2002 NISSAN XTERRA SC
"IS THAT A RATTLESNAKE I hear?" asked my navigator Justin. He was talking about a Satanic hiss coming from the back, right side of our daffodil-colored Xterra SC.
"Afraid not," I told him. "That's our tire. Let's just hope Nissan gave us a full-size spare, 'cause if they didn't, if they gave us one of those ridiculous rubber doughnuts, they may never see usÂ—or their SUVÂ—again." With these words, our excursion along The Shortcut to the village of Pecos was rudely interrupted.
The Shortcut. That was the official unofficial name of the road: The Shortcut to Pecos via Glorieta Mesa. The route climbs the mesa outside Santa Fe, traverses the lizardlike skin of its surface, then descends 800 feet and a couple of centuries to Pecos, site of my favorite watering hole. I was told by ranchers in the area that only a fool would take a conventional two-wheel-drive vehicle on it. Now I had the proper machinery for such a journey. The only question was, who would prevail? For all The Shortcut's obstacles, the Xterra seemed upÂ to theÂ challenge. Its less-than-impressive 210-horsepower engine was supplemented, thank God, by a racing-style supercharger, power-enhancing equipment that results in a total of 246 footpounds of torque (46 more than without it) for escaping sticky situations on or off road.
Considering its relatively small size, the Xterra packs more cargo than you'd think. After stuffing it with all my fishing gear, Justin's climbing gear, two coolers full of snacks, two mountain bikes, and one blue heeler named Cosmo, there was still plenty of room for the shredded hunk of rubber formerly known as the tire. Speaking of which, I won't hold you in suspense any longer. The sweetest sound that day came from Justin, as he lay underneath the truck. His muffled shouts meant we'd make it over the mesa after all and would soon be sitting in the oppressive air-conditioning at Pecos's renowned tavern and eatery, Frankie's.
"Free at last!" he yelled. "It's not a doughnut!" Â—Brad Wetzler
210-horsepower V-6 engine; full-time four-wheel drive; 65 cubic feet cargo capacity; five passengers; 15 mpg city, 18 mpg highway; $26,739 (as tested); www.xterra.com