By Andy Enright
Strange, isn't it, how our perceptions of vehicles change? Take a product like the Nissan's X-TRAIL. When this second generation version was launched in 2007, we were hardly allowed to call it an 'SUV', let alone a 4x4, even though it clearly was. The Japanese brand, you see, was targeting the 'lifestyle' market with this car, people who liked the thought of rough and rugged motoring but were put off by anything too extreme and certainly didn't relish the thought of offroader-style running costs. It was a car for suburban families rather than something Bear Grylls would chew the head off a snake in the back of. But back then, Nissan didn't have a range of so-called 'Crossover' models - the little Juke, the spacious Qashqai and the ritzy Murano. These certainly weren't SUVs or 4x4s - instead more like family cars in automotive hiking gear. By comparison, they suddenly made this X-TRAIL look a very serious mud-plugger indeed. Which was how we were invited to view it in facelifted MK2 guise introduced to the British market in early 2011. How does it stack up as a used buy?
With the demise of the rugged Patrol in 2009, Nissan had a bit of an identity issue. Its range was becoming stuffed with lightweight crossovers and there was only the Pathfinder that really looked as if could look after itself when the tarmac ended. Its answer was to beef up the X-Trail's image. Whereas the focus used to be on clever packaging solutions and legroom, speak to Nissan about the 2011 model year X-Trail and all you got back was talk of its clever All-Mode 4x4-i intelligent four-wheel-drive system, its hill descent control for jungle slopes and even references to way that its individually braked wheels could act out the role of axle diffs. The styling was updated, the interior upgraded and customers got the cleaner, more efficient diesel engine it would need to properly compete against rivals like Land Rover's Freelander, Toyota's RAV4, Honda's CR-V and Volkswagen's Tiguan.
Perhaps the X-TRAIL rather fell between two stools, offering neither the slickness of a Tiguan or the go-anywhere appeal of a Freelander, but sales were a lot slower than they ought to have been. Nissan tried to boost interest with the introduction of a range-topping Platinum edition in late 2011 and followed that a year later with the n-tec+ model to appeal to private buyers. Sales never really recovered and Nissan finally announced an all-new X-TRAIL for 2014.
What You Get
This car slotted into Nissan's range just above the Qashqai Crossover and just below the larger, more ponderous 7-seater Pathfinder SUV. At first glance, the opening used prices for this model look a little more expensive than its obvious rivals, but that's only because Nissan didn't bother with the lower-powered engines and bargain basement trim levels that brands with wider ranges provide. Comparable this vehicle with similarly specified and equivalently powerful competitors of a similar vintage and you'll actually find that it's priced very tightly.
Whether you choose your 2.0 dCi diesel X-TRAIL in 173PS manual form or as a 150PS automatic, it'll come with 4WD, no longer a given in this class. It'll also come with a very decent level of spec. So expect to find alloy wheels, full body coloured bumpers, privacy glass, electric windows and mirrors, a drive computer, climate controlled air-conditioning, Bluetooth phone integration, plus auto headlamps and wipers, cruise control and a decent quality MP3-compatible CD/radio with 4 speakers and steering wheel controls. Plusher versions get leather, powered and heated seats, xenon headlamps, power folding door mirrors, a panoramic glass sunroof, a 'Connect Premium' HDD satnav with music server and USB port, a rear parking camera, xenon headlights and a 9-speaker BOSE sound system. Safety-wise, there are twin front, side and curtain airbags, plus the usual electronic assistance for the braking, traction and stability systems to hopefully ensure that they'll never be needed.
For the record, the 2011 model year improvements amounted to a redesigned front grille, flanked by smarter headlamps and flowing down into a revised bumper assembly, the bottom part of which is angled outwards to try and visually widen the car. The profile of the design was slightly more purposeful too, thanks to larger wheels, while at the back, you'll find a set of revised LED tail lamps. Inside, the interior, previously a bit plasticky and dour, was polished up a bit with better materials and stitching.
What to Look For
X-TRAILs tend to be reliable, with the problems that plagued the old 2.5-litre diesels long since put to bed. About the only thing that can really hurt an X-TRAIL is if its previous owner took the whole 4x4 thing a bit literally and attempted to subject the car to some serious off roading,. It's not that this Nissan can't cut it off road, it's just that some owners don't realise that careless off-roading is the quickest way to destroy a car while travelling very slowly.
(approx prices, based on a 2012 X-TRAIL) You'll pay around £80 for a set of front brake pads, with rears weighing in at £60. A new radiator is around £240 with a starter motor also costing about the same. A windscreen costs around £300.
On the Road
Get in and you can't help enjoying the usual high-set SUV-like driving position, reminding you that this car isn't primarily designed as anything sporty. None of the changes which created this facelifted second generation model were targeted at improving its handling, so as before, the balance it offers is aimed more at comfort than dynamic response - almost certainly what potential family buyers are going to want. So the steering is light, the ride over poor surfaces well controlled and refinement very well contained. To put it another way, a RAV4 or a CR-V might feel sportier to drive but this Nissan is a better bet for bumpy urban use or over longer trips.
It's over these kinds of journeys that you appreciate the very flexible nature of this 173PS 2.0 dCi diesel engine, pulling happily as it does away from idle and really getting into its stride from about 1,500rpm for easy and relaxed overtaking, rest to sixty occupying 10s on the way to a top speed of 124mph. Opt for the 150PS version mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox and the figures fall to 12.5s and 118mph. This 173PS powerplant offers a potent 360Nm of torque, which is why this car is rated to tow a trailer up to 2,200kgs.
As for the drive layout, well there were no 2WD models in the facelifted MK2 X-TRAIL model line-up, so every example you'll find will be fitted with Nissan's All-Mode 4x4-i intelligent four-wheel-drive set-up that reduces understeer and gives some real capability in the rough. The system predicts when the front wheels are slipping and directs drive to the rears with lightning speed. A rotary knob lets you choose either fuel-saving front-wheel drive, automatic four-wheel drive (with a variable torque split between the front and rear axles) and a mode with the centre differential fully locked to help you crawl out of the mire. Though a relatively low ride height will ultimately prevent you from taking on anything too arduous, Hill descent control, a hill holder clutch function to help you up steep slopes, ESP stability control and individually braked wheels acting out the role of axle diffs all mean that few of the adventures you can take on with this car will be beyond you.
The Nissan X-TRAIL is a car that started out good and just got better. Unfortunately, Nissan managed to miss the bullseye in a few key regards. It left it too late to introduce a second generation car and then couldn't make up its mind whether to position it as a lifestyle choice or a seriously capable small SUV. Which left buyers confused and more likely to go for one of the company's Qashqai crossover models.
All of this has left this X-TRAIL as a low profile choice amongst family-sized compact SUVs on the used car market, but it nevertheless represents a great secondhand buy if you want a four-wheel drive vehicle with genuine versatility. This facelifted second generation car doesn't have a weak link anywhere in the range and reliability has proven good. All of which means it's well worth a look.