Since its debut in 1999, the Xterra has been marketed as the SUV for the active outdoor enthusiast - the X Games fan who wants to kayak, mountain bike, and snowboard - or at least have those options. The Xterra is rugged, affordable, uniquely styled, and off-road capable. Its only notable fault, in our opinion, had been the relative lack of horsepower. However, Nissan has turned over a new leaf as of late. It is a company that has refocused on meeting not only the needs of the automotive-buying public, but its wants as well. Nissan has become more responsive to the constructive criticism it receives from its customers, and because of its relatively smaller size, it can make its products evolve quickly.
It is with this quick turnaround in mind that we take a look at the '02 Xterra. The vehicle has been improved and upgraded for 2002 and offers buyers several new options, including a supercharged engine. The Xterra is still offered with the choice of either a 2.4L inline-four or the 3.3L V-6, which put out 143 and 170 hp, respectively. New for 2002, however, is the option of the S/C on both 2WD and 4WD models. The Eaton M62 Roots-type supercharger was designed specifically for the Xterra application. It bumps up the horsepower numbers to 210 ponies and the torque to either 246 lb-ft with the automatic transmission or 231 with a manual, which is up from the 3.3L's standard 200 lb-ft of wheel-turning force. All three engine configurations are offered with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed electronically controlled automatic.
The Xterra was made to be an SUV that can take people anywhere, providing both on-road comfort and off-road capability and durability. The vehicle continues to be an all-steel body-on-frame SUV, giving it a rugged, truck-like feel. The suspension is a double-wishbone front, dual leaf-spring rear setup, and four-wheel ABS is standard equipment. Also standard are skidplates that protect the engine and the fuel tank from trail debris. Buyers can choose either part-time four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case or rear-wheel drive. New for this year is a change in ride height. Now all 2WD models have the same ride height as the 4WDs. A different wheel and tire package comes with the supercharged SE, combining 17-inch alloys with P265/65R17 BFGoodrich truck tires. There is also a new Enthusiast Package, which provides manual hubs, a limited-slip differential, rubber floor mats, foglights, and front tow hooks, all of which come in handy when off road.
The changes to the Xterra can be found not only under the hood, but around it as well. The Nissan's front fascia has been redesigned to include round headlights flanked by well-defined turn lights and marker lights. The new front end uses more brushed metal as well, including a horizontal grille insert that matches the new lower grille. The hood itself is different, too, with a 48mm power bulge that raises the profile of the center of the hood. The front end has a more aggressive look, right down to the larger, and now round, driving lights. There are three new exterior colors available: Shock Blue, Sedona, and Molten Lava
The other modifications were done to the Xterra's interior, which received a redesigned instrument panel, new stereo options, new colors, and improved ergonomics. The instrument panel now has a cockpit feel, with the three main gauges set in circular recesses. The interior houses a center console with a map pocket, push-out cup holders (to hold everything from a can of soda to a Big Gulp), and power ports. Xterra SE buyers will get an eight-speaker AM/FM/six-disc in-dash CD changer stereo system, which is an option on XE models. This system comes with steering-wheel audio controls as well. The dash-mounted pull-type hand brake was rather unpopular, so it was replaced with a foot-operated unit.
The majority of the changes to the Xterra for 2002 were in response to what customers felt were shortcomings of previous models. Overall, the vehicle has a similar feel to the first Xterra. It feels durable yet comfortable and looks and feels ready for the trail. The new instrument cluster looks fresh and clean and is very easy to read at night, but the glare from the sun makes it a little more difficult to read during the day than the previous design. The front end's new look is attractive and gives the vehicle a more rugged overall appearance.
The best part of the new Xterra is the optional supercharger. This boosts the horsepower and torque numbers to where they should have been in the first place. SUV buyers, in general, like power, and the more power there is, the better. Nissan made a wise decision by offering the S/C, which gives the Xterra much more bang for the buck and makes the vehicle even more competitive in such a do-or-die market. It also makes the Xterra even more fun to drive than it was before.
Eaton's M62 Gives the Xterra a Boost
Once Nissan determined that the best way to give its 3.3L V-6 (a popular engine choice for both the Xterra and the Frontier) a little extra power was with a supercharger, the company decided to use an Eaton unit. Eaton is the largest supercharger manufacturer in the world and has a significant presence in the automotive aftermarket. The company has extensive experience fitting superchargers to OE applications, such as the Mercedes SLK and the Ford Lightning. It was simply a matter of putting the right unit with this engine. Based on both the size of the unit and its compatibility with the engine, Nissan selected the M62.
The Eaton supercharger uses two rotors, which form a helix to increase both air pressure and density in the SUV's intake manifold. This concentrated charge of air causes more powerful combustion in the cylinders, and the engine's overall power increases. Eaton units can be spun as Once Nissan determined high as 14,000 rpm, reducing the superchargers' physical sizes and making them good candidates for vehicles with smaller engines or engine bays. They are also made to be quiet, self-lubricating, and reliable.
The end result of the use of this supercharger on the larger Xterra and Frontier engine is impressive. In the Xterra, the naturally aspirated 3.3L puts out 170 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. The supercharged unit ups both numbers by nearly 25 percent to 210 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque. That makes for a lot of fun on the open road.