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Car reviews - Nissan - X-Trail - Ti 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Engine performance, ride quality, equipment level
Room for improvement
mediocre handling, uncarpeted cargo area, centre-rear lap belt

4 Apr 2002

NISSAN might be half a decade or so late in the ever-popular recreational four-wheel drive market, but the Japanese manufacturer - well regarded in Australia for its off-road expertise - has arrived with a formidable entrant.

Given its heritage with Patrol and others, we were not surprised to find that Nissan has ensured the X-Trail is a reasonable performer off the beaten path.

Indeed, we were expecting Nissan to be single-minded in this respect.

But go searching for low-range gearing, a live-axle rear suspension and a ladder-frame chassis - to name three "certainties" one might contemplate when it comes to Nissan off-road product development - and there will be nothing of the sort to be found.

Looks can be deceiving. Although its imposing stance, large front bumper with (plastic) bash plate and unmistakable V-shaped grille give the X-Trail the requisite rough-and-tumble look, it soon becomes evident this is a vehicle which thumbs its nose at tradition.

Following the likes of Honda and Subaru, Nissan has - with the help of its Renault bankrollers - built the X-Trail with a monocoque (car-like) chassis, suspension suited more to roadwork than rock hopping and an engine offering both sparing fuel consumption and strength.

Combine this with generous amounts of interior space, a host of clever details throughout the cabin and a solid standard specification list, and the X-Trail shoots right to the top end of its class.

Four adults fit with ease into this wagon, the rear bench seat in particular featuring generous room for the head, feet, shoulders and legs, plus large seatbacks and a recline function. Disappointing, though, is the inclusion of a centre-rear lap seatbelt - an inferior design to a lap-sash - and one-position rear head restraints.

Rear-seat storage facilities also take a back seat to some quite wonderful innovations to be found up front, which include big storage bins - the lidded hole in front of the driver has a power outlet for recharging a mobile phone - and a couple of chutes in the dash for cooling cans or stubbies.

In case you were wondering, these drink holders will also warm up a small tin of baked beans - in the true spirit of the suburban adventurer!

The driver sits up high in an armchair-like seat though support under the ribcage is lacking for when the road starts to snake and a perfect position for some people could be hindered with the lack of adjustment for full-seat height and steering wheel reach.

The instruments mounted in the centre of the dash are simple enough to view after a settling-in period - digital instruments would be better - and selection between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive presents no cerebral challenge.

Push the 2WD button and the vehicle is locked in as a front-driver to save a little bit of fuel during normal road conditions. Hit the "auto" 4WD button next to it when the surface becomes loose or wet and drive will be sent to the rear wheels via an electronically controlled coupling if the sensors detect a need for traction.

And push the "lock" button when crawling through the bush at speeds up to 30km/h and 4WD becomes permanent with a 57:43 front-rear split - above that speed, the system reverts to the auto mode.

The system is a variation of the serious four-wheel drive system underneath Pathfinder (but with a push-button not rotary dial), except that in two-drive the X-Trail drives its front wheels and there's no low range. Put another way, it's a part-time automatic four-wheel drive system like the popular Honda CR-V's, but with the ability to select two-wheel drive - saving fuel and component wear.

But not all aspects of the X-Trail are this effortless and well thought-out. The clock disappears when the trip meter is selected, the interior plastics are scratched with alarming ease and there is no luggage blind to hide items from view when the vehicle is left unattended.

What's more, the uncarpeted luggage floor - which can be removed and hosed down after a dirty weekend - tends to cause cargo to slide around, leaving scratches and raising a horrible din when in transit. Sunglasses are also recommended when unloading in direct sunlight.

In fairness, a both a cargo blind and rear protection carpet mat are listed on X-Trail's extensive genuine accessories menu, along with the likes of an alloy bar, bonnet protector, cargo net, carpet mats, sheepskin seat covers and towbar.

It would be remiss of us not to mention redeeming rear-end aspects such as shopping bag hooks, luggage tie-down hooks, another power socket and a flat cargo area created when the 60/40 split-fold is put into action.

There's the excellent dose of standard equipment to consider, too, which on the baseline ST runs to remote locking, air-conditioning, a four-speaker single-CD stereo, electric windows, twin airbags and a strong-performing quartet of disc brakes backed with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.

The top-spec Ti model adds climate and cruise control, an in-dash six-CD stereo with six speakers, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, variable intermittent wipers, rear roof spoiler, different interior trims, different rub strips, doorhandles and grille, plus a smattering of leather on the steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake - most of which is available as an accessory on ST models.

Then there's engine performance to dwell upon, the X-Trail's 2.5-litre inline four producing 132kW at 6000rpm and a big 245Nm of torque at 4000rpm - exceptional figures in this class - and impressing with its verve and mid-range strength.

The engine gets loud and uncouth as revs rise, forcing the driver to work the light (if a little notchy) manual gearshift into a higher gear and return to a point where the torque can pull the 1440kg vehicle along with a minimum of fuss.

This is also the sort of driving where frugal fuel consumption of less than 10 litres per 100km can be realised.

Yet on the whole, the Nissan newcomer is a faithful servant around town, a capable open-road tourer and a confident traveller when the road turns from black to brown.

The all-strut suspension provides quite a well-controlled ride during directional changes and all manner of road ruts and bumps (except deep potholes) are ironed out - and associated noise suppressed - with aplomb.

But the vehicle does not handle well through switchbacks, the front wheels losing traction without much prompting and the nose pushing straight ahead rather than negotiating the bend.

And while there is more composure once the switch is made to "auto" mode, the dynamic limits still are not high.

Despite the lockable 4WD option, serious bush work is also better left to four-wheel drives with tough-terrain tyres, more ground clearance than 150mm, better protection of the vitals underneath and low-range gearing.

But Nissan has not missed the point here, and nor have we. Lightweight steering, an agreeable 10.6-metre turning circle, effortless and economical engine performance, a feeling of safety and comfort, a modicum of off-road ability and a big helping of butch looks - this is the stuff people want.

And this is what the X-Trail delivers.

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