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FIRST DRIVE

Nissan adds a bright look to the road with its 2003 Xterra

The SUV is a mid-size brute that can haul a half-ton of cargo in a 66-cubic-foot space.

May 28, 2003|Duncan Haimerl | Hartford Courant

It was such a bright yellow you almost had to wear sunglasses after midnight to approach this 2003 Nissan Xterra; in the daytime an escort car would have been handy to warn oncoming drivers to lower their sun visors. Nissan calls the color Solar Yellow Clearcoat, an apt name.

The Xterra isn't a crossover vehicle or a tiny truck; it's a mid-size sport utility vehicle that weighs more than 2 tons and can carry a half-ton payload in its 66-cubic-foot cargo space or tow 5,000 pounds.

It has fat 16-inch Grabber tires from General Tire, part-time four-wheel drive with a high-low transfer case that comes into play when the going gets rough.

The color would frighten deer, but this brute could go into the woods after them without hesitation. It has a ground clearance of 10.3 inches to ride above low-lying rocks.

Its 3.3-liter V-6 engine has 180 horsepower and a torque rating of 202 pound-feet at 2,800 rpm, a good deal of push when you need it. But let's face it, this is a truck and that brute power won't win any races on a paved highway.

Although it does come with a five-speed manual transmission for the he-man types, I prefer to be shiftless, so the four-speed automatic suited me fine.

The front passenger and the driver have bucket seats, a nice feature in a truck that can keep you from sliding around during off-road twists and turns. That sliding is left to the three passengers in the back seat, who absolutely must be wearing seat belts.

The Xterra is 178 inches long, and the 35.4-foot turning circle means you must plan your parking lot moves carefully. Still, the 70.4-inch width lets you use normal parking spaces without encroaching on neighboring cars.

The 73.8-inch height means I had to describe for my shorter friends the novel beach towel and bathing suit rack with honeycomb bottom that's on the roof.

That rack can help dry the beach attire while you're driving, which sure beats wrapping your bathing suit around the radio antenna (and losing it).

A power connector socket high on the dash lets you plug in your cell phone and talk without taking a hand off the steering wheel.

Just remember that talking can be a serious distraction for a driver.

The 19.4-gallon fuel tank and the 20 mpg on the highway give you a total cruising range of 388 miles with the automatic transmission. City mileage is 16 mpg.

The manufacturer's suggested retail base price for the Xterra SE is $26,999, but typical options (a Class III tow hitch, floor mats and an in-cabin micro-filter to keep down the pollen) and freight push the base price to $27,716.

Edmunds.com's True Market Value shows an average selling price of $26,201 if you show a little toughness when you talk price with a salesperson and the manager.

If you drop the four-wheel drive and go to a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission with no options, the manufacturer's suggested retail price is $17,999, plus $540 for freight, but I don't suggest going that route.

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