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First Oz drive: Nissan enters light 4WD fray with X-Trail

X-Trail for Gen-X: Nissan is targeting the young and young at heart with its first soft-roader.

Civilised, sensible and well priced, Nissan's new light-duty off-roader could be a winner

11 Oct 2001

NISSAN has finally entered the burgeoning compact four-wheel drive segment with the release of its X-Trail sport utility vehicle.

First seen in Japan, where it was launched in October last year, the X-Trail's arrival in Australia is in conjunction with the release of Nissan's 2002 model year four-wheel drive range, which features revised Patrol and Navara ranges and an updated Pathfinder.

There are two models in the X-Trail line up - ST and Ti - and both are available with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.

Due to go on sale in late October, X-Trail pricing starts at $31,990 for the manual ST and tops out at $37,990 for the Ti auto.

Both models also use the same engine - a newly designed 2.5-litre DOHC four-cylinder unit that produces 132kW of power at 6000rpm and 245Nm of torque at 4000rpm.

Those figures give the X-Trail an edge over its main rivals - the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4 - as in standard trim they all use 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines although the forthcoming new generation CR-V will see it offered with a 2.4-litre engine and Subaru has the turbo powerplant in the Forester GT.

The X-Trail's "All Mode 4x4 system" is Nissan's other wildcard with the new model. Adapted from the system used in the Skyline GT-R, it is controlled by a push-button arrangement in the instrument console as opposed to the Pathfinder's rotary dial set-up.

Three driving modes can be selected - 2WD, Auto and Lock. The 2WD mode is for everyday driving and offers the best fuel economy.

In Auto mode, sensors activate the electronically controlled coupling to send drive to all four wheels when a lack of traction is detected, although in normal conditions most of the torque is fed to the front wheels.

The Lock mode fixes the front to rear torque distribution at a ratio of 57:43 and works at speeds up to 30km/h. Once that speed is reached the system automatically reverts to Auto mode.

On the inside, the X-Trail has pushed the boundaries further with a number of unique features. Firstly, the instrument panel and hooded binnacle are located in the centre of the dashboard in a style established by Toyota's Echo light car and now also found in Hyundai's LaVita mini people-mover.

That leaves the space in front of the driver to be occupied by a lidded storage bin that can hold up to 12 CDs and also includes a 12V power socket.

And while cup holders have become the norm in today's cars, the X-Trail goes a step further and offers two lidded bins to cool water bottles or soft drink cans. They are ducted to the air conditioning/ventilation system, which allows any drinks to be chilled or warmed as desired, but the ducts can also be closed if you want to use the bins simply for storage.

Standard equipment on the ST model includes dual front airbags, air conditioning, electric windows and mirrors, remote central locking, in-dash single CD/radio, 60-40 split fold rear seats, 15-inch steel wheels and body coloured bumpers.

The Ti model adds climate control air conditioning, cruise control, in-dash six-disc CD/radio/cassette unit with six speakers, leather steering wheel, gear shift and handbrake lever, high-grade seat trim, 16-inch alloy wheels, front foglights, roof spoiler and a chrome grille.

Nissan is forecasting 500 sales per month for the X-Trail, split 50-50 between the ST and Ti grades, which should see it in direct competition with the class leaders - the CR-V, Forester and RAV4. But Nissan believes it will also attract the attention of buyers in the medium segment who are looking at the Mazda Tribute and Ford Escape models.

X-Trail ST (man) $31,990
X-Trail ST (auto) $33,990
X-Trail Ti (man) $35,990
X-Trail Ti (auto) $37,990


THE X-Trail certainly looks the part of the serious off roader with chunky, shallow overhangs and large, flared wheel arches giving it a tougher appearance than many of its competitors.

As the engine outputs would suggest, the X-Trail certainly feels much livelier than its rivals, with the exception of the Tribute and Escape V6 models, although the automatic transmission masks the verve noticeably so the manual is the one to go for.

While the ride is comfortable over dirt roads and pot-holed bitumen, body roll is also well controlled when the off-road trails turn back into switchbacks and sweeping bends. You can push on a lot harder than you would expect before understeer inevitably creeps into the equation.

A lot of that car-like behaviour is because X-Trail is constructed - like a car - around a monocoque frame, rather than employing the separate chassis used by traditional hardcore 4WDs like the Patrol.

It also abandons the tough but unsophisticated beam axle suspension for an independent MacPherson strut set-up in the front and a multi-link arrangement in the rear, which helps with more civilised on-road behaviour.

Nissan made a point of giving the X-Trail large seats - larger than a Mercedes-Benz E-class it says - and they are one of the first things you notice when you enter the vehicle.

While the extra width is comfortable and appreciated, at times they feel too wide and lacking in lateral support - the bolstering on the seat base is low and wide of supporting your thighs.

The other point that takes some adjusting to is the central instrument panel. As only a handful of cars have this arrangement, looking to the middle is not a natural reaction and you initially feel as though you're driving a concept car rather than a production model.

The benefit is you can adjust the steering wheel to any position without fear of obscuring the instruments.

Nissan has done a good job with the packaging of the vehicle, as well as giving it high level of standard equipment without compromising the price against its rivals.

First impressions suggest the X-Trail will make its presence felt in the competitive light-duty four-wheel drive class when it lands in showrooms later this month.

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