Can Nissan's X-Trail SUV make family sense? June Neary decides.
Will It Suit Me?
No one's pretending anymore. Compact lifestyle 4x4s never go off road. And if they ever did, it would have to be on something very easy. I know. I once tried to take a Nissan X-Trail over a dirt trail and ended up scraping the exhaust. As I probably would have done with most of its Honda CR-V/RAV4-style rivals. No, these are school run family estates. And they're none the worse for that. Buyers like me love the elevated driving position, the chunky looks and the feeling that if we wanted to chase buffalos across the Serengeti, then we could. So where does all that leave Nissan's third generation X-Trail, a car I've been trying? Basically, it had to become more car-like if it was to meet the challenge being laid down by a host of new rivals. So Nissan has obliged. There's more equipment, a smarter interior and, rather surprisingly, better off road capability. Now there's a turn-up.
The bold setsquare lines of the X-Trail are classic 4x4. The designers have steered clear of the sleeker, curvier shapes favoured by the car-like crossover breed in favour of the tall and the chunky. In place of the bluff, squared-off shape of the previous generation version, this MK3 model looks sleeker, hints of the popular Qashqai and luxurious Murano mixed with a dipping roofline, deeply sculpted flanks and a rising waistline. Move inside and the first impressions of my family and I were good. The rear doors open widely to over 80-degrees for easier access and at first glance, the cabin looks as spacious as the cold statistics promise. Passengers in the centre of the car who don't need to worry about third row folk can kick back and stretch out. The extra 60mm of length between the wheels that this car enjoys over its Qashqai stablemate enables it to offer class-leading standards of legroom that's further aided by deeply sculpted front seat backs. And up front? Well, back at the turn of the century in the original first generation version of this car, Nissan's designers went all quirky, with centrally-mounted dials, a proudly protruding centre stack and weird seat fabrics. Since then, the brand has learnt a few lessons about buyers in this segment: they may like to make a little bit of a statement when it comes to exterior styling, but when it comes to the interior, conservative quality tends to be the preferred approach. So that's exactly what's served up in this X-Trial, with most of the design and functionality borrowed from its Qashqai stablemate.
Behind the Wheel
The range as a whole provides a choice of two or four-wheel drive configurations, but doesn't offer many options beneath the bonnet. Yes, you can talk to your dealer about a 163PS 1.6-litre DIG-T turbocharged petrol engine, but hardly any buyers choose it, directed instead to a single diesel unit that's smaller than you'd expect to find in a car of this sort. What do I mean by that? Well, just look at direct diesel competitors to this car: they all need powerplants of at least 2.0-litres in size - and even then, are usually less than thrilling away from the lights. There's cause for concern then, in Nissan's decision to fit this car exclusively with a dCi unit of just 1.6-litres. Particularly when you learn that it develops a decidedly conservative 130PS, a full 43PS less than the 2.0-litre dCi engine used in this car's direct predecessor. On the road, I thought this is less of an issue than it is on the spec sheet. As the engineers rightly point out, this downsized powerplant puts out just as much pulling power - 320Nm of torque - as its 2.0-litre predecessor did, yet is 20% more efficient and comparably quick, 62mph from rest occupying around 11s en route to around 117mph.
Value For Money
By the time the second generation X-Trail model finished its production run, it was no longer offered with either 2WD or entry-level spec and, as a result, looked quite an expensive car, priced at well over £25,000. This third generation version started afresh with both a baseline trim option and a 2WD variant, so as a result, can price itself more affordably at the bottom end of its model line-up, prices starting at around £22,000 for the least expensive 'Visia'-trimmed 2WD model. At this level though, you don't get the 4x4 and auto transmission options many buyers will want to consider. For these, you have to stretch to the second level on the trim hierarchy - 'Acenta' - at which point this returns - in diesel form at least - to being a £25,000 car. What else? Well you'll need to know that the ALL MODE 4x4-i system's only offered with manual transmission and costs an extra £1,700. Or, if you're happy with just two driven wheels, the XTronic auto gearbox will set you back just over £1,300 extra. Whatever trim level you decide upon for your X-Trail, ordering your car with the seven-seat option will set you back a further £700 over the cost of the variant you select.
Could I Live With One?
I might struggle to justify the premium being asked over a conventional spacious family estate. But then that comment applies to virtually every car in the compact 4x4 class. Viewed against its peers, this X-TRAIL stacks up well. If you're looking for a car of this kind, it's one you'll need to consider.