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The Nissan X-Trail has well-judged ride and handling, but it gets expensive when kit is added

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Although the Nissan X-Trail was launched in 2001, Nissan’s off-road history does of course go back far further. Famed for its rugged series of large off-roaders, such as the Nissan Patrol, the firm conceived the X-Trail as a machine for snowboarders - the plastic-floored boot in particular a result of Nissan’s target audience.

What’s good and practical for winter sports fans translates to usefulness for SUV customers with the Nissan X-Trail being a tremendous success. Nissan expected to sell only small numbers of the original X-Trail, but ended up shifting a total of 800,000 over the following six years.

With automatically switchable all-wheel and a 2200kg braked towing ability, the X-Trail defines utility.

The compact SUV market is ever evolving though and Nissan re-launched the X-Trail in 2007, it subsequently having been revised in 2011.  

Established rivals include Land Rover’s Freelander, the Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander and Toyota RAV4. Again in its current second-generation form it’s proved a successful model, with perhaps its biggest competition coming across the showroom floor from its crossover Qashqai relation. While not a direct rival the Qashqai offers some of the X-Trail’s height and promise of greater utility, but were the X-Trail aces the Qashqai is in its all-round usefulness. 

Its automatic four-wheel drive giving it real go-anywhere ability - if not the mountain goat prowess of its key Land Rover Freelander rival - while the large, airy interior and usefully sized, shaped and accessed boot can swallow a lot of luggage. A useful towing device, the X-Trail is a popular choice for those hauling horseboxes, caravans and the like, too, its 2,200kg braked towing ability impressive.  

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DESIGN & STYLING

Nissan X-Trail rear lights

Never before has a company been so focussed and honest about its target audience at the design stage. The original X-Trail was designed with snowboarders as a key demographic, just as the winter sport was booming in Nissan’s Japanese home market. Quite whether the young people attracted to the hills ever bought, or could afford X-Trails is a moot point, but the large, easily accessed boot is thanks to their needs and equipment. Seven years on Nissan introduced this ‘all new’ X-Trail, it obviously thinking it had a winning design formula, as Nissan admits to a “styling evolution as demanded by the customer”. It talks openly about recognising the key qualities of its predecessor, too.

In a world of curvaceous off-roaders the X-Trail is pleasingly unashamed of its ruggedness, its chiselled, flat panelled lines, large headlamps and tough looking roof bars refreshingly honest in a world where crossover cuddliness has become the norm. It’s a proper 4x4 and Nissan is evidently not ashamed for it to look like one.

It might not have the kerbside appeal of a Freelander, but the X-Trail cuts it in the real world.

Revisions for the 2011 model year include a redesigned front grille and rear light clusters, though like all the changes evident on the X-Trail throughout its lifetime they’re relatively subtle. So it won’t perhaps turn heads like a Honda CRV might, nor does it have the sort of upmarket cachet of a Land Rover Freelander, but if you like your cars to wear their role on their sleeves then the X-Trail is just the thing.

INTERIOR

Nissan X-Trail dashboard

Nissan terms the X-Trail’s interior as offering ‘Premiumness’, and although we have reservations about the vocabulary, we know what it’s getting at. The perception of quality within the X-Trail is imperative in the light of such formidable class competition, and for the most part it is successful.

Unlike the original, the instrumentation is place in a more conventional location behind the steering wheel to allow a clearer sighting of the sat-nav screen - the excellent Nissan/Infiniti touchscreen sat nav and entertainment unit in the top spec model - but the dashboard now looks traditional despite some strips of fancy trim. That aside, the build quality is excellent throughout. You won't hear a squeak from the centre console without using a sledge hammer and a mouse.

The centrally located instrument pack of the original has been dumped for a more conventional interior

You sit high in the X-Trail, with a commanding view through the upright windscreen and over the bonnet. The front seats are wide, flat affairs that make for relaxing motorway cruising but will offer little support when traversing a steep gulley on a forest track. Head, elbow and legroom are excellent up front, but the high-set seats in the rear mean headroom is a little tight for tall adults.

The boot is sizeable, with a false floor hiding a range of storage compartments that can be altered to suit the load. Take this out and the maximum load space is 603 litres. Stow the split rear seats away and that rises to 1773 litres; more than the larger Freelander.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Nissan X-Trail front quarter

The small production diesel engine has come a long way since the original X-Trail, and the outputs achieved by the 2.0-litre engine would have been unthinkable a decade ago. It’s so accomplished that Nissan only offers its 2.0-litre dCi turbodiesel in the X-Trail, in either 171bhp or 148bhp - the latter mated to a six-speed auto - outputs.  

The larger power version gets the X-Trail to 62mph in a respectable 10 seconds, the lesser endowed automatic taking 12.5 seconds. 

The higher-power engine and manual box look like the best option.

On the move the turbo is quick to spool up, so you can dip into the torque as and when you need it. On the motorway, that translates to realistic acceleration without needing to change down a gear. Like any turbodiesel engine you have to keep it on song, but with a surprisingly enjoyable gearshift this is rarely a chore. Life is relatively tranquil inside, too. 

A turbodiesel engine that produces 171bhp and emits 15 percent less CO2 over its predecessor normally suggests a lack of low-end torque and lost driveablility. In the X-Trail there are no such concerns. The 171bhp diesel is mostly subdued, smooth and reasonably potent. A slick six-speed manual gearbox allows progress brisk enough to test a chassis that’s tidy, supple and lightly entertaining. The engine will happily pull from idle (800rpm) in third at 15mph, and starts spinning strongly from around 1500rpm, which translates to a winning combination of relaxed urban and motorway driving and good economy.

 

RIDE & HANDLING

Nissan X-Trail rear cornering

This X-Trail is based on a platform shared with the capable Qashqai and uses the same MacPherson strut front suspension and rear multi-link set-up. Both ends are connected to the body by a rubber-insulated subframe to try and isolate the cabin from the workings below. Nissan has thrown its engineering weight behind the four-wheel drive system on the X-Trail, which sees electronic safety and control measures combined with the transmission under the title All-Mode 4x4i.

Although this tag might conjure up visions of old hot Fords, it means the system can react – and even predict – how to distribute the torque between the axles. From behind the wheel, progress is initially not as fleet you might expect. There’s noticeable squat and dive and a fair degree of body roll, even at modest speeds.

The X-Trail is nicely poised and biddable.

But the X-Trail is not ungainly. With light but pleasingly incisive steering and a nicely poised chassis, it's pleasantly biddable in everyday traffic. And unlike the old car, which Nissan advised owners to stick in 2wd mode for everyday running, new technology means ‘auto’ is now the default setting – the system working out when front-wheel drive is best for economy and when drive needs to be sent to the rear for increased traction.

A relaxing primary ride is impressive over long journeys, the soft gait smoothing over undulations with ease. The way the chassis handles individual intrusions is slightly less impressive, but for the most part it is only the noise that penetrates up into the cabin rather than an actual jolt. Tremors through the seats are about as bad as it gets.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Nissan X-Trail 2007-2014

The most powerful Nissan X-Trail features a slick six-speed manual transmission and delivers a respectable 44.1mpg economy and CO2 emissions of 168g/km - keeping running costs sensible. Opt for the lower output 148bhp version, which comes with the six-speed automatic and you’ll not only pay more at the pumps, but blunt the otherwise sprightly performance somewhat. Officially it returns 39.8 mpg on the combined consumption cycle, while emissions of 188g/km of CO2 push it up a tax band (from H to J) over its manual relative. 

Either of the two available trim levels - Acenta or Tekna - come comprehensively specified, with both getting climate control, Bluetooth telephone and MP3 player connectivity, cruise control and alloy wheels among their standard equipment. Opt for the Tekna (the auto 148bhp version is only offered in this trim) and you gain a rear-view parking camera, sat nav, leather seats and an electric sunroof. There’s a healthy premium to pay for that extra kit, with the Tekna costing nearly £4,000 more than the Acenta model.

Just two engines and two trim choices make the X-Trail a simple proposition.

Choose that Acenta model and you’ll still do better on the equipment count over a Land Rover Freelander, though the Nissan is certain to lose out to its prestigious rival on residual values. 

VERDICT

3.5 star Nissan X-Trail

The Nissan X-Trail lacks the Freelander's exceptional ride, handling and extreme off-road ability or the good looks and chic sophistication of an Audi Q5, but somehow emerges from this on a par with its higher-class rivals, because of the sheer quality of the overall package.

The diesel engine is a potent success - more so in higher power output with the slick-shifting manual - and the simple four-wheel drive system works without intrusion and offers plentiful safety features. Add a very practical and spacious cabin that’s nicely finished and feels very robust - if not quite achieving the premium product status its makers would have us believe - and there’s a lot to like about the X-Trail. A generous standard equipment list and respectable economy and emissions also help its case. You get the feeling that the X-Trail could fulfil many tasks in your life without ever demanding much in return.

The X-Trail's all-round abilities put it on par with premium rivals.

What it fails to do is offer the peaks in ability that distinguish the class leaders: the car-like precision of the Honda CR-V on the road or the prestige and off-road ability available from the Land Rover Freelander. These are cars which, like the X-Trail, also offer a wide range of talents. Nevertheless, the Nissan sits comfortably among the top contenders. 

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Nissan X-Trail 2007-2014 First drives