Car reviews - Nissan - X-Trail - ST-L 2WD seven-seater
Interior presentation, spacious, practical and flexible in five-seat mode, stable and secure handling, fuss-free driving experience
Room for improvement
Poor rear visibility, dated infotainment, compromised in seven-seat mode, thunky urban ride quality, AEB doesn’t like rain
24 Jul 2017
IN AUSTRALIA’S busy mid-size SUV segment, stalwarts like the Nissan X-Trail risk going un-noticed among all the activity.
But a look at the sales charts tells a different story because in the first half of 2017, more than one in 10 Aussie mid-size SUV buyers headed to their local Nissan showroom and drove home in an X-Trail – the growing demand for this recently updated model making it the brand’s best seller and our nation’s fourth most-popular medium SUV.
We spent a week living with a mid-spec ST-L seven-seater – one of only two three-row mainstream medium SUVs on the market at the time of writing – and found just a handful of reasons why any of the X-Trail’s many buyers would be disappointed with their purchase.
Price and equipment
In the 10-variant Nissan X-Trail range, the petrol, front-wheel-drive ST-L seven-seater we tested sits precisely in the middle of the price scale at $38,090 plus on-road costs.
Opening the range is the petrol manual ST at $27,990 and topping it out at $47,290 is the diesel automatic TL with all-wheel-drive and five seats.
Those insisting on their X-Trail having three seating rows have the choice of front-drive ST or ST-L grades. The third row costs an extra $1500 over the five-seat equivalent.
Since a mid-life facelift launched in May 2017, all Australian-delivered X-Trail variants come with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and forward collision warning, which work at speeds below 100km/h, as standard. This is a welcome safety addition to a key player in what has become Australia’s go-to family car segment.
The ST-L also gained a pedestrian detection system for the AEB that works at speeds of up to 60km/h plus blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and 360-degree cameras with moving object detection to complement the reversing camera with animated guidance lines.
Nissan also threw in leather upholstery and front foglights as part of the ST-L update.
Other standard kit includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen that provides access to the satellite navigation and controls for the six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, AM/FM/DAB+ digital radio reception, USB/auxiliary audio inputs and CD player.
There is also keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, a leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, 40/20/40 split-fold rear seats that slide and recline, under-floor storage in the boot and 17-inch alloy wheels with space-saver spare.
Metallic paint costs an extra $495.
Updates to the X-Trail interior for this mid-life facelift are subtle but mostly effective. The new flat-bottomed steering wheel is genuinely sporty looking, great to hold and provides plenty of adjustment. It also lacks the dated rocker-style switchgear of the bus-like item it replaces.
A leather-like gaiter on the gear selector also lifts the ambience, as does what first appears to be a stitched upholstery on the passenger’s side of the dash above the glove box, but is in fact hard plastic that has been moulded to look utterly – if comically – convincing.
Soft-touch upper dash surfaces continue along the top of the front door trims, but the rear doors are hard-capped. A glittery dark grey trim around the door provides something a bit different from the usual fake piano black/brushed metal/carbon-fibre/wood.
Piano black is present on the central stack, which houses a touchscreen system we wished Nissan had better updated for this facelift. Its shortcut buttons are not clearly labelled, for example AUX provides access to Bluetooth streaming and USB audio if pressed enough times to scroll through the options. Most of the shortcut buttons are multi-function in this way.
It is low resolution, especially the incredibly grainy split overhead and rear camera display, with graphics that are also pretty dated and the system lacks Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring.
The sat-nav was pretty inaccurate, too, although we did appreciate the directions remaining visible on every screen when we moved away from the map while adjusting audio settings for example.
Navigation directions are also replicated on the trip computer display in the instrument panel, the trip computer itself a useful bit of kit with easy access to useful information and a digital speedometer.
One of our main gripes about the X-Trail interior was its poor rear visibility, particularly the non-existent three-quarter view, which had us relying more than we would have liked on the 360-degree camera facility – and wishing its poor-quality display was crisper.
Helpfully, the blind spot monitoring system’s big orange lights on the insides of the front doors were far easier to spot in bright sunlight than the more common method of subtly integrating them into the glass of door mirrors. Shame, then, that the cruise control operation was finicky in operation and made it almost impossible to reduce the speed using the steering wheel buttons.
Of more concern was the warning that flashed up on the dashboard when driving in heavy rain informing us that the forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking sensor had become blocked and shut down these safety systems.
Not great for challenging conditions where all safety tech is more likely to be of use. Early adaptive cruise control systems had similar problems but we would have thought technology had moved on sufficiently that wet weather no longer posed a problem.
We found the front seats to be perch-like, with insufficient thigh support and a feeling of being tilted forward. The old-fashioned foot-operated parking brake also got in the way of the driver’s left shin.
Better news came from the subtly effective and easy to use dual-zone climate control system, which has classy feeling rotary controls. But it supplies centre-row passengers through low-mounted vents that we doubt would able to effectively cool those in the third row on a hot day.
The cabin provides plenty of storage, including the sizeable glove box and front-central armrest bin, map pockets, a number of options for storing smartphones up-front and plentiful drinks holders throughout, with all four door bins shaped to take bottles, another trio of recesses in the boot for third-row folk and good-sized cup-holders in the centre console and fold-down central seat-back in the middle-row bench.
Despite appearances, with its large visible hinge mechanism, the middle seat of the second row is useably comfortable and does not sacrifice much in the way of headroom compared with the seats either side. However, for some reason Nissan has placed the seatbelt buckle such that it collides with the occupant’s buttock.
There are Isofix child seat anchorages in the outboard positions and top tether points on their backrests. This, combined with the sliding mechanism, means those using rear-facing infant seats can move the whole setup forward to ease the placing and strapping in process.
But the central position has its top tether in the ceiling, which prevents the sliding mechanism from operating, unless you are willing to constantly adjust the strap.
If you are considering a seven-seat variant such as the one tested here, it is also worth bearing in mind that this comes with compromises and that the X-Trail’s interior is not quite large enough to be used for seven-up travel on a regular basis.
With the central row in its default rearmost position, the squabs of the third-row seats are hard up against its backrest, so it must be slid forward to make room for shins and feet. This is fine, except it reduces the centre-row legroom significantly, making it hard to fit people in there behind front-row occupants even if they are not that tall.
Even with the driver’s seat positioned for driver of modest 160cm height, there was only just enough legroom for someone of equal height to sit in the second row when it was positioned to provide room for somebody to sit in the third.
Due to the rear bench sliding in two sections, we are sure families will find Tetris-like ways of positioning all seats to accommodate a range of different-sized occupants but it is clear the X-Trail is only really an occasional seven-seater, particularly with the distinct lack of headroom in the third row.
Look at the larger Pathfinder, preferably a Kia Sorento or Mazda CX-9 if you need to use all three rows regularly.
In addition, it is worth noting that boot space drops from 565 litres in a five-seater X-Trail to 445L in the seven seater, while with all seats folded it is 945L in the five-seater and 825L in the seven-seater. With all seven seats up, there is a poky 135L of space back there.
This is par for the course. The third seating row and its folding mechanism has to be stored somewhere, behind which is a handy storage area for the cargo blind when it is not in use that doubles as large underfloor compartment at other times.
It does, however, cause the boot floor to sit a little proud of the boot opening, meaning there is nothing to catch items from rolling out if parked on an incline. Running to retrieve your neatly bundled yoga mat from the bottom of a hill might not be the desired pre-session warm-up, so don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The cargo blind itself is one of the breed’s better quality items but is rather finicky over how it is fitted and easily scratches the light beige plastic surrounding the locating holes, evidenced by the marks in our test vehicle that had covered less than 1500km from new.
The X-Trail has a well-insulated cabin that remained quiet on the move, even on coarse-chip country roads. For us, the most intrusive sound was the noisy way the suspension copped bumps in the road. Road and engine noise was minimal, with the main sound at 100-110km/h being the rushing of wind around the door mirrors.
It is certainly up there as one of the segment’s most peaceful SUV interiors, at least when the children aren’t on-board.
Other than being obviously compromised as a seven-seater, the X-Trail is also one of the segment’s more practical options, with its plentiful storage and comfortable, spacious second row – provided the third row is not in use.
Engine and transmission
The two seven-seat X-Trail variants are both petrol-powered and front-wheel drive, so they are essentially SUV-styled people-movers with none of the off-road abilities suggested by the looks or ‘trail’ part of the nameplate.
Under the bonnet is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder unit developing 126kW at 6000rpm and 226Nm of torque at 4400rpm, with power sent to the road via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
It is a predictable and responsive setup for urban and suburban duties, getting off the line assertively and spinning smoothly as the CVT flares the revs under acceleration, but quickly settling down once up to speed for quiet cruising.
We never felt the car was underpowered for daily three-up duties with a small amount of luggage on-board although with all seven seats in use it could start to struggle. For a vehicle weighing in at 1536kg including the driver and a full tank of fuel, it didn’t do at all badly.
As mentioned, the cabin is well-insulated enough that the engine did not become intrusive even when the CVT had it revving highly and the level of drivetrain refinement was pretty impressive overall. By comparison, the Renault Koleos using a similar drivetrain – in fact with 10kW more power – felt strained due to the unpleasant noises coming from behind the firewall.
Using the manual shift mode during our dynamic test, we rowed the X-Trail along nicely at high revs without the engine noise offending us. It just whirs and thrums away, with intuitive levels of engine braking but no undue loss of momentum on a trailing throttle thanks to the well-calibrated CVT that delivers quick but rather soft shifts between its simulated stepped ratios.
The downside to using an old-school naturally aspirated petrol engine is fuel consumption, which averaged at 9.6 litres per 100 kilometres during our week of mixed driving, significantly up on the official 8.1L/100km combined-cycle figure. This rose to 12.9L/100km in a combination of suburban and twisty country road driving, compared with the official urban cycle figure of 11.0L/100km.
Put it this way, we didn’t do much worse than the X-Trail’s fuel consumption in the much larger and more powerful Toyota Kluger with its 3.5-litre petrol V6 and massive interior space.
But in the Nissan we used a respectable 6.6L/100km during 90 minutes of 110km/h and 100km/h motorway driving, just 0.2L/100km more than the official highway figure. If you do a lot of motorway or country miles, this X-Trail will not punish you at the bowser.
Ride and handling
The X-Trail’s ride is a little unresolved in a similar way to an unladen ute.
It feels as though it needs bodies on board to settle on its springs, particularly at urban and suburban speeds.
Each impact is also heard, vividly disturbing the otherwise peaceful cabin often more than the bump, lump or dip that had the suspension working in the first place. It is worse than bump-thump, it is more like knocking and banging that on really rough roads turns into an equally unpleasant rumbling.
We never quite got used to how the X-Trail hobbled over broken or uneven surfaces at speeds below around 80km/h. Faster than this and it improved markedly, feeling much more stable and secure in the process while more effortlessly taking the edge off impacts. The noise remained, though.
On our fast and twisty dynamic route, the X-Trail had a few surprises up its sleeve.
First, we never expected the whisper-quiet Goodyear Assurance eco-tyres to hang on quite so well as they did – and without screeching – at least in the dry conditions of our test day. Front-end grip was particularly impressive.
Second, the aforementioned urban firmness seemed to pay off in keeping the X-Trail cornering pretty flat out here, which made it feel nimbler than its size, height and weight would suggest. This is also a very stable car when driven quickly.
Overall given the likely use case of the X-Trail, we would have accepted less twisty road ability for more low-speed comfort because despite its surprising athleticism, it was still not that involving or exciting to drive spiritedly.
For example, the brake pedal feel is mushy and the steering gets vague and floaty just when the driver wants feedback and reassurance, yet suffers kickback on mid-corner bumps.
None of this is a problem in suburbia, where the steering weight and accuracy feel spot-on. It feels as though Nissan got their priorities a bit mixed up when tuning the chassis setup of this car.
Safety and servicing
The current-generation X-Trail range, apart from as-yet unrated 2.0-litre diesel variants that joined the range as part of this May 2017 facelift, have a five-star safety rating, with an overall score of 35.28 out of 37.
In the frontal offset test the X-Trail scored 14.68 out of 16, with a perfect 16 points awarded in the side impact test and a maximum 2 points in the pole test. Whiplash protection was rated ‘good’ and pedestrian protection ‘acceptable’. It scored 2.6 out of 3 for seat belt reminders because they are not fitted to the optional third-row seats.
Standard safety equipment includes dual front, side and curtain airbags as well as driver’s knee airbag, low- and high-speed autonomous emergency braking, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution, emergency brake assist, electronic stability control and traction control.
Nissan provides a three-year/100,000km warranty for the X-Trail, with scheduled servicing intervals every 12 months or 10,000km.
The brand’s capped-price service program is offered for the first six years or 120,000km of scheduled services, with odd-numbered service intervals costing $232 and the even-numbered intervals priced between $339 and $502 depending on interval.
A $32 brake fluid charge is not included and is recommended by the dealership based on condition, or replaced according to a 24-month/40,000km schedule.
Average cost per service under this plan over the 12 covered intervals is $321.60 (all prices correct at time of writing).
In the mid-size SUV category, seven-seaters are fairly rare. At the time of writing, the Mitsubishi Outlander was the only real price competitor and was about to be joined by the fifth-generation Honda CR-V and the Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace several months away.
There are serious compromises in terms of interior space and comfort when squeezing seven seats into a mid-size SUV, even though the X-Trail is at the larger end of its segment.
We recommend taking the family along plus any child seats and other paraphernalia you will carry regularly for your test drive. Even better, ask for a 24-hour test. You might find you can get away with it, or discover it is worth paying a bit more for something a little larger such as a Hyundai Santa Fe.
Most of what we have said about the seven-seat X-Trail ST-L applies to the five-seat equivalent that provides additional cargo capacity and reduced kerb weight over the three-row variant tested here.
In ST-L guise it is well equipped and has plenty of safety technology. Being spacious and decent to drive as well clearly gets the X-Trail over the line for many buyers – the sales figures prove it.
Yes, it has its flaws, but the X-Trail provides a pretty fuss-free driving experience, remains a worthy contender at the more practical end of the mid-size SUV segment and despite the inherent compromises of its seven-seat set-up, the option of three rows helps differentiate the model in what is a hotly contested part of the market.
Mitsubishi Outlander LS Safety Pack 7-seat from $36,000 plus on-road costsSwings and roundabouts separate this from the X-Trail. For example, the Mitsubishi cabin is less well-resolved and cheaper feeling than the Nissan’s, but the Mitsubishi’s infotainment system is superior. Both are similarly compromised as seven-seaters due to their physical size but the Mitsubishi’s engine struggles with just one passenger on-board, let alone seven. Then again it is $2000 cheaper and has a longer warranty than the Nissan.
Honda CR-V VTi-L from $38,990 plus on-road costsAt the time of writing this had not yet launched but Honda’s recent return to form bodes very well for the new CR-V. Watch this space. Honda has also announced a five-year warranty, not that its reputation would suggest you are likely to need it.
Note: Some images are of the Nissan X-Trail Ti 4WD
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