Compact 4x4s have gone a little soft on us. Back in the days when Nissan’s X-Trail was riding the crest of a boom in this area of the market, the rugged appearance and go-anywhere capability of these downsized SUVs were highly prized.
Nowadays, manufacturers are keeping a little quieter about the potential their products have for rock-hopping and swamp wading, preferring to promote efficiency and on-road composure. It’s a trend that has fuelled the rise of the crossover 4x4, a less imposing, more cultured brand of SUV. Nissan has its crossovers in the form of the Qashqai and Juke but the X-Trail retains at least some of its rough ‘n’ ready style.
Nissan has thrown its weight behind the 4x4 and the MPV at the expense of more traditional classes of car. The X-Trail compact SUV sits in the middle of a comprehensive range of 4x4-type models that opens with the Juke and the Qashqai and extends upwards to the Murano and Pathfinder. There’s a lot of choice and a degree of overlap between the different products, but the latest facelifted X-Trail is seeking to stand out even in this crowded environment. Sharpened styling and improved cabin comfort are the major advantages this version is pedalling.
Like many of the leading lights in the compact 4x4 sector, the X-Trail campaigns with a diesel-only engine range these days. The mid-range muscle and fuel efficiency of a good oil-burning unit just makes more sense in this kind of vehicle. The choice is limited to a pair of 2.0 dCi common-rail diesels with either 148 or 171bhp. The more powerful engine can scoot the substantial X-Trail to 60mph in ten seconds and hit 124mph where conditions allow. The 148bhp option is included primarily for its ability to be mated to Nissan’s 6-speed automatic gearbox. It takes 12.5s to reach 60mph.
"Smarter looks and, particularly, a more upmarket cabin should serve this car well"
The X-Trail has been offered in front-wheel-drive form in the past but the advent of Nissan’s successful Qashqai crossover reduced the need for these road-biased versions and all models are now 4x4s. The X-Trail has always been very competent off road, Nissan’s designers rightly proud of All-Mode 4x4-i, an intelligent four-wheel-drive system that reduces understeer and gives some real capability in the rough. The system predicts when the front wheels are slipping and directs drive to the rears with lightning speed. A rotary knob lets you choose either fuel-saving front-wheel drive, automatic four-wheel drive (with a variable torque split between the front and rear axles) and a mode with the centre differential fully locked to help you crawl out of the mire. Hill descent control, a hill holder function, ESP stability control and individually braked wheels acting the role of axle diffs only add to its off-road ability.
Happily, this car’s ability to undertake off-road forays shouldn’t come at the expense of an agricultural experience when you’re on the road. Our experience of X-Trail models has always been that they’re less nimble in feel and a shade bouncier in ride than your typical crossover 4x4 but for a compact SUV that won’t go to pieces when the terrain gets testing, ride and handling are good.
The bold setsquare lines of the X-Trail are classic 4x4. The designers have steered clear of the sleeker, curvier shapes favoured by the car-like crossover breed in favour of the tall and the chunky. A large and complex headlamp design dominates the car’s front corners with indicators, projectors and main beam integrated into the same cluster. The redesigned bumper moulds around the prominent grille and flares outwards at the base to visually widen the car. At the rear, there are tall LED light clusters bordering the tailgate. The styling changes render the X-Trail slightly longer than before at 4,640mm while larger wheel sizes, tyres and wheelarches produce a width of 1,805mm.
Upgrades to materials in the cabin are welcome and give the X-Trail a higher quality ambience. The instrument cluster is clearer than before and a central trip computer provides handy information. The front seat backs have been reshaped to increase knee room for rear seat passengers but the X-Trail already fared reasonably well on this score with comfortable accommodation for those in the back. There’s a sizable boot too, measuring 603 litres and increasing to 1773 litres with the 40/20/40 split rear seats folded down.
The X-TRAIL looks good on paper next to its immediate rivals when it comes to standard equipment provision, but then it always did. What’s particularly impressive this time round is that Nissan has integrated all the bells and whistles so well rather than them appearing rather hasty bolt-ons. Even the entry-level Acenta variant comes with Bluetooth phone integration, alloy wheels, full body coloured bumpers, climate controlled air-conditioning, a full suite of airbags (driver, passenger, side and curtain), plus cruise control, a panoramic glass sunroof and a CD/radio with 4 speakers. The Tekna variant that many customers will choose adds leather, powered and heated seats, DVD satnav, a rear parking camera, xenon headlights and a BOSE sound system.
The limelight has drifted somewhat from pure compact 4x4s like this Nissan X-Trail, the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V but they remain popular options for demanding families. Crossover models and many of the newer additions to the compact 4x4 fold tend to perform a little better on tarmac and be a little more progressive in their design approach but the X-Trail and its ilk retain an honest and straightforward charm.
The engine options in the X-Trail are fully compliant with the EuroV emissions regulations and the gear ratios of the six-speed manual gearbox have been optimised for a better mix of economy and performance. Modifications to reduce friction have enhanced the efficiency of the automatic gearbox and all X-Trails have optimised aerodynamics with tweaks to the underbody contributing to a 0.35 drag coefficient.
Consistently figuring amongst the nation’s favourite compact 4x4s since the compact 4x4 market went mainstream, the X-Trail has been a highly successful model line for Nissan. The latest models retain their focus on all-round, family-friendly ability in the face of a shift in the wider market towards tarmac-specialist crossover models.
Smarter looks and, particularly, a more upmarket cabin should serve this car well. There are lots of alternatives for buyers to choose from in today’s market but the X-Trail’s ability on and off-road should keep it relevant.