By Andy Enright
The rise of the so-called 'soft-roader' has been one of the key motoring trends of the last few years. Largely kicked off by the success of cars like the Suzuki Grand Vitara and Toyota RAV4, the sector became typified by the market leading Land Rover Freelander and was soon populated by cars like the Ford Maverick, the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Mitsubishi Shogun Pinin. One car, however, stands above them all as the best in class. The Nissan X-Trail was a relative latecomer to the market but benefits from avoiding many of the mistakes earlier cars made. Refined on road and relatively capable off, it blends smart design with MPV-style practicality. If you're the sort of person who has never been able to see the point in this genre of car, take a drive in an X-Trail. If it can't convince you, nothing will. For those already converted, the X-Trail makes a bulletproof used proposition.
MODELS COVERED: 5dr Compact 4x4 (2.0, 2.5 petrol, 2.2 diesel [S, Sport, SE+, SVE, T-Spec, Columbia, Aventura])
The X-Trail range was launched in October 2001 with a choice of either 2.0-litre 138bhp petrol or 2.2-litre 112bhp turbo diesel engines. Trim levels ran from S through Sport up to range-topping SE+. Garnering instant critical acclaim for the boldness of its interior styling and the quality of its chassis, the X-Trail went on to notch up steady, if unspectacular, sales. Britain's leading off-road magazine '4x4' voted the X-Trail the best soft roader two years running and in 2002 the range was bolstered by the addition of the 165bhp 2.5-litre SVE version, a car that took aim at V6 versions of the Land Rover Freelander and Ford Maverick. The end of 2003 saw the mildest of mild facelifts with a slimline front bumper along with new light clusters front and rear. Further changes were made at the beginning of 2005 but these were fairly insignificant and the vehicle still looked largely the same. More important was the addition of entry-level 4x2 X-Trail models and the increase in power for the 2.2dCi engine to 136bhp. The range was altered for the 2006 model year with Columbia and Aventura trim levels taking over from SVE and T-Spec at the top of the line-up. Details of the all new X-Trail, which looks spookily similar to this one, arrived in mid 2007.
What You Get
Although an 'extrail' sounds like something that would have you quickly flipping the page of Gray's Anatomy, Nissan's interpretation of the compact SUV theme is pretty inoffensive. The massive headlights are probably the most striking design feature, but the detailing is neat, the stance purposefully chunky and the bloodline looks more like a scaled-down Patrol than a latter-day Terrano II. With chrome touches on the grille, tail and door handles, the X-Trail leaps into a commanding lead over the Land Rover Freelander and Ford Maverick in the shininess stakes. Although it's tempting to bring a premature close to this contest with the Nissan ahead on points, it would be a same not to explore the X-Trail's potential a little further. Where the Nissan strides ahead of the Ford and the Land Rover is in terms of interior design. Yes, we appreciate that it's a Japanese car, and it's interior is expected to be about as chi-chi as a McDonalds staff room, but bear with us here. Loads of space, a big tick in the oddments space box and some beautifully judged trim colour combinations make the Nissan as good as it gets in this sector. The centrally mounted instruments give the fascia a wonderfully symmetrical look spoiled only by a steering wheel offset to the right (European and US buyers get theirs offset the other way!) and the centre console is trimmed in silver and features a drinks cooler that actually works.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
As with any used 4x4, check for signs of heavy off road use. Few X-Trails will have done anything harder than climb a grass verge but you can never be too careful. Get underneath the car and check that over enthusiastic off-roading hasn't wreaked havoc with the suspensions, the exhaust, the front spoiler or the wheelarch liners. Try to avoid the 2.0-litre petrol car if you suspect its been subjected to heavy towing duties. All three engines are solid units and no significant faults have emerged, the X-Trail doing well in used car reliability surveys. The interior is also hard wearing, but check the seat trim and kiddie damage.
(approx. for a 2001 2.0) The X-Trail's parts are plentiful but they're not that cheap. A clutch assembly is around £240, brake pads are around £40 front and £50 rear, a full exhaust system about £550, a starter motor about £225, an alternator around £200 and a radiator costs around £225.
On the Road
As touched upon earlier, three engines are on offer, a 138bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit that could give Nissan Primera drivers a gnawing sense of dej vu, a 165bhp 2.5-litre powerplant and a 2.2-litre 113bhp turbodiesel. Although the 2.0-litre petrol and 2.2-diesel may promise the power to weight ratio of a petrified log, appearances can be deceptive. The turbodiesel in particular is a perfectly agreeable powerplant, it's common-rail architecture providing enough clout to heave the chunky X-Trail to 60mph in a vaguely whelming 13.5 seconds before physics contrive against it at 103mph. The 2.2-litre engine scores a resounding slam dunk when it comes to fuel consumption, returning an average of 39.2mpg, giving lie to the belief that running a decently sized 4x4 requires a sultan-sized bank balance. Naturally the petrol engined versions needs a bit more liquid down its filler neck, the 2.0-litre returning a more sobering but still presentable 30.4mpg, but the payback is its ability to hit 60mph in 11.3 seconds en route to a fairly academic 110mph. It's a sweet engine, but lacks the diesel's gruff urge, and would probably be the choice for the low mileage user who didn't object to a slight lack of low-end grunt. The 2.5-litre lump, as fitted to the range-topping SVE, only penalises you by 1mpg compared to its smaller petrol sibling yet can sprint to 60mph in less than ten seconds. The fly in the X-Trail's ointment has to be the gearchange. Whereas guiding the petrol-engined car's stick around the five-speed box is merely obstructive, the six-speed box fitted to the diesel versions is, despite its well-chosen ratios, pretty woeful. Unless you've got biceps that resemble condoms stuffed with walnuts, you're going to find it hard work. Road manners are pretty near the top of the compact 4x4 tree, certainly far better than average, although probably not quite as composed as the Ford Maverick but on a par with the Land Rover Freelander. Roll is well suppressed and wind noise is also agreeably muted although the tyres will make an infernal din on poorly surfaced motorways. If you opt for the upspec Sport or SE+ models you have the option of drowning this out with your favourite CD, although entry-level S owners can have bathe in seventies nostalgia by resorting to a cassette player. Off the beaten track the Nissan does surprisingly well, with power switching from the front wheels to all four when conditions decree, else the driver can manually select 4wd via a dash-mounted button. It certainly seems capable of holding its own, although it lacks the fancy hill descent control of the Land Rover. Although most compact 4x4 buyers are as unlikely to venture off-road it's good to know you have the Nissan at least has some trousers to back up that shiny mouth.
Demand for used X-Trails means that there aren't any outrageous bargains floating about the network, but if you want the best in the business, you'll need to pay for it. The pick of the range is probably a 2.2-litre Sport but this is one of the few car line ups without a significant duffer. Recommended.