MONTEREY, Calif. - The new Altima may be the main offering of the 2002 model year, but Nissan Division also is making significant changes to the rest of the lineup.
The company is making an effort to keep existing products as fresh as possible without full redesigns. That means giving Maxima a more powerful engine, providing the Sentra line with some street-rod flair, and offering Xterra and Frontier buyers more model variants from which to choose. A summary:
Now smaller and with a cruder rear suspension than the new Altima, the Maxima soldiers on for 18 months before it gets redesigned.
Until then it will be powered by the same 3.5-liter V-6 as the Altima, but with better intake and exhaust breathing. As a result, the Maxima gets 260 hp and 246 pounds-feet of torque. That's 20 more horses than Altima and 38 more than the existing Maxima engine.
For enthusiasts, Nissan also will offer a six-speed manual transmission with optional limited-slip differential for the first time. The purchase ratio is expected to be less than 10 percent of total, however. The standard Maxima will have the same four-speed automatic transmission as Altima, although a five-speed automatic probably will be installed in the next-generation version. Traction control is optional.
Other additions to the Maxima include standard brake assist, electronic brake force distribution, high-intensity discharge headlamps and trip computer. Previously optional items that are now standard on the base model include a cargo net, auto-off headlights, HomeLink transceiver, eight-way power driver's seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror and six-speaker AM/FM/CD system with steering wheel controls.
The front and rear fascias receive a freshening, with the front hinting at the Infiniti Q45. The interior gets a freshening as well, with the instrument panel getting a new black-on-white gauge cluster and brushed-metal accents abounding.
Focus groups asked for a larger bed with the Frontier Crew Cab, and Nissan has complied.
The 2002 Frontier Crew Cab Long Bed comes with a 74.6-inch cargo bed, 18.3 inches longer than the standard bed. The wheelbase is increased by 15 inches, while the overall length of the truck is 211 inches.
To make the Long Bed possible, Nissan added a structural cross-member, lengthened the front part of the two-piece drive shaft, thickened the center side rails and increased the rear spring and damping rates.
Other changes to the entire pickup lineup: All Frontiers will replace the ancient dash-mounted pull-and-twist parking brake with a more traditional foot brake. The instrument panel has been changed to a three-pod design, while the climate controls are larger and have a brushed-metal look.
Nissan also will delete the Regular Cab model from the lineup, leaving just the King Cab and Crew Cab models. A stripped-down version of the King Cab becomes the entry-level Frontier.
Nissan projects that 42,000 out of the 60,000 Frontier Crew Cabs will come with the Long Bed feature. That means some changes at the Smyrna, Tenn., plant to accommodate such a long vehicle, including modifying the paint shop, increasing the conveyer turn radius and decreasing the slope of up-and-down angles as the vehicles are moved about the factory floor, said Larry Dominique, chief product specialist for trucks.
For 2002, Nissan's rough-and-tumble sport-utility gets more power in the form of an optional supercharged 3.3-liter V-6 engine that generates 210 hp and 246 pounds-feet of torque. The supercharger is an M62 Roots-type, manufactured by Eaton Corp., although it is factory installed and warranted.
To fit the supercharger, the hood line has been modified with an angular 'power bulge' that runs from the windshield to the fascia. Whether equipped with supercharger or not, all models will get the new hoodline. The headlights have changed from rectangular to circular, while the grille gets the addition of the horizontal bar already in the Frontier.
Like the Frontier, the Xterra's instrument panel has been changed to a three-pod design, while the climate controls are larger and have a brushed-metal look.
Nissan has been discouraged by the Xterra's high transaction prices, which stem from dealers loading the vehicles with options. Since four-cylinder models account for only 3 percent of the mix, getting V-6 sticker prices down was important. So the Xterra XE model has been repackaged as a moderately equipped V-6 model for around $21,000.
Hoping to jump on the street-racer bandwagon, Nissan will resurrect the SE-R model of the Sentra after seven years in absentia.
Nissan will mate a 16-valve, 2.5-liter four-cylinder generating 170 hp and 175 pounds-feet of torque to a five-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic. The same engine with a tuned exhaust system drives an even sportier 'Spec V' model. It gets 180 hp and 180 pounds-feet of torque and is connected to a six-speed manual with limited-slip differential.
On the handling front, the strut front and beam-axle rear suspension has been sport tuned with stiffer shocks, beefier front and rear stabilizer bars and a front-strut tower brace. Four-wheel disc brakes with 11-inch front rotors are standard, as are 16-inch wheels.
The SE-R model goes on sale in November and is expected to account for 22,000 units, about one-fourth of Sentra's total sales.