All too often, swapping between cars over the same stretch of road served to illustrate how clattery and brittle the X-Trail’s secondary ride can sometimes be.
All the MPVs, as well as the Santa Fe, make isolating their occupants from this kind of disturbance a priority; the Nissan prefers to chew its way noisily over seemingly insignificant obstacles.
The problem seems as much one of refinement as it is hardware tuning and is less notable when driven in solitude. But five minutes spent oleaginously steamrollering a broken surface flat in the S-Max, or else minding it only intermittently from inside the Santa Fe’s heaving cocoon, is a devilishly quick way of finding fault with the X-Trail’s relative cabin comfort.
Read the full Hyundai Santa Fe review
Get more determined with it and, aside from gritting your teeth at the gearbox, the car responds effectively enough. Its steering has none of the Ford’s springy feedback or the 5008’s surprisingly wrist-flickable positivity, but its resistance is well measured.
Accuracy, then, is not a problem, and there’s good consistency of grip once the front-drive X-Trail has settled on its line – something it does more quickly than the near two-tonne Hyundai. What it pointedly lacks, however, is the Santa Fe’s knack for doing swift without the workmanlike strain.
The Nissan makes no dynamic virtue of its size and engages your interest only by virtue of its general competence, not character, while the Hyundai goes some way to reproducing that momentous and sybaritic sense of heft that makes machines like the Land Rover Discovery so memorable to drive.
Read the full Ford S-Max review
A subjective quibble, perhaps, but one meaningful enough in our book to see the X-Trail finish at the bottom of our recommendation.
In many respects, Nissan has delivered the larger crossover we expected of it. This new model is handsome, decently priced, cheap to run and easy to use, but it’s a makeweight choice in most ways imaginable, and that comes to the fore in this company.
That its final row of seats can only be had as a £700 option says most of what you need to know about the X-Trail’s capabilities as a shifter of seven. Better in five-seat, mid-spec guise, and certainly in manually geared format, it ought to be good enough to tempt people out of Qashqai+2s – but not their people carriers.
Here, the true MPVs fill out the rest of the running order. It would actually be plausible to argue them into any position thereafter, given that the 5008 is the best value (and possibly the cleverest, thanks to its interior’s remarkable exploitation of a smaller overall size), the S-Max is the most pleasurable to drive (still) and the Alhambra remains job-done ginormous.
In fact, let’s leave them as they are there, because by focusing on their respective strengths, it serves to highlight why the Santa Fe, by a nose, might just be better.
Certainly, as we’ve seen, it isn’t the most spacious, visually arresting or affordable option. You’ll get more in the MPVs and probably get more noticed in the X-Trail. As a seven-seater, it’s functional rather than absolutely first rate. Yet the more you drive it, the more it works its way under your skin.