Nissan's X-TRAIL used to be a bit of a confused proposition. The latest car has a far clearer identity, as Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
With space for up to seven, a sleeker look, a higher quality interior and some seriously smart technology under the skin, the latest Nissan X-Trail has matured very nicely. It's positioned just above the popular Qashqai, offering crossover aesthetics with proper SUV mechanicals. Third time really does seem to be a charm.
The Nissan X-Trail story to date is a bit of an unusual three-parter. The first model appeared in 2001 and was sold as a 'lifestyle' SUV. Or rather it would have been if we Brits had bought any. Instead we rather blanked this excellent car in favour of Land Rover Freelanders, Honda CR-Vs and Toyota RAV4s. Undeterred, Nissan tried again, with an all-new car in 2007. Now the tack had slightly changed. The X-Trail looked much the same, but it was now marketed as a more serious 4x4, with proper off-road ability. Although the quality inside had improved markedly, it still never caught the public's imagination quite like its little brother, the Qashqai. The X-Trail got a wash and wipe in 2010 but it was just to tide customers over ahead of what we see here. The latest X-Trail ditches the Bear Grylls image and instead takes inspiration from Nissan's market-leading crossovers - Qashqai, Juke and Murano. Has it gone soft or is it merely trying to win a popularity contest? In truth, neither. It's just a smart piece of product development reacting to a changing marketplace.
Under the bonnet, the core engine is Nissan's powerful but frugal 1.6-litre dCi 130 diesel, optionally mated to a newly-developed XTronic CVT gearbox. This unit delivers plenty of pulling power (320Nm of torque) and is decently refined, so should be at home on or off the beaten track. Alternatively, buyers can opt for a DIG-T 163PS petrol unit. Although the X-Trail appears to have become a bit more lifestyle oriented, this is Nissan we're talking of here; manufacturers of some of the cleverest all-wheel drive systems around. They just can't help themselves. Yes, you can buy a front-wheel drive X-Trail and it'll probably make sense for quite a few buyers but the four wheel drive chassis is extremely clever. The electronic four-wheel drive system, ALL MODE 4x4i, is controlled via a rotary switch on the centre console. It offers a choice between two-wheel drive, Auto mode or Lock offering permanent four-wheel drive. So far, so conventional. The X-Trail also features Active Ride Control and Active Engine Brake. Active Ride Control monitors the road surface to detect undulations which could potentially upset the pitch of the car body and alters the damping to compensate. Active Engine Brake meanwhile, harnesses the power and controllability of the XTronic transmission to add a degree of engine braking while cornering or when decelerating to a standstill. Then there's Active Trace Control. By using on board sensors to monitor speed, steering angle, throttle opening and braking effort, Active Trace Control brakes wheels individually, as required, to reduce understeer and help the driver steer a safer path through bends: it is particularly effective on slippery, wet roads. Finally the X-Trail benefits from Uphill Start Support and Advance Hill Descent Control.
Design and Build
By now you'll probably have figured out what's going on with this latest X-Trail. In brief, it's trying to blend the sleek and stylish lines of a modern crossover with the robust appeal of a typical SUV. In place of the bluff, squared off lines of the previous generation, this latest X-Trail looks sleeker, with a more Murano-like laid-back grille and lights. The interior is a good deal more spacious than before and features theatre-style seating with the option of two extra seats to make room for seven inside. Practical touches include rear side doors that open to almost 80 degrees - far wider than normal - to allow not just easy access but also to ease the loading and unloading of a child seat. Middle row seat comfort has been improved thanks to extra knee room generated by the longer wheelbase and the front seats having more heavily sculpted seat backs. The middle row seats recline and slide while, where fitted, the third row folds forward to increase luggage space. Helpful touches include, for example, a large between-the-seats console box. The box itself is large enough to take an iPad or 10-inch tablet. The luggage bay can be portioned into upper and lower areas in a simple single-handed move. In its top most position, a dividing board can hold up to 10 kilograms of luggage, or 75 kilograms in its lower position. This split cargo solution enables the user to store, for example, a stroller and large items below while creating a fully usable upper load surface for smaller, lighter items. A remotely-powered tailgate eases access to the luggage area. Build quality looks much improved. It's not going to scare Audi but it's right on the money for the X-Trail's price point.
Market and Model
This X-Trail is available with two engine - a DIG-T 163PS petrol and the dCi 130 diesel and offered in four familiar grades: Visia, Acenta, n-tec and Tekna. Prices sit in the £22,000 to £32,000 bracket and there's the option of two or four-wheel drive, five or seven seats and manual or XTronic automatic transmission. All trim levels feature air-conditioning, alloy wheels and six airbags, LED daytime running lights, five-inch colour combimeter display, Bluetooth with microphone, cruise control and speed limiter. Hill start assist, follow me home lights and a luggage board system are also among the features fitted as standard. Range-topping Tekna models feature an array of technologies that further confirm Nissan's lead in the crossover market. These include LED headlamps, leather seats, electrically-adjustable driver's seat, front and rear parking sensors and 19-inch alloy wheels. In addition, Tekna models also feature Intelligent key with engine start button, Forward Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Assist and Traffic Sign Recognition. Nissan's challenge with this X-Trail is to get its message across without being buried by the competing attractions of other all-wheel drive models in its line up. That's a little easier now that the Murano and the Patrol have been pensioned off, but there's still the Pathfinder, Qashqai and Juke there. The X-Trail now acts as a mid point between the lightweight Qashqai and the hardcore Pathfinder. Nissan hopes it has hit a sweet spot.
Cost of Ownership
The latest dCi 130 unit is much cleaner than the engine it replaces. Offered with the option of two- or four-wheel-drive, two-wheel drive models enjoy CO2emissions of 129g/km in manual form, while versions equipped with Nissan's advanced XTronic automatic gearbox emit 135g/km. All-wheel drive diesel models equipped with Nissan's ALL MODE 4x4-i transmission emit 139g/km - a significant 18 per cent less than the outgoing model. For the DIG-T 163PS petrol model, the figures are 45.6mpg and 145g/km of CO2. To achieve these figures, Nissan's engineers did more than just improve the efficiency and performance of the engine and transmission. By reducing weight and optimising the car's aerodynamics, the engineers have been able to make the new X-Trail more efficient. Despite having a larger surface area than the previous model, numerous features have been introduced to counteract the increase in size. For example, the tailgate is constructed largely of plastic - a move that has saved 7kg over the existing design. Aero-friendly door mirrors and an underfloor spoiler that covers the exhaust and rear panel also play their part in making the new X-Trail the most efficient ever.
The Nissan X-Trail is a vehicle that has often struggled to assert itself in a market packed with talent. The galling thing for Nissan is that on talent alone, it's often been one of the best in its class but it has lacked that bit of X-factor that translates into solid orders. The latest model aims to bring that desirability to the X-Trail. With more space, more equipment, better build quality and a sleeker look, it's a car that instantly looks much more upmarket than before. But will it sell? That's the big question. We've gone out on a limb before predicting big things for the impressive X-Trail and the market has proven us wrong. Big sales of the Qashqai will probably generate a legion of buyers who may well grow out of this model and look for something bigger and better. The X-Trail answers that call. Whether it can do enough to convince Land Rover Freelander, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 customers remains to be seen.