dependability for the daily grind, the 2002 stablemates from Nissan seem to have hit their mark.  Both Xterra and Frontier will appeal to individualists who know what they need in a vehicle - for whom it's not bells, whistles, frills and fluff. 

The Xterra has achieved a fiercely loyal following due to its commitment to the off-road lifestyle and not-off-the-charts sticker.  And, Frontier's strong showing in the crowded compact truck segment is also a solid indicator that these mavericks will surely continue to charm.   Pricing for the 2002 models will be announced in August.

2002 Nissan Xterra
Base price: TBA
Engine: 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder, 143 hp; 3.3-liter V-6, 170 hp; 3.3-liter supercharged  V-6, 200 hp
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, rear- or four-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 104.3 in
Length: 178.0 in
Width: 70.4 in
Height: 74 in
Curb weight: 3570-4034 lb
EPA cty/hwy: 15-18 cty/18-24 hwy
Safety equipment: Dual airbags
Major standard features: Air conditioning, AM/FM/CD player, folding rear seats, rear window wiper
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles


2002 Nissan Frontier

Length: 211.0 in

Width: 70.4 in

Height: 74.0 in

Wheelbase: 131.1 in

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April 16, 2015
For 2002 Nissan Xterra

One of the best 4x4's on the market.

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I have owned 2 Nissan Xterra's. The second one is the Supercharged model. The interior is easy to keep clean and is very functional. It was designed with the idea of getting dirty in mind. The 3.3 liter... + More »
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