Nissan X-Trail is out of the box

SHAPELY CHANGE: The redesigned X-Trail has moved from its previous boxiness and now fits into the general Nissan design school, established by the latest pathfinder and Qashqai.
SHAPELY CHANGE: The redesigned X-Trail has moved from its previous boxiness and now fits into the general Nissan design school, established by the latest pathfinder and Qashqai.

After two almost identical, square-set X-Trail models lasting more than a dozen years on our market, swapping for a swoopy new design was always something of a risk for Nissan.

While the new styling might make it look more like a soft-roader than its angular and more seriously focused predecessors, the latest X-Trail does offer a few things the old model never had.

You can now get it with seven seats, and the whole plot now drives more like a car, which is absolutely deliberate and fits in with what Nissan's research says it should be like these days.

DRIVING ENVIRONMENT: Decent materials, logical layout.
DRIVING ENVIRONMENT: Decent materials, logical layout.

Since the first X-Trail hit showrooms in 2001, the SUV market has grown threefold, with the model's medium segment growing 38 per cent in the last 12 months alone.

The same number-crunching also reveals that we didn't buy many diesel versions of the old models over the years, so we don't get those any more either, until at least there's an automatic option, when Nissan New Zealand might look at the issue again.

Nissan New Zealand managing director John Manley does have a few things to explain about the new X-Trail. He notes that the seven-seater is a front-drive only prospect, for the simple reason that currently you can't get supplies of three-row seating in all-wheel-drive versions because the rear-drive set-up takes up space that would prevent the foldaway seating feature that is seen as necessary for people- carrier users.

It's those people-carrier users who have dictated the Nissan NZ choice, with the selection of X-Trail models designed to dovetail as logically as possible with the up-coming new Qashqai, which will be seen later in the year. It is expected that the Qashqai will be an all five-seater range topping out with a two-litre model, while the X-Trail line-up starts and finishes with the model's familiar and little- changed 2.5-litre four-cylinder 126kW/226Nm engine, with CVT automatic in every version.

Another hint of how Nissan is looking at the connection between the Qashqai and X-Trail ranges is that the new entry-point ST seven- seater version of the latter at $39,990, is actually less expensive than the old seven-seater Qashqai.

Nissan extends the ST suffix to an all-wheel-drive five-seater X-Trail at $42,490, while middle and top spec models, also with AWD, are the ST-L and Ti at $47,290 and $53,290 respectively.

The base ST models are pretty well equipped on their own, with air conditioning, power everything and with most of Nissan's available driving aids. The ST-L adds leather-appointed seats, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, privacy glass, an 8-way power driver's seat with power lumbar support, a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen display, satellite navigation and roof rails.

Ti models add 18-inch alloy wheels instead of the lesser cars' 17-inch items, fog lights, rain- sensing wipers, a power tilt and slide sunroof, an automatic power tail gate, and lane departure warning, blind spot warning and moving object detection.

"Like every Nissan, X-Trail is designed to go beyond the norm, with features such as the Around View monitor that helps make parking less stressful," Manley said. "With X-Trail, as we've done with the all-new Altima before it, we're bringing a new level of affordable technologies and innovations to a segment looking for fresh ideas."

The Around View monitor with Moving Object Detection (MOD) uses four small wide-angle cameras mounted on the front, side and rear of the vehicle to provide a virtual bird's eye 360 degree view of objects around the vehicle. It provides additional selectable split-screen close-ups of the front, rear and kerb views, helping the driver manoeuvre the car in or out of tight spots.

MOD builds on the capabilities of the Around View system, providing visual and audible warnings for front, side or back range object detection if the system senses moving objects within the displayed image in situations such as pulling out of a parking space. Using special image processing technology, the system detects moving objects within the top view when the vehicle is in park. When starting off or reversing, it detects moving objects crossing within the front or rear views. The Around View set-up is available only on the ST- L and Ti models, but that's not to say the ST five- and seven-seaters lack anything important.

The smoother, more muscular lines of the new X-Trail disguise its interior's practicality. It is, in fact, 5mm longer, 10mm taller, but, more importantly, 75mm longer in the wheelbase than before and 30mm wider, and it shows inside.

Instead of a big plastic cliff, the driving environment has a very car-like and nicely textured dash and instrument panel, while the second row seating is much better for space and shape than before and access for the third-row on the seven-seater is well sorted.

All X-Trails get the EZ Flex seating system (that's EeZee, not EeZed by the way). This is where every seat except the driver's folds down. The front passenger seat folds rearwards, allowing transport of long items such as a ladder when combined with the flat folding 40/20/40-split second row seats (5-seat models). A flat- fold third-row 50/50-split bench seat helps enhance seven-seater versions.

The new X-Trail's interior also offers a selection of storage options solutions, with six front cubbies (five within the driver's reach), two front cupholders and two front bottle holders.

Other standard interior features include what Nissan calls its Fine Vision electroluminescent gauges, a front centre console, power windows with driver's auto up/down, a 5.0-inch colour display, air conditioning with microfilter and adjustable second- row vents, a 6-speaker AM/FM/ CD audio system with auxiliary audio input jack, power door locks with auto-locking feature, LED map lights, a USB connection port for iPods and other compatible devices, a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, a rear view monitor and streaming audio via Bluetooth.

Available on the ST-L and STi are dual-zone automatic air conditioning and leather- appointed seats, as well as NissanConnect with navigation system using a 7.0-inch colour touch-screen display and access to NissanConnect Apps.

The familiar 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine is now matched with an updated version of Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) with manual mode. The manual mode uses the floor lever only for shifting and we wonder why there are no shift paddles as we'd have expected. The CVT has a 40 per cent reduction in friction loss compared with the previous model's wider gear ratios and Nissan says it is about 10 per cent more efficient than the previous- generation CVT.

Fuel economy is rated at 8.1L/100km on the combined cycle for the front-wheel drive CVT- equipped model, while the AWD versions are rated at 8.3L/100km on the same cycle.

Among the X-Trail's suite of electronic driver aids is an Active Trace Control system, which utilises the standard Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) system to help improve cornering feel by automatically applying the brakes or smoothing engine torque characteristics when accelerating.

With Active Engine Braking, the CVT helps slow the car as the driver brakes, resulting in less brake effort by the driver. Active Ride Control helps smooth out the drive by automatically applying the brakes and adjusting engine torque after the vehicle hits a bump, reducing expected pitching.

The Nissan has electric power- steering, 4-wheel discs with ABS and VDC with traction control system and hill start assist, while AWD versions also have hill descent control.

This third-generation X-Trail is far more a driver's car than its two predecessors. While the old cars were solid, predictable on- road handlers, the new car leaves them for dead.

It turns-in in a very non-SUV fashion and balances against the throttle with great aplomb. With an engine as willing as X-Trail units have always been and with less weight and friction to haul around, it's a wonder that CVT, which works through eight steps, doesn't have a shift system that uses steering column paddles. It's no task to drop the hand down to the push-pull sequential floor- lever, it's just that a paddle shifter as available on the hotter Pulsars, and even the Wingroad family wagon, would be entirely in keeping with what is irrefutably the most sporting of current light SUVs.

The car takes a moment or so to get off the mark with any alacrity, but once rolling it's a remarkably brisk car with high levels of refinement and a surprisingly quiet cruising gait, when barely 1850rpm translates into a 100kmh open-road cruise. Over mid-corner bumps, railway crossings and sudden camber changes, the X-Trail is remarkably resolved, and despite the suspension being asked to do a lot of work on our drive route, it goes about its business with little fuss.

In other words, it drives as it looks, much more like a car than before, but with the advantages we expect from modern cross-over types. We do have a few quibbles with the new X-Trail. While we can see how the ST seven-seater would help bridge the Qashqai/ X-Trail ranges, surely there's room for a higher-spec seven- seater, still with 2WD, in say ST-L specification with a few more goodies and luxuries?

In Australia there's also an entry-level 2.0-litre version of the seven-seater 2WD X-Trail, which would be a good choice, but then as John Manley would advise, we haven't seen the expected Qashqai line-up yet.

That will occur closer to the middle of the year. We expect it will be another one out of the box too.

The Press