Nissan's X-TRAIL is bigger and better than ever and the 1.6-litre dCi diesel engine in n-tec trim is the popular pick. Jonathan Crouch explains why.
Ten Second Review
If you were considering a seven-seat family SUV, Nissan's latest X-Trail is a very smart pick. The n-tec trim level is the one that will have your neighbours' curtains twitching too, with 19-inch alloys and a dizzying amount of technology on board. It's available with just the one 1.6-litre dCi diesel engine but you do get the choice of manual or auto, front or four-wheel drive.
You can't fault Nissan for perseverance. It tried with two generations of X-Trail to convince the British public that here was a viable budget alternative to the Land Rover Freelander. It was something that had a bit of ruggedness about it, yet would still seat five people and very good it was too, but it seemed people either wanted a Freelander or they desired something a bit softer-edged. Something like a Nissan Qashqai, come to think of it.
With that in mind, Nissan went back to the drawing board, ditched its Qashqai+2 model and have firmly nailed their colours to the mast of the latest seven-seat X-Trail. It's a bit of a gamble but, as we've seen before, Nissan isn't afraid of taking the market by surprise. Fitted with a small 1.6-litre diesel engine, the X-Trail now makes an interesting and affordable alternative to both SUVs and MPVs. Nissan could be on to something here.
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 in n-tec trim and it probably makes 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. Control weights are light but consistent and the 130PS diesel engine features 320Nm of torque so it's not as weedy as its modest capacity might at first suggest. The manual car will get to 62mph in 10.5 seconds and run on to a top speed of 117mph but the Xtronic auto is quite markedly tardier.
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, 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
Nissan reckons the n-tec model will represent the sweet spot in the range for UK buyers, offering as it does a useful slug of gear over the entry-level Visia and Acenta versions but without the expense of the Tekna. Prices start at £27,295 for a front-wheel drive model with a manual gearbox, to which you can add £1,350 if you really don't do clutch pedals. Go all-wheel drive and you're not going to see much change from £29,000 for a manual car with the Xtronic auto costing £30,645. Seven-seat rivals include the Hyundai Santa Fe which offers a bit more engine and costs a little more model for model. Interestingly, this X-Trail now lands in a sector of the market where there's no direct competition from key players like Toyota, Ford, Volkswagen and Honda.
The X-Trail n-tec gets Nissan's Smart Vision Pack which brings a whole host of driver aids including automatic lights, High Beam Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Forward Emergency Braking, Traffic Sign Recognition and front and rear parking sensors to the standard equipment, High Beam Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Forward Emergency Braking and Traffic Sign Recognition. There's also a set of 19" alloys, intelligent i-Key locking with push-button ignition, a DAB radio, roof rails, power tailgate, Around View Monitor giving 360-degree view around the car and the latest generation NissanConnect system with smartphone integration and built-in apps. The system includes Bluetooth audio streaming as well as AUX-in and USB slots.
Cost of Ownership
Nissan has worked hard to improve efficiency in the latest X-Trail and it needed to. Rivals like Honda and Toyota had started to open a gap here but the latest X-Trail shows evidence of some real determination to improve. Weight has been saved where possible, with the X-Trail now getting a lightweight largely plastic tailgate structure.
The previous barn-door aerodynamics have given way to a shape that cleaves the air a whole lot more effectively. The door mirrors are now shaped more elegantly and there's an underbody spoiler that diverts air under the exhaust box and rear panel. By reducing power sapping friction in its drivetrains, the X-Trail makes the most of its downsized powerplants. Economy is helped enormously by the fact that you don't need to run the vehicle in power-sapping all-wheel drive mode all the time, the intelligent 4x4 system reverting to front wheel drive when possible. This is demonstrated by the fact that the manual front-wheel drive car records economy and emissions figures of 57.8mpg and 129g/km respectively while the all-wheel drive model doesn't fare much worse at 53.3mpg and 139g/km.
Although the previous X-Trail was never one of the UK's top-selling SUVs, don't underestimate the punt Nissan has taken in radically changing the formula. This could have gone horribly wrong. It's seen cars like the Murano fall at the first hurdle on these shores and with the deletion of the Qashqai+2, the X-Trail really needed to step up to the plate. Fortunately it appears to have done just that. Sales are slowly gaining momentum as family buyers realise quite how good this package is.
The range appears quite simple, as all models are powered by the same 1.6-litre engine, but the n-tec trim does the styling justice with its big 19-inch alloys , plus it includes the desirable Smart Vision Pack and Around View Monitor. The masterstroke is that this vehicle is priced more aggressively and is more keenly equipped than its key rival, the Hyundai Santa Fe. It's taken some time, but the X-Trail looks like it's about to pay back Nissan's faith.