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The Nissan X-Trail has found itself in a slightly odd place, and a far cry from what it once was. As the brand’s largest SUV in Europe, and one available with seven seats, it is natural to compare it with other seven-seaters such as the Skoda Kodiaq, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe and even the behemoth Toyota Highlander.

But that was never the point of the X-Trail. It was launched in 2001 as a fairly no-nonsense Land Rover Freelander-esque 4x4, and Nissan made plenty of noise at the time about the four-wheel drive system (two-wheel-drive versions came much later) and uncarpeted boot.

A 2.5-litre engine is available in other markets, but all X-Trails in the UK are powered by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder that is hybridised to varying degrees. If it wasn’t for the huge air intake, the little engine would look quite lost in the spacious engine bay.

The X-Trail’s mission remained much the same for the second generation, though it gained more family-friendly sensibilities, and by that point the X-Trail had to share showroom space with the Nissan Qashqai, which for most people fulfilled the same role. So, for the third generation, the X-Trail grew a little and effectively replaced the seven-seat Qashqai+2. And since the Qashqai tends to be a bit smaller than cars like the Kia Sportage and Toyota RAV4, that allowed the two Nissan SUVs to coexist.

The new one mostly picks up where the last one left off. Visually it looks less like a big Qashqai, but in many ways that is still what the X-Trail is. As such, it’s more of a Sportage and RAV4 rival, just one with a small third row of seats.

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Range at a glance

Nissan expects the volume sellers to be the full-hybrid e-Power versions. The standard e-Power has a single front motor but the e-4orce gets an additional rear motor for four-wheel drive. There is also an entry-level three-cylinder mild-hybrid with front-wheel drive.

The line-up has five trim levels. The bottom one, Visia, gets very little equipment and is only available in combination with the 161bhp engine. For the e-Power versions, you need to step up to Acenta Premium. Upgrades from there are N-Connecta, Tekna and Tekna+.

VersionPower
Nissan X-Trail Mild hybrid 163161bhp
Nissan X-Trail E-Power201bhp
Nissan X-Trail E-Power E-4Orce210bhp

TRANSMISSIONS

  • 1-spd reduction gear   
  • CVT (mild hybrid only)

DESIGN & STYLING

02 Nissan X Trail RT 2023 front corner

To set the X-Trail apart from its little sibling, the new T33 generation has some more off-road styling. Even so, it retains more rounded features than Hyundai’s predator-grilled Tucson and Santa Fe, and the Skoda Kodiaq, with its chiselled jaw.

Mechanically, however, the Qashqai and X-Trail are more closely related than ever. They both use the CMF-C platform, which has been developed mainly by Nissan while Renault focuses its development efforts on the CMF-B platform for smaller cars like the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur.

The C-pillar is reminiscent of a dolphin’s fin, says Nissan. That would check out if dolphins swam backwards. It’s less distinctive than the Qashqai’s floating pillar, but the crease over the rear wheel arch adds some interest.

Where Nissan diverges quite significantly from its French partner is on the powertrains for its larger cars. While it borrows Renault’s E-Tech system for the Juke Hybrid, the top-line hybrid X-Trail is powered by Nissan’s own – and very different – e-Power concept. It’s not entirely new, because we’ve already seen it on the Qashqai hybrid, but it’s worth taking another look at the tech.

E-Power is unusual in that the petrol engine never drives the wheels. Instead, it drives a generator to charge a 2.1kWh (1.97kWh usable) lithium ion battery under the cabin floor. This in turn feeds a 201bhp, 243lb ft electric motor on the front axle.

That set-up is also available in the Qashqai, but the X-Trail gains a four-wheel-drive option called e-4orce, where an additional 134bhp, 144lb ft motor drives the rear axle. Normally, in systems where the front and rear motors operate separately, the total power output is the sum of the two, but the X-Trail tops out at only 210bhp rather than 335bhp because the battery is limited in how much it can supply.

One benefit of the e-Power system is reduced mechanical complexity: there is no multi-speed gearbox and the four-wheel-drive model can do without a propshaft. The other benefit, claims Nissan, is that the car feels like an EV to drive (including the possibility of one-pedal driving), but without the need to worry about charging.

The petrol engine itself is quite fascinating, too. It is a three-cylinder turbocharged unit with a variable compression ratio, a technology Nissan initially launched on Infiniti models. The group has achieved this by putting an adjuster on the crankshaft that can shorten or lengthen the pistons’ stroke, thus changing the total swept capacity and therefore the compression ratio. It can change gradually from an 8:1 ratio under high load, to 14:1 under steady, low load. What’s more, thanks to variable valve timing, it can switch to the Atkinson cycle when cruising for even better efficiency.

For buyers on a tighter budget, Nissan also offers a mild-hybrid X-Trail. It uses a version of the same variable-compression three-pot as the full hybrid, but in this application it drives the front wheels directly via a conventional continuously variable transmission. As it is only a 12V mild-hybrid system, the belt-driven starter-generator serves mainly to smooth out the start/stop system, though it can also provide a 4.4lb ft boost under acceleration.

INTERIOR

09 Nissan X Trail RT 2023 dashboard

Up front, it’s mostly Nissan Qashqai. Save for some different colours and a new pattern for the piece of trim on the passenger side, the dashboard is the same as in Nissan’s smaller SUV. You might hope to get a bit more for the price premium over the Qashqai, but frankly there is very little to genuinely complain about.

Other cars have a more avant-garde style, but the X-Trail hardly looks dated. There are soft-touch materials as far as the eye can see, and the practical usability is far more carefully considered than in most modern cars. The climate control panel uses all chunky, physical buttons and there’s very little fingerprint-attracting glossy black plastic. 

The centre console is the biggest change from the Qashqai. It is a floating design with space beneath. On top, there are generous cupholders, a wireless phone charger, a 12V socket, a USB-A port and a USB-C port. The rear seats also get a USB-A and USB-C port.

Third-row seats are only usable if the second row is slid forwards to create some leg room. That’s fairly typical, but other SUVs offer a little more space.

It’s worth studying the brochure, though, because the lower trims get de-contented quite heavily. For instance, Visia trim has fewer USB ports and doesn’t even have an infotainment screen. The digital gauge cluster also only comes on N-Connecta and up. Instead, lower grades use analogue gauges with a smaller, 7.0in screen. The 12.3in digital cluster in our test car isn’t hugely configurable but it makes good use of space and is very clear.

The X-Trail is a brilliant place to be if you’re in the front. However, as an SUV with an optional third row (adding the extra two seats equates to a £1000 price increase on average), it’s a car you buy for the space it offers, and in that respect it might somewhat disappoint, depending on what you compare it with.

As a rival for the Toyota RAV4 or Kia Sportage, rear-seat space is very generous indeed, with 100mm more leg room than the Toyota. Compared with other seven-seat SUVs, though, the X-Trail doesn’t do so well. Granted, with the second row slid all the way back, there is more leg room than in a Kia Sorento, but it’s still less than you get in a Skoda Kodiaq and leaves no leg room for the third row. If you want to make the rearmost seats in the X-Trail usable, even for small children, you have to slide the second row forwards quite a lot.

Making matters worse is the hybrid battery under the passenger compartment. As in an EV, that pushes up the floor and makes the seating position less relaxed. The boot isn’t the most generous either. With the third row folded away, there are 485 litres of space. That grows to 575 litres in the five-seat hybrid and 585 litres in the five-seat mild hybrid. For comparison, the RAV4 has 580 litres, the Sportage hybrid 587 litres and a seven-seat Kodiaq 765 litres.

Multimedia system

14 Nissan x trail rt 2023 infotainment 0

When we road tested the Qashqai, we said the infotainment was inoffensive but dated, and that is still the case on cheaper versions of the X-Trail, as the system is carried over. N-Connecta versions and up of both the 2023 Qashqai and X-Trail get an all-new, 12.3in system and it makes the world of difference.

The graphics are sharp and the screen boots up and responds quickly. There’s a permanent bar of shortcuts on the right side of the screen as well as a physical volume knob and buttons for the tuning and for switching between day and night mode.

The software is logical and you can customise the home screen. The navigation is decent and there’s wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto. Our test car had the upgraded Bose stereo, which sounded quite good, but we did notice some crackle from the speakers now and then.

One strange quirk is that the vehicle settings have to be adjusted through the gauge cluster, using the steering wheel buttons, rather than the touchscreen.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

19 Nissan X Trail RT 2023 engine

When we last road tested an X-Trail, it was 2014 and small-capacity diesel engines were all the rage. Thanks to the hybrid drivetrain, today’s X-Trail has a lot more power on tap.

But our e-Power e-4orce (which means it has four-wheel drive) test car's big hybrid battery also adds a lot more weight: Nissan claims 1886kg and our test car even tipped the scales at 1947kg.

If you want to tow, you’re best off with a five-seat mild hybrid, because it’s rated for 2000kg. The 4WD full hybrid isn’t bad either, at 1800kg. The seven-seaters can tow slightly less, and the front-drive full hybrid can pull only 670kg.

Despite that weight, the X-Trail e-4orce sped to 60mph in just 6.6sec – 4.6sec faster than the diesel from nine years ago. More to the point, it’s considerably quicker than the hybrid versions of the Sportage (7.3sec) and the Sorento (8.5sec) and the Toyota Highlander (8.5sec). It’s not even that far behind the vRS version of the Kodiaq (5.9sec).

Clearly, the hybrid X-Trail offers more than enough performance. More important is the way the car delivers it, and that’s where hybrids can often come unstuck, with wailing CVTs and awkward handshakes between engines and motors. Nissan makes the bold claim that e-Power provides the “EV-drive feeling without the need to recharge”.

The X-Trail gets very close indeed, making it a more pleasant system than Toyota’s. Because the wheels are only ever driven by electric motors, power is generally instant, linear and very quiet. The engine is often running to top up the battery, but it must be smothered in insulation because you wouldn’t know.

It doesn’t completely carry off the EV sensation. Ask for more than, say, 75% power or repeatedly demand strong acceleration and the engine will need to start working harder to generate enough energy to power the motors and keep the battery topped up. At this point, it will maintain a high RPM and you will be able to hear it in the cabin. It’s not an unpleasant noise, and there is enough power in reserve that most of the time you can do without that last 25%. If you floor the throttle in one go, it will take a second before the drivetrain delivers full power, but equally, 80% is plenty for any situation.

Another upshot of the X-Trail’s mechanical layout is that it has regenerative braking just like an EV. As standard, there is very little regen effect when you lift off the throttle. Engaging ‘B’ mode on the drive selector increases it noticeably and pressing the e-pedal button makes it even stronger. It’s very intuitive but you’ll still need the brake pedal to come to a complete halt. Thankfully, that is very progressive as well, making smooth stops a doddle.

For those on a tighter budget, we also tested the slightly cheaper mild-hybrid X-Trail. It employs the same engine as the e-Power model but uses it to directly drive the front axle via a CVT, rather than as a battery generator.

In practice, the two-tonne mild-hybrid X-Trail drives well, offering decent engine responsiveness, if not the same immediate torque as its e-Power sibling. The CVT is also fairly smooth, if slightly laggy at points, especially when significantly more power is called for, such as when overtaking or merging. Its accelerator pedal has more resistance and its brakes are a tad less snappy at lower speeds.

RIDE & HANDLING

20 Nissan X Trail RT 2023 front cornering

Few people buy a seven-seat SUV for how it handles, but it’s satisfying nonetheless that the X-Trail's steering has reassuring but natural weight as well as very good precision, albeit no feel or feedback to speak of. It self-centres more strongly than most car steering systems do and testers were divided about whether this is a welcome trait or not.

Possibly thanks to Hankook Ventus S1 Evo3 SUV tyres (a surprisingly sporting choice for a family SUV), the X-Trail musters good grip in the wet and dry, as well as responsive turn-in. Were you to carry a bit too much speed in to a corner and run wide, then a decisive lift of the throttle will correct your line very neatly.

In the e-Power test car, purely electric propulsion means instant torque, which can be too much for some traction control systems to deal with, but again the X-Trail performs faultlessly, and we never experienced any clumsy or intrusive actions from the safety systems. Even when provoked on the test track, the stability control very neatly kept the car pointing the right way.

The X-Trail uses the Nissan-developed CMF-C platform that is shared with the Qashqai and Renault Austral. Weight distribution of our dual-motor, four-wheel-drive test car was 55% front, 45% rear.

The four-wheel-drive model has a rotary drive mode switch with Off-road and Snow modes, in addition to the usual Eco, Normal and Sport modes. While we didn’t attempt any challenging off-roading, the X-Trail coped fine with a muddy path, but the aerodynamic flaps in front of the front wheels did scrape when doing a three-point turn on a moderately steep verge.

In the less advanced front-wheel-drive mild hybrid, the handling is also decent. Taking it into town, too, it is more usable than you might expect from a 4.7m-long car, even in tight multi-storey car parks.

As mentioned, this manoeuvrability is helped, in part, by its naturally weighted steering, but we would have preferred a more weighted response at motorway speeds in the mild hybrid.

Comfort and isolation

Nissan x trail mild hybid driving interior

The X-Trail’s EV-like weight doesn’t seem to hurt its handling too much, but on the flip side it does suffer from a kind of restlessness to the ride that we often see on electric cars. Despite tall tyres, the X-Trail just doesn’t deal with short imperfections especially well and it’s a bit crashy at low speed.

Comfort does improve with speed, making the X-Trail a generally very relaxing long-distance cruiser. Potholes that would send a jolt through the structure of many cars are shrugged off, and the car takes long-wave bumps in a very relaxed manner, although there is a hint of floatiness. It magnifies the contrast with the low-speed ride, which is unfortunate.

The seats contribute to the overall picture of comfort. They’re lifted from the Qashqai and are just as soft but supportive as in that car. The driving position is spot on too, with plenty of adjustment, which gives you the choice of whether you want to sit fairly low or elevated.

On noise refinement, the X-Trail puts in only an average performance. At lower speed, there’s a fair bit of suspension noise, and on the motorway, more road noise finds its way into the cabin than in rivals. We recorded 69dBA at 70mph, versus 66dBA in the Sorento HEV AWD and the RAV4 PHEV.

Assisted driving notes

22 Nissan x trail rt 2023 assisted driving 0

Adaptive cruise control and blindspot assist are standard across the range, but to get Nissan’s full assisted driving suite, called ProPilot, you must upgrade to at least Tekna trim. That adds active lane following, automatic speed limit adjustment and Navi-Link, which will slow the car for bends.

Navi-Link is best disabled, as we’ve yet to find a curve on the motorway that can’t be taken at 70mph. The automatic speed adjustment is best kept on the setting that waits for you to confirm before changing the speed, because the speed sign recognition is better than most but far from infallible.

The adaptive cruise control is generally fairly smooth and anticipates reasonably well but is also not perfect, and the car is a touch jerky when coming to a complete stop. It could also do with speeding up more quickly when changing lanes.

We didn’t have any false warnings from the collision avoidance. The lane keep assist is relatively unintrusive and easy enough to turn off, too.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Nissan X Trail mild hybrid front 3 4  driving

The idea is that the X-Trail sits at the larger end of the C-SUV segment, and that is reflected in the price – mostly. As such, it is more expensive than an equivalent RAV4 or Sportage, but it undercuts the Sorento. The trouble is that the roomier Kodiaq, even with the 2.0-litre petrol and four-wheel drive, is slightly cheaper than the X-Trail.

You might argue that the Skoda isn’t a hybrid so will cost far more to fuel, but the 190PS 2.0 TSI is surprisingly frugal in the real world and likely to match the 36.4mpg we achieved over a week in the hybrid Nissan. The e-Power system could work for you if you spend a lot of time in town or otherwise moving slowly. After a particularly slow morning on the M25, we saw 45mpg from it.

Spec advice? Mid-range N-Connecta gets the better infotainment system, so we’d go for at least that. Tekna brings quite a lot of upgrades such as heated seats, a 40/20/40 folding second row, the full ProPilot and a head-up display. Annoyingly, it also gets saddled with leatherette seats.

However, that is likely also to be true of a Toyota hybrid, and when we tested the Toyota Highlander, a larger car, it returned 39mpg over the course of a week. It is disappointing that this brand-new concept still can’t match Toyota’s technology, never mind an equivalent diesel.

Yet for those looking to eke out more miles from a fill-up, the mild-hybrid X-Trail merits a place on a buyer's shortlist. During our test, we achieved an average of 43.6mpg (Nissan claims 42.2mpg combined), while using a mix of B-roads, A-roads, and motorways – and at times we pushed the car to see if we could bring that MPG down, but it didn't much falter. This was a nice surprise, especially given the more electrically assisted e-Power's figures.

VERDICT

23 Nissan X Trail RT 2023 static

First with the Qashqai and now with the larger X-Trail, Nissan seems to be on a bit of a roll with cars that aren’t flashy but just work. This new X-Trail is a relaxing, frustration-free place to spend time thanks to sensibly laid-out controls and, in the e-Power, a powertrain that doesn’t require any managing from the driver yet musters a surprising amount of performance when called upon. The same can be said about the mild-hybrid, although it is a tad less refined than its full-hybrid sibling. 

As an SUV that seems to straddle two segments, the X-Trail also offers competitive interior space and versatility. Just don’t expect minibus-level space for seven.

While that clever e-Power concept is very pleasant to use, it’s also our main reservation about the new X-Trail, because it doesn’t deliver the economy benefits you would hope for. However, as our tests reveal, the mild hybrid fares well in that regard. 

Another point of criticism of the X-Trail concerns the ride, which is relaxed at high speed but struggles with broken Tarmac and transmits slightly too much road noise.

That said, neither the ride nor the economy is uncompetitive and the X-Trail is priced in line with its competitors, so as family transport the X-Trail’s fuss-free way of doing things manages to shine.

Review of mild-hybrid Nissan X-Trail by Will Rimell

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

Nissan X-Trail First drives