Nissan X-TRAIL review

Nissan's X-TRAIL is selling well to more adventurous families and has been improved with a pokier diesel option, as Jonathan Crouch reports.

Ten Second Review

With space for up to seven, a sleek look, a high quality interior and some seriously smart technology under the skin, the current third generation Nissan X-Trail is maturing very nicely and has been improved with the option of torquier 2.0-litre dCi diesel power at the top of the range. This model line is positioned just above the popular Qashqai, offering Crossover aesthetics with proper SUV mechanicals.

Background

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 current X-Trail ditches the Bear Grylls image and instead takes inspiration from Nissan's market-leading crossovers - the Qashqai and the Juke. 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.

Driving Experience

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 pokier 177PS 2.0-litre dCi unit. Or, for petrol people, there's the option of a DIG-T 163PS green-pump-fuelled powerplant. 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

This MK3 model X-Trail tries 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 version, today's model looks sleeker, with a more Murano-like laid-back grille and lights. The interior is satisfyingly spacious 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 well judged. 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 three engines - a DIG-T 163PS petrol unit that almost no one will buy and two dCi diesels, a 130PS 1.6-litre unit and a 177PS 2.0-litre powerplant. As ever, the familiar trim grades are 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.

Cost of Ownership

The core dCi 130 unit is a reasonably efficient choice. 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 2.0-litre dCi engine, the figures are 50.5mpg and 149g/km with manual or auto transmission. Go for the auto version with 4WD and the readings fall to 47.1mpg and 158g/km. Finally, if you go for the DIG-T 163PS petrol model, the figures are 45.6mpg and 145g/km of CO2. To achieve these readings, 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 this X-Trail the most efficient ever.

Summary

This third generation X-Trail offers much more than its predecessors ever could. Class-leading levels of space and efficiency, more appealing looks, plenty of hi-tech and, crucially, the option of seven seats for those wanting it. That last feature gives this car something most compact lifestyle soft roaders can't offer - and those that can tend to be more expensive and pricier to run. Perhaps most importantly, there's an element of desirability in this MK3 model X-Trail that was missing from its predecessors. All of which might indeed mean that if you're looking for a car of this kind, 'X' may very well mark the spot.