The current compact SUV market is replete with vehicles which usually sacrifice off-road capability for passenger comfort and fuel economy. While the current vogue may be for manufacturers to pillage their sedan lineup in order to find car platforms which can be adapted to the tall, cargo-friendly bodies of sport-utility vehicles, there was a time when even small SUV's were intended to be ridden on trails far from civilization. In fact, one of the most iconic off-road vehicles of all time, the Ford Bronco of the early 1970's, made excellent use of its compact size to squeeze into narrow areas where larger 4x4's just could not tread.
Nissan has been active in the production of compact SUV's since the 1980s when the company first made a splash with the Pathfinder. Early versions of the Pathfinder followed the tried and true path of grafting a longer passenger compartment onto a pickup platform, allowing Nissan to make use of their existing Hardbody Truck. The original two-door Pathfinder competed against the Chevrolet S10 Blazer and the Toyota 4Runner, eventually growing in size and capability when it graduated onto its own platform in the mid 1990s.
With the Pathfinder headed in a decidedly up market direction, Nissan decided to bring out a new entry-level compact SUV that would be aimed squarely at the youth market. Eschewing the convention that small sport-utility vehicles should be sedate, sedan-derived boulevard cruisers, Nissan made a bold statement in 2000 with the Xterra, a vehicle which provided not only great cargo capacity and decent passenger space but did so based on a strong frame with a real four-wheel drive system. The Xterra moved Nissan into more direct competition with other off-road oriented brands like Jeep and Land Rover, allowing them to offer a very capable vehicle at a much lower price than other serious truck-based SUV's.
For those looking for a tough yet livable used compact SUV, Nissan provides several appealing choices that are definitely a world apart from most of the other small Japanese sport-utility vehicles. The Pathfinder and the Xterra also offer buyers two different takes on the compact SUV concept, and while both are fairly roomy the former is targeted more towards family use with the latter intended for young, active buyers on the go. This article a look at both of these used compact SUV's from Nissan and discusses their high points, their capabilities and their specifications.
1998 - 2004 Nissan Pathfinder
The 1999 - 2004 Nissan Pathfinder was a big step for Nissan in terms of producing an SUV that could compete not just in terms of off-road prowess but also in the areas of passenger comfort and drivability. Its refined architecture when compared to the first editions of this SUV has gone a long way towards helping the Pathfinder match up against some of the stalwarts from Ford and Chevrolet in the compact to mid-size sport-utility vehicle segment.
This second generation of Pathfinder saw a number of engines pull duty beneath the hood. When it initially debuted for the 1998 model year, the SUV was outfitted with a 3.3-liter V-6 engine that made 170 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque. While these were good numbers at the time, used buyers would do better to target 2001 and up models, which make use of Nissan's ubiquitous VQ 3.5-liter V-6. In the Pathfinder, this engine makes a healthy 240 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque, and fuel mileage is actually better than the smaller displacement 6-cylinder that came before it, coming in at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 19 on the highway for two-wheel drive models. Later versions of the SUV also replace the early 4-speed automatic with a better 5-speed unit. Four-wheel drive is optional and recommended for those who would use their Pathfinder to pursue off-road adventure.
The 1999 - 2004 Nissan Pathfinder saw increasing levels of luxury equipment available as the years wore on. The vehicle provides comfortable seating for five, with optional heated leather seats, a moon roof and excellent stereo system. The rear seats fold down to provide a good amount of cargo room for a vehicle of this size, but the process is not as hassle-free as some other SUV's, as head rests must be removed and stored elsewhere in order to free up maximum space. That being said, the Pathfinder's gradual upscale evolution rewards buyers who can locate a 2002 - 2004 edition of the vehicle.
For those looking for a comfortable and capable used compact sport-utility vehicle, the 1999 - 2004 Nissan Pathfinder is an appealing, inexpensive option.
2000 - 2004 Nissan Xterra
Nissan's most recent addition to their SUV lineup, the compact Xterra, heads in the opposite direction of similar offerings from Toyota and Honda. Whereas many compact SUV's aim to provide a car-like ride and are based on sedan platforms, when they introduced the Xterra in 2000 Nissan decided to instead accent the vehicle's rugged capabilities, using the same chassis as their Frontier pickup truck. This fundamental difference sets the Xterra apart from most other small sport-utility vehicles on the used market.
For the first two years, Xterra buyers could choose between a 143 horsepower 4-cylinder engine or a 170 horsepower, 3.3-liter V-6. Either engine could be had with a 5-speed manual transmission or an optional 4-speed automatic. Starting in 2002, a supercharged, 210 horsepower edition of the V-6 was also available. 4-cylinder editions of the Xterra cannot be ordered with four-wheel drive, and if possible, the 2.4-liter inline 4 engine should be avoided, as its paltry power output has trouble dealing with the 4,000 lb bulk of SUV. The Xterra has a solid rear axle for extra 4x4 toughness, and the vehicle's suspension eats up both rough trails and potholes with relative ease and comfort.
The Nissan Xterra is targeted towards those who need a vehicle to get them from one exciting outdoor activity to another while accommodating all of the associated accessories and equipment that might be required. The interior of the compact SUV is relatively devoid of creature comforts, although it does provide plenty of storage cubbies including one behind a bulge in the rear lift gate for holding a first aid kit. Hooks and tie downs are also abundant, making it easier to transport surfboards or snowboards. In total, 65 cubic feet of cargo space is available with the rear seats folded down.
The 2000 - 2004 Nissan Xterra is a bargain-priced used compact SUV which is well suited for anyone needing a small off-road vehicle without any expensive bells and whistles.