Car reviews - Nissan - X-Trail - 5-dr wagon range
Ride quality, handling balance, interior space, flexible performance
Room for improvement
Instrument reflections in bright sunlight, parking brake offset to the left, cargo cover an expensive option, exterior too similar to old model
18 Oct 2007
By PHILIP LORD
THE compact SUV market is thriving, and the X-Trail has been one of the most popular of the category. So with a brand-new model that has even more features at no extra cost, why does Nissan think it will only sell the same number as the old model?
It comes down to demand in other markets - Nissan Japan can allocate a maximum 1100 X-Trails to Australia per month for the first 12 months - so however many the new model might have been able to sell, Nissan has no choice but to cap its numbers.
Even though the X-Trail has the advantage of being the newest compact SUV on the block, it has also reached its generation change at about the same time as the opposition. The RAV-4, CR-V and Outlander have been refreshed in the last 12-18 months and soon Forester will join them. The competition is strong in this category.
While everything except the engine is new (and even it has been heavily revised), X-Trail is really a refinement of a theme developed by the previous model. The suite of standard safety features such as ESP and side curtain airbags are a definite plus and the convenience features, such as the cargo drawer system, are a nice touch.
The launch program for X-Trail involved climbing the snaking tarmac from Mount Beauty to Falls Creek in Victoria, and gave us an opportunity to test out the X-Trail’s dynamics and performance. If you’re used to the noisy interior and terminal understeer of the previous generation X-Trail, the new model will come as quite a revelation.
The interior is far quieter, the engine seems to rev out much more smoothly and the dynamics are a definite improvement.
The Dunlop GrandTrek tyres on the ST-L and Ti lack grip when pushed and ultimately this holds the X-Trail back from achieving brisk cornering speeds, and it doesn’t seem to have quite the turn-in of the European left-hand drive model we sampled at the international launch six months ago.
Having said this, the steering has a nicely weighted feel for electric-assist steering and is quite direct for a compact SUV. Perhaps competitors such as the CR-V and Forester are better handling wagons, but the X-Trail is not an age behind any more in terms of handling and, probably more importantly for most buyers, it is as good if not better than competitors for ride quality.
The engine is no firecracker by any means, but does provide a smooth revving nature with plenty of load-lugging mid-range torque and feels competitive for the segment. It is a definite improvement on the previous version of this engine.
The six-speed manual is a little clunky in its shifts but is better than many six-speeders in that it’s difficult to get the wrong gear, while the CVT auto is one of the better ones around. It makes use of the engine’s torque without having to resort to high revs all the time.
The interior fit and finish is far better than the previous model, and is as good as any of its contemporaries. There are storage pockets everywhere, cup-holders in the doors and centre console, and of course the handy storage cargo drawer and various cargo area cubby holes.
While it may look conservative, Nissan has not held back in the design improvements and inclusion of added convenience features.
Instruments and controls are unremarkable - they do their job with simplicity and are easy to use. The one exception is that in bright sunlight, the centre LCD cluster displaying fuel level, coolant temperature and odo/trip readings are obscured by reflections of the instrument cover.
Vision out of the X-Trail is on par with the best for front, side and rear-view mirror vision, but like most of its genre, rear-quarter view is impeded by a small rear window and thick D-pillars.
Despite the long list of acronyms that suggest that the X-Trail will crawl its way tenaciously up Mount Everest, it is not really a vehicle that you would take on much more than the easy, formed trails in the Victorian High Country such as on the launch drive. It is better than a low-slung car, but it is no four-wheel drive.
While the exterior looks a little too derivative for a new-generation model, the new X-Trail appears to be a better balanced compact SUV than its predecessor, with a smoother, quieter and more torquey engine, more cargo space and better dynamics.
Add to this no increase in price and more standard features, including the important safety includion of ESC, and the new X-Trail appears to have what it takes to sell what stocks Nissan Australia can get - and then some.
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