With space for up to seven, a sleeker look, a higher quality interior and some seriously smart technology under the skin, the latest Nissan X-Trail has matured very nicely. It's now positioned halfway between the popular Qashqai and the hardcore Pathfinder, offering crossover aesthetics with proper SUV mechanicals. Third time really does seem to be a charm.
Under the bonnet, the core engine is Nissan's powerful but frugal 1.6-litre dCi 130 diesel, optionally mated to a newly-developed XTronic CVT gearbox. This unit delivers plenty of pulling power (320Nm of torque) and is decently refined, so should be at home on or off the beaten track.
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 and it'll probably make 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.
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, this 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 Nissan X-Trail is a vehicle that has often struggled to assert itself in a market packed with talent. The galling thing for Nissan is that on talent alone, it's often been one of the best in its class but it has lacked that bit of X-factor that translates into solid orders. The latest model aims to bring that desirability to the X-Trail. With more space, more equipment, better build quality and a sleeker look, it's a car that instantly looks much more upmarket than before.
But will it sell? That's the big question. We've gone out on a limb before predicting big things for the impressive X-Trail and the market has proven us wrong.
Big sales of the Qashqai will probably generate a legion of buyers who may well grow out of this model and look for something bigger and better. The X-Trail answers that call. Whether it can do enough to convince Land Rover Freelander, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 customers remains to be seen.
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