The pragmatism that puts only as much power under the Nissan X-Trail’s bonnet as most drivers are ever likely to need also makes for a laid-back, easy-driving, comfortable-riding car that deals with most UK roads well.
The handling isn’t configured to engage your interest but instead simply to ease your passage – a conclusion that’s never going to make this a particularly commendable SUV for the likes of us.
But what the X-Trail does, it does quite effectively, and with just enough consistency and dynamic coherence to tell that the car has been developed with care.
The suspension is stout enough that the car doesn’t roll or heave excessively at cross-country speeds, and it maintains consistent grip and good steering weight and precision at all times.
Relative to some medium-size SUVs, though, it feels soft – compliant at town speeds and fairly absorptive on the motorway, with low-frequency body control that preserves good cabin comfort as long as you’re not hurrying along too fast. It’s a pity that the secondary ride isn’t quieter and better isolated, but it’s not often noisy or crashy, either.
The oily heft in the car’s electromechanical power steering is Qashqai-like, and we heartily approve of it. The wheel is perfectly weighted and paced for a vehicle of this size, and although it doesn’t give much feedback, it doesn’t suffer with any of the kickback you can find in certain rivals.
It makes the car quite wieldy at low speeds and is generally in tune with the car’s fairly modest grip levels and medium-high rate of roll in corners. Cornering balance is respectable, with serious understeer presenting only when your effort levels extend beyond the bounds of propriety.
The X-Trail’s balance of grip survives track driving quite well, its steering retaining authority even when the chassis is dealing with extremes of lateral cornering loads.
Directional stability is good in the dry, with the ESP working quite hard to keep things equally tidy in the wet. Body control is good enough to keep the car’s mass from becoming a problem during fast direction changes. So while rivals ultimately offer more grip, incisiveness and involvement, the X-Trail holds its end up just fine.
It may not have the beating heart of a proper off-roader, but the X-Trail’s ground clearance bests most rivals — and for drivers needing to cross fields or use rutted tracks, that’s the most relevant mark of capability.