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by Steve Siler

Nissan Xterra
2003 Nissan Xterra

The Nissan Xterra is a pro boxer in a room full of ballerinas. In terms of image, dynamics and refinement, the Xterra could be infinitely more graceful. However, what pro boxer do you know would give a hoot about doing pirouettes in the ring? The Xterra is about as butch as it gets for a small SUV.

The Xterra has punch, too, in the engine bay. At least if you check a little box that says "Supercharged V-6" on it. The top Xterra powerplant is a V-6 that produces 210 horsepower thanks to-you guessed it-a supercharger. Non-supercharged variants make do with 180 horses, adequate but not strong. Bottom rung Xterras barely make it out of their corners with just 143 horsepower from their little four-cylinder engines. Fuel economy is somewhat lamentable for a compact SUV, with the four-cylinder achieving numbers in the very low 20's, and the V-6's in the mid-to-high teens.

The interior, which Nissan boasts has everything you need, nothing you don't, feels suitably Spartan in base form. But options include things like leather interiors with contrasting stitching, a sunroof, power accessories and keyless entry. The available Harmon Kardon stereo is outstanding, too. Cargo carrying ability is good, since there is a lot of room in the back, but unlike many in this class, the glass window in the rear liftgate is fixed, so you can't open just the window to load smaller items without opening the whole thing. Small gripe, admittedly, for a truck with such charm.