Riding on the chassis of the Qashqai, Nissan’s new X-Trail is nevertheless a capable off-roader, with its 4×4 system being an improved version of the previous arrangement. You need a close look to see the differences on the outside, but under the skin it’s a different story
The X-Trail is one of Nissan’s international success stories, to which sales exceeding 800 000 since 2001 testify. What was expected to be a low-volume niche vehicle went on to become hugely popular, garnering a loyal following along the way.
So rather than make a radical design change for the Mk II version, Nissan has taken an evolutionary approach and based its second att empt on two things: feedback from existing owners and the platform from the Qashqai.
This is the result, tested here in flagship 2.5 4×4 CVT LE form and priced at R368 100 with a three-year, 100 000km service plan thrown in.
More than a passing glance is needed to tell the newcomer from its predecessor. The front is similar, though the headlights are larger and less geometric. Side on, though, it is apparent that it is longer overall. Much of that 175mm increase is behind the rear axle; the wheelbase is up by only 5mm. Body width increases by 20mm and the height by 10mm.
The overall effect is of highly derivative styling, which may please conservative buyers. However, we can’t help feeling that Nissan has missed an opportunity to update the appearance. The result is that it looks dull alongside the likes of the CRV, and less purposeful compared to the rugged Freelander.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★
The nomenclature gives some clue to the mix of old and new that the vehicle represents, and the existi ng 2488cc petrol engine does under-bonnet duty, albeit in a revised form. Power and torque are now 125 kW and 226 Nm, compared to 132 kW and 245 Nm previously. Nissan says that while peak fi gures are down, the engine is now more effi cient with lower emissions and fuel consumpti on.
There may be less power and torque, but there are more gear rati os than before. The transmission is a Constantly Variable type, though drivers preferring more deliberate shift s can use the sequenti al manual mode to choose from six disti nct rati os.
There’s a new four-wheel-drive system too and while the choice of 2WD, Auto and Lock selection is retained, All-Mode 4x4i uses a number of sensors to predict rotational differences between front and rear, and thereby help the electro-magnetically controlled multi -plate clutch link the two axles almost instantly.
The stiffer Qashqai platform brings different suspension layouts, isolated from the cabin by rubber-mounted subframes. The front retains MacPherson struts and the rear is still fully independent, but now with a multi -link set-up. Coils act as the springing medium.
In LE trim occupants can look forward to features such as a panoramic sunroof, front/side/curtain airbags, Bluetooth cellphone connectivity, leather-covered seats and privacy glass.
All models apart from the base one also have what Nissan terms Hyper Roof Rails, with driving lights integrated into the front tips, in addition to fog lights.
★ ★ ★ ★
Two words sum up the cabin: spacious and upmarket. Maybe not upmarket in the way that an X3 or Honda is, but impressive nonetheless, courtesy of soft -touch plastics, pleasing tactile sensations from all the contact points, and unambiguous controls.
The sound system is user-friendly thanks to a large, central control knob, in addition to satellite controls on the leather-wrapped steering wheel. As well as allowing six discs to be loaded, it provides good sound quality but lacks that modern essential: an auxiliary input socket.
The circular controller for the 4×4 drive system is easy to use, and is flanked by a pair of rocker switches on either side. The outer ones provide Hi/Lo seat heating, while the inner ones activate the central locking (closer to the passenger) and hill descent control, which limits speed to 7 km/h.
Owners of the previous X-Trail may be surprised to find the instruments now placed dead ahead (rather than on the centre line of the dash) and will probably acknowledge that in this case, conventional is better. It is a particularly neat cluster with speedo and tacho separated by a circular liquid crystal display that incorporates fuel level, engine temperature and info from the trip computer.
Seats are comfortable if a little unsupportive, even given the inherently modest cornering limits of a soft – roader. The rear compartment is spacious in all planes bar headroom, which is compromised slightly by the giant sunroof. The backrest angle can be adjusted in steps to provide a more relaxed seating position.
Where the X-Trail moves to the front of the pack is in its excellent luggage capacity and storage solutions. It is capable of carrying a class leading volume of 1773 litres with the 60/40 cushions flipped forward against the front seats and the 40/20/40 rear seat then folded down.
Open the huge tailgate – at first glance it looks as though it should be split into upper and lower portions, so deep does it extend into the rear bumper – and you’re greeted by a practical, wipe-clean plastic boot board, under which are a host of storage areas. These include a drawer that disappears into the belly of the load compartment. It’s perfect for storing dirty or wet stuff , or even to keep valuables hidden if the retractable luggage cover has been dispensed with.
The false floor/drawer can also be removed, which you would need to do to get at the full-sized spare wheel. It is in this guise that the maximum luggage volume is measured.
The standard luggage capacity has expanded from around 400 to 603 litres (479 above the floor), and in addition the cabin has an impressive oddment compartment/ cup-holder count. The front drinks holders are cleverly positioned at the base of the A-pillars and, like those in the back, boast a cooling function.
★ ★ ★
Down on power and torque it may be, but the latest evolution of this engine is exceptionally smooth and quiet for a sizeable four-pot. It reaches its 6200 r/min limiter with deceptive ease when driven in manual mode, a push on the lever sending it effortlessly into the next gear.
While this is a more involved way of driving, it certainly isn’t the quickest. We recorded our best figures by letting the transmission run the show. What it does do is let the engine speed climb to about 6100 – essentially the power peak – and then hold it there until the driver lift s off .
Performance bears an almost uncanny similarity to the Mitsubishi Outlander tested last year (Leisure Wheels issue 44). The two have the same kind of transmission, very similar power and torque figures and also weigh the same, give or take 10 kilos.
It is slightly slower through the gears and when overtaking, though. But where the Nissan scores highly is in the overall level of refinement.
While a lot of people find the sensation of driving a CVT-equipped car somewhat odd (an aural sensation of acceleration is lacking because engine revs remain more or less unchanged despite the increasing speed) at least it doesn’t have the flailing eggbeater acoustics of its rival.
The Nissan is much more economical too, whether on the open road or in the suburbs.
★ ★ ★ ★
It’s all about compromise and Nissan seem to have found the right balance between comfort and control, with an inkling that it might lean towards the sporty side of the scale.
Sure, there’s understeer aplenty if you try to chuck it around with gay abandon, but it generally feels keen to match the driver’s mood. There’s decent suspension travel so it soaks up the average South African pothole well, while anti-roll bars at both ends keep it reasonably flat in corners. Steering is certainly sharp and responsive enough for drivers to tackle narrow roads and tracks with confidence.
Off-road capability impressed too. With an effective hill descent control system to overcome the long first gear, a lockable centre differential (that operates at speeds up to 40 km/h) and traction control that can be switched off, it tackled our Gerotek softroader course with enthusiasm.
Its angles of attack and ground clearance don’t get close to the class-leading Freelander (the long rear overhang results in an especially poor number) but they’re adequate for the class where the limiting factor exiting obstacles is invariably the lack of low range gearing.
What we did like about driving the X-Trail – both on and off the road – was the good all-round visibility by virtue of the large glass area, relatively narrow pillars and commanding driving position.
While the 2WD mode may have some fuel consumption benefits, “Automatic” works best in anything less than perfect conditions (off tar or not), with throttle opening, engine speed and torque monitored to anticipate wheelspin and to distribute up to 50% of available torque rearwards. The Lock function distributes torque evenly between the axles while the active brake slip limiter (ABSL) acts like electronic limited slip differentials to contain wheelspin crossways.
★ ★ ★ ★
Whether the X-Trail will find your sweet spot or not depends on whether you’re conservative or progressive. The evolutionary approach results in a vehicle that is a competent all-rounder, but that may look a little too dour for daring individuals. And the X-Trail is arguably a little short of wow factor anyway.
From a purely practical point of view it has to be one of the best in class, though, with exemplary space utilisation and seating flexibility to go with its smooth drivetrain and decent dynamics.