Nissan X-Trail is a surprisingly big deal
Nissan is something of a quiet achiever in the SUV-genre - in New Zealand and around the world.
Seems like a long time ago now, but in 2008 Nissan NZ replaced its core family car, the Primera, with an SUV called the Qashqai.
It was a matter of necessity because the British-built Primera had come to an end (NZ was the last right-hand-drive export market for it). But Nissan NZ went in boots and all, unashamedly offering the Qashqai in 2WD only and making no apologies for it being the new mainstream choice.
The second-generation Qashqai (2013) also spawned the current X-Trail. Formerly a rather functional SUV, the third-generation X-Trail is based on the same platform as Qashqai and has evolved into more of a crossover. Softer styling, more emphasis on family-friendly features - including a seven-seat option on some variants.
Nissan still argues the two are very different models, but think of the X-Trail as a scaled-up, powered-up Qashqai and you're not far off. In the United States, the two even have the same name: the X-Trail is known as Rogue, while the smaller car is the Rogue Sport. Admittedly that's because Nissan was worried Americans would have trouble pronouncing "Qashqai". But hey, who doesn't?
Relative age and a competitive Kiwi-SUV market means the X-Trail has slipped well down the local sales charts these days. There are 11 SUVs in NZ's top-15 models year-to-date, but X-Trail only just sneaks in at number 14.
Ignore it at your peril, though. The X-Trail/Rogue was still the world's biggest-selling SUV last year, ahead of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson and China's Haval H6 (soon to be launched in NZ). Qashqai's a global top-10 seller in its own right as well.
A facelift for 2017 has sharpened the X-Trail up a little. The front end has new V-shaped grille that aligns it a little more with the larger Pathfinder, there are new bumpers front and rear, the obligatory "shark fin" antenna and some interior tweaks - including an optimistically sporting flat-bottomed steering wheel.
The range is still comprehensive, starting at $39,990 for the ST 2WD seven-seat model. But our $53,490 Ti 4WD test vehicle is top of the tree.
You still can't have the Ti or any kind of 4WD X-Trail with seven seats, but this flagship model does help justify its price with unique equipment that includes LED lights (adaptive, automatic high-beam), adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, intelligent lane intervention, autonomous braking with pedestrian detection (ST-L models and above have a less sophisticated autonomous braking system plus forward collision warning blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert), panoramic sunroof, motion-activated power tailgate with height-memory, automatic wipers, heating for the steering wheel plus front and rear seats, and premium Bose audio.
It's a comprehensive package of standard equipment when balanced against the $6000 premium over the ST-L 4WD. If you're the curtain-twitching kind of neighbour you can identify the Ti by its 19-inch alloys and a chrome strip along the door sills.
The X-Trail Ti is still a hard sell against more modern SUVs like the Mazda CX-5 Limited ($55,495) and Kia Sportage GT-Line ($51,990). The powertrain seems merely adequate in such esteemed company and although continuously variable transmission technology has its fans (and a few expert proponents in the car industry), Nissan's iteration fails to inspire. It's languid at low speed and still suffers from unfortunate flaring when you're pressing on, although Nissan has engineered some intelligent engine braking into its latest Xtronic.
The chassis is capable, though. It gets a bit of help from some electronic gubbins, including Intelligent Trace Control - essentially torque vectoring by braking that helps keep the chosen cornering line.
Nissan does also have the knack of providing a good 4WD set-up. The X-Trail's All Mode 4x4-i system might be a mouthful, but it gives you plenty of options: 2WD only, on-demand 4WD and even a 4WD-lock that splits the torque 50/50 front-to-rear for actual off-roading, along with a hill-start assistance function.
If the X-Trail Ti does have a clear advantage over its obvious rivals it's in size. It's at least 140mm longer than a CX-5 or Sportage, with 100 litres more bootspace, and it does have the demeanour of a larger SUV. The extra millimetres are not an issue in parking: ST-L models and above have a 360-degree camera system.
The interior styling is dated in these days of reductionism: it looks more like somebody applied a shotgun blast of switches to the dashboard. But X-Trail is spacious nonetheless and rear-seat passengers get the benefit of theatre-style seating.
There are some clever packaging features, too. The second-row seats slide, fold (60/40) and recline, and the boot floor is split into two separate sections. Lift them up and you have either a couple of secret compartments for valuables, or you can click a partition vertically into place to keep loose items from rolling around in the boot.