Despite having all the aesthetic appeal of a house brick, Nissan’s original X-Trail quickly carved a solid niche for
itself, and the second-generation version – introduced here two years ago – has continued in that vein
While it may not be all that special to look at (the unimaginative styling approach used since 2001 remains largely unchanged), the underpinnings of the current version are similar to that of the Qashqai, a much more curvaceous and elegant vehicle, truth be told. They share a wheelbase of 2 630mm and are very similar in terms of track width, which means their footprint is virtually identical. But the difference is that X-trail has a far greater rear overhang, which makes it one of the longest vehicles in the class – and the best when it comes to hauling a mountain of luggage.
The 2,0-litre turbo diesel engine was added to the X-Trail range in August 2008, expanding the model range to 10 derivatives. On test here is the 2.0D 4×4 SE automatic, and if you want the combination of four-wheel-drive and turbo diesel power then you can only have it with an automatic box. This follows a model rationalization and spec revision late last year, which reduced what had become a bewildering array back down to six versions.
Features and equipment
Nissan’s oil burner was developed in conjunction with Renault and in this application is good for 110 kW and 320 Nm, figures which are pretty middling. By modern standards a torque peak of 2 000 r/min is already on the highish side – though Nissan say 90 percent of peak torque is available from 1 750 r/min. Its companion is a six-speed automatic (not the CVT fitted to the 2.5-litre petrol) with a sequential mode for drivers who like to determine the gear change points. This clutch-less shifter seems to be the main reason torque is pegged at 320 Newtons, because in the three-pedal Renault Koleos it makes a healthy 360 Nm and 127 kW.
The All Mode 4×4 system is familiar, with the default setting engaging just the front wheels, while rotating the dial to Auto enables the electronics to determine when to send torque rearwards. A further clockwise twist locks it in 4×4 with a 50:50 torque split. Hill Descent Control, activated via a switch on the centre console, only operates in this mode and keeps things below 6,5 km/h.
There’s a full-house of safety soft ware (stability control is now on the menu) and a comprehensive selection of braking aids are fitted. Six airbags off er additional protection and those with children will be pleased that Isofix seat mountings now form part of the safety package.
Considering the X-Trail’s geometric sheet metal, the gargantuan interior should come as no surprise. But it does, especially in the front compartment where it is even bigger in all planes than it appears to be from the outside, the airiness creating a palpable sense of well being.
It also majors in automotive intelligence, especially with regards to storage compartments, and the centrally-mounted dash-top storage box is deep enough to house 10CD cases, while the vast glove compartment (Nissan claims a volume of nearly 16 litres) will be more than adequate for any overflow. As you’d expect there are also plenty of cup holders, mounted in easy to reach places.
The actual layout and architecture is pretty conventional (the centrally-positioned instrument cluster thankfully disappearing along with the first-generation model), but Nissan has added appeal by mixing in decent soft -touch plastics and secondary controls with pleasing tactile quality. While SE trim doesn’t boast satellite controls for the single-disc front-loader (now with an aux input socket), the big volume controller in the middle of the panel is easy to use and the wheel-mounted switchgear for the cruise control is amongst the best in the business.
Rear space across the cabin is very good, although a soft er backrest and a tad more legroom – surprisingly – would make it perfect.
The seat back angle can be reclined in five stages. The X-Trail’s tour de force is its luggage compartment, Nissan claiming 603-litres with the rear seats in place. That increases to 1 773 litres with the 60/40 cushions hinged forward against the front seats (necessitating the removal of the headrests) and with the split backrest then folded down.
Loading stuff through the huge tailgate aperture is a cinch, and while at first the luggage compartment floor seems high, there are two underfloor compartments – including a slide-out drawer – that add a useful dimension to the X Trail’s versatility. It can all be removed and needs to be to reach the spare wheel.
At start-up the engine isn’t exactly silken, but it does settle down quite quickly once warm and is no less refined than its rivals. Unfortunately it is outgunned by the likes of the Freelander, Santa Fe and RAV4 in the torque department (granted, all with an extra 200cc) and performance is dependable rather than eager.
There’s the barest hint of lag, but whether that’s actually engine-related or a combination of the turbine spooling up and a momentary delay from the trannie is hard to determine. We suspect the latter, and while the six-speed trannie swops cogs smoothly and silently it sometimes is a little slow to kick back down a gear, and then occasionally does so with a bit of a jolt.
Stopping ability is improved compared to previous models and there’s a reassuring firmness to the pedal, with a modest degree of travel that inspires confidence. The stoppers get an overall rating of excellent.
The X-Trail is a vehicle that just about anyone would feel confident driving immediately. Modern cars are generally free of quirks and the Nissan is even more so, but fortunately not to the point of being boring. The steering feels accurate and well-weighted with just the right amount of directional change relative to the movement of the steering wheel. The responses of the chassis are predictable and of a steady nature. The suspension absorbs just the amount of body movement you expect it to.
Making it all easier is a satisfying driving position (the steering column adjusts for rake and reach), and thanks to the generous glass area the driver feels in control, though some taller drivers would’ve liked the seat to drop a little lower.
The SE model rides on 16-inch rubber measuring 215/60, aesthetically somewhat skinny-looking compared to the fat-tyred opposition, and the Bridgestone Duelers don’t look like they’re intended for anything other than the highway. Yet the X-Trail is an especially reassuring drive on fast, flowing dirt roads, and with All Mode 4×4 in the Auto setting it faithfully traces the arc of the corner with not even the nastiest washerboards and deepest gullies causing it to deviate far from the chosen path. And when you hit something bigger than anticipated, the suspension (a mix of struts and a rear multi-link, both mounted on rubber insulated subframes) mostly shrugs it off, seldom thudding through to the cabin.
It also boasts a decent arsenal for more serious soft-roading but the poor departure angle can be a worry and the ground clearance is a middling 203 mm, so this is definitely a car where we recommend you look before you leap.
Running changes and revisions to the specifications levels have turned the X-Trail into a very appealing package and the price looks keen too, which wasn’t necessarily the case before the range was realigned. In the outright performance stakes it is a little outgunned, but in the real world its smaller capacity engine and lower torque than some rivals seldom matters.
It retains its capacious interior, and the volume and type of storage solutions make it a real lifestyle vehicle with a distinctly user friendly nature.