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OFF-ROAD TEST

Road Test: Nissan X-Trail





3 June 2015


The third generation Nissan X-Trail was recently introduced to the SA market. Is it still the soft-roader of choice, or have its rivals finally caught up?

Life must be tough if you have a renowned parent. Imagine, for example, being Albert Einstein’s son. How could you possibly live up to expectations when your father was one of the most celebrated scientists in history?

Einstein’s son, for the record, was also a scientist. He studied “sediment transport”, but his contributions to this field came nowhere near the achievements of his father. So he was always to be known simply as “Einstein’s son.”

At a stretch, the new X-Trail faces a similar problem. The first generation was easily the best vehicle in its class and it turned out to be pretty much the same story for the replacement model. The latest version arrived in SA a few months ago, but it was quite clear from the start that it would not follow in the footsteps of its predecessors.

For a start, Nissan got rid of the boxy exterior in favour of a new conventionally curvaceous body. We weren’t sold on the looks, which are slightly too generic for our taste, but we firmly believe in not judging a book by its cover. Besides, what’s the point of criticising a vehicle on grounds that are purely subjective in the first place?

We were more interested in the other attributes that made the previous two X-Trails such brilliant cars. And we felt more than qualified to comment on both of them, having driven them all over SA and in neighbouring countries.

We were always impressed by the X-Trails’ blend of luxury, space and off-road ability. They weren’t go-anywhere vehicles, but they could go just a little bit farther than the average soft-roader.

The new X-Trail has massive boots to fill, and after an initial launch drive we were fairly certain that it could do so, but we weren’t ready to call it until we had completed a thorough road test. Now we’ve done just that, and are ready to deliver our verdict.

Exterior****

The new model is a drastic departure from the designs of previous X-Trails. It’s fairly obvious that Nissan took the lead designer’s ruler away, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The X-Trail certainly looks more elegant and “premium” than before, but we can’t help feeling that some of its ruggedness has been sacrificed as a result.

Even so, it remains a handsome vehicle and we suppose it does make sense to have all the vehicles in a manufacturer’s range make use of the same design language.

The Nissan badge is proudly displayed on the front of the all-new face and the funky alloy wheel design is a nice touch.

One also can’t help but notice how much bigger the X-Trail has grown over the years. It was parked next to a BMW X6 for most of the week and we were quite surprised to see how similar they were in size.

That’s good news for X-Trail fans, as a large exterior body normally translates into a large interior, which is a massive selling point in this segment.

Interior****

In terms of space, the X-Trail certainly doesn’t disappoint.

The front seats are supportive in all the right places and proved to be very comfortable over a long distance.

The driver enjoys easy access to all the major controls, including the sound system and climate control. The steering wheel is a quality item, allowing the driver to switch between the various audio input sources, as well as adjust the cruise control settings.

The legroom for rear passengers is astounding, but it comes at a price. If you want the maximum amount of legroom, you have to make do with the minimum amount of boot space. The rear bench slides forwards and backwards to create more room on either side. With the bench as far back as possible, the X-Trail’s boot has less space than our long-term Renault Duster. Having said that, there’s still a lot of legroom left over when the bench is pushed as far forward as possible. In this case, the X-Trail easily comes out on top.

The quality of the interior plastics is perfectly acceptable at the price, but Nissan has ensured that your skin only touches quality materials during the everyday driving experience. In addition to leather seats, you get a leather wrapped steering wheel and gear lever.

When it comes to the standard equipment list, you won’t be left wanting. Nissan has included everything you might need and could reasonably expect. If you can afford it, however, the Techno Pack is worth the extra cost. Not only does it include a host of added safety features but you also get NissanConnect. This impressive system adds an extra dash of class to the interior, thanks to a seven-inch touch-screen with on-board navigation.

The same can be said of all the other mid-size SUVs out there, which is a problem for the Nissan. With cars being as good as they are these days, it’s down to the small things to make the difference.

We really appreciated the cooled cup holders up front and the wide opening angle on the rear doors. The electric tailgate is also a “must have” if you regularly have a shopping bag in one hand and a toddler in the other.

All things considered, the X-Trail is one of those vehicles that makes everyday life just that little bit easier.

Performance and handling****

We decided to give the X-Trail four stars despite two irritating factors we’ll come to.

The 1,6-litre turbocharged diesel engine is a magnificent piece of engineering. For its size, it packs quite a punch. Nissan claims 96kW and 320Nm of torque, which are the kind of figures we would have accepted from 3,0-litre diesel engines not that long ago.

The engine is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox which sends power to the wheels via Nissan’s All-Mode all-wheel drive system. In normal town driving you can leave the vehicle in two-wheel drive, but there is an Auto function, which will send power to the rear axle if it senses that things are getting a bit slippery.

The car can also be locked in all-wheel drive for the odd occasion when you find yourself on a dirt road, or on a light off-road track.

The X-Trail can definitely still hold its own when the going gets tough, as was proved to us at the model’s local launch. We didn’t do anything too hectic, but it was an impressive demonstration as far as soft-roaders are concerned.

With this kind of car the on-road experience is far more important than off-roading and in this regard the X-trail does not disappoint. You just have to take some time to get used to it.

The clutch is rather tricky to operate at first. Every single member of the Leisure Wheels team stalled the car the first time they drove it, but after compensating for the jerky reaction and fairly notable initial turbo lag, all was fine.

Once you get the 1,6-litre engine in its power band, it pulls like a steam train. Leave it in front-wheel drive and it will actually wrestle with you if you give it too much stick. Needless to say, in-gear acceleration is top-notch, with 100% of the 320Nm of torque being available from 1750rpm.

Nissan claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 5,3 l/100km, but in reality we got closer to 7,7 l/100km. That is actually quite good for a fairly large car that feels as zippy as the X-Trail does.

There were no surprises when we turned off the tar and onto a dirt road. You could lock the vehicle in all-wheel drive, but the All-Mode’s automatic setting does a pretty decent job of keeping the car in a straight line.

This makes the X-Trail the kind of car you want to take on an adventure. Yes, most owners will use it within the confines of a city, but Nissan has ensured that you can tackle the road less travelled with confidence, even if it is just once a year.

Safety features*****

In standard guise the Nissan X-Trail received the full five stars from Euro NCAP. Equipment on all models includes six airbags, three-point seat belts for all occupants, ABS with EBD and BAS, Vehicle Dynamic Control and Hill Start Assist, as well as Isofix child seat anchors.

If you opt for the Techno Pack, you also get the Nissan Safety Shield, which is a collection of advanced safety systems such as lane departure warning, blind spot warning, around view monitor and moving object detection. Most of these aids are familiar to enthusiasts, but the around view monitor stood out for us. Though it was not fitted to our test car, we experienced it first hand at the launch. The car uses four cameras at the front and rear to create a 360-degree bird’s eye view of the vehicle. This, in combination with front and rear parking sensors, makes parking an absolute breeze.

Practicality*****

You get the sense that the X-Trail was designed by a bunch of people who know what families want from their SUV.

The seats can be folded and moved in various ways, which means the X-Trail is as capable of carrying something like a ladder as it is at accommodating a family and their luggage.

An often overlooked featured is the wide-opening rear doors, which really help when you need access to the kids, or something stored behind the driver or passenger seats.

The X-Trail’s new exterior dimensions have allowed space for two extra seats in the boot as an optional extra. The seats are placed in a theatre like position, which means no member of the family will be left out of the conversation.

In seven-seat models, the rearmost seats fold flat into the floor to provide a practical loading space – from 135 to 1310 litres. Five-seat derivatives offer between 550 and 1405 litres of cargo space.

Value for money***

The X-Trail is more expensive that its main rivals, but it does set a new benchmark in terms of interior space. The 1,6-litre turbocharged diesel powertrain is impressive as well, but a quick glance through our buyer’s guide reveals that you can get a lot more for less cash if you spend it at Ford, Mazda or Toyota.

The CX-5, Kuga and Rav4 are all available with larger diesel engines, with the added benefit of an automatic gearbox. Yes, the X-Trail delivers better fuel consumption, which is a huge selling point, but it’s going to be tough to convince South Africans to pay more money for a smaller engine.

The Mazda, for example, uses a 2,2-litre diesel engine that develops 129kW and 420Nm of torque. It has a touch-screen infotainment system with integrated satellite navigation as standard, in addition to a number of advanced safety systems that are optional on the X-Trail. The Mazda retails for R465 400, which nearly R10 000 cheaper than the X-Trail.

It’s more or less the same story with every other model the X-Trail competes with, but the top-spec diesel Kuga deserves special mention. It is nearly R20 000 cheaper than the Nissan.

Does this make the X-Trail a bad car? No, not even a little bit. The new X-Trail is every bit as good as its predecessors and more than good enough not to be labelled as the son of the original X-Trail.

What we suspect has happened is that the competition has finally caught up. For years the X-Trail has been a benchmark vehicle, but competing manufacturers are offering vehicles that are just as good these days. It’s not that the X-Trail is bad — it’s just not the stand-out vehicle it once was, thanks to a multitude of rivals competing in a segment that’s bursting at the seams.

This means things boil down to brand preference. We highly recommend the X-Trail to people snooping around in this particular segment, but we’d also advise you to have a thorough look at all the other vehicles out there as well.

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