When the crossover market exploded in the '90s, Nissan was caught flat-footed, with no suitable crossover to compete with the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. This hole in their lineup was filled with the first-generation X-Trail. Launched in 2000, it offered reasonable space, a good selection of engines and a capable AWD system. The boxy wagon wasn't to everyone's taste, however, and the second generation was more of the same.
With this all-new X-Trail, Nissan throws out the design book and goes for a more conventional look. Could this be the model that catapults the X-Trail into the big leagues?
The original X-Trail's rugged yet high-tech SUV-aping appearance didn't quite work on the larger second-generation car. This all-new model eliminates the whole techno-truck vibe for a sleeker look, echoing the flowing lines of the Murano, while the masculine grille and the headlights are most reminiscent of the Patrol. It's a combination that works, and we dare say it's the best-looking Nissan on the road today.
The X-Trail's interior is, in a word, enormous. There's elbow room to spare, and the sliding second row allows you to either actually fit people in the third row or have the best second-row legroom anywhere.
The only flaw, space-wise, is that the folding third row makes for a slanted cargo floor. That said, cargo space is still excellent. Interior styling is more reminiscent of a sports sedan than a crossover, and the interior surfaces are nice to the touch. For the driver, that is.
Second-row door cards, though equipped with the same leatherette padding, features less pliable plastic surfaces. The seats are nice and supportive, although the felt-like fabric is ridiculously hard to keep clean.
The carried-over 139hp MR20DE isn't the most powerful 2.0-liter engine out there, but most people won't complain. The Lineartronic CVT makes for great in-traffic performance.
For those with a heavy right foot, the selectable Eco mode helps moderate your throttle input and fuel consumption. There's a +/- mode, as with many modern CVTs, but while it's very responsive, it's mostly wasted on a car like this.
At highway speeds, the CVT allows for ultra-low cruising rpm, and defaults to "coast" rather than engine-braking to further save fuel. Economy is in the 19+km/L region at 80kph, but in holiday traffic, don't expect better than 6-7km/L.
RIDE AND HANDLING
While the X-Trail isn't quite in the same league as the Subaru XV or the Mazda CX-5, handling-wise, it's very good, nonetheless. The suspension is soft, but body control is good, and handling is quite neutral.
Active Engine Braking means that when you get on the stoppers, the transmission automatically switches into braking mode from coasting to help out, which is quite nice when you're tackling a hilly road with gusto.
In fact, Nissan boasts lots of electronic assists, with names like "Active Trace Control," which everyone else calls electronic stability control, and "Active Ride Control," which sounds like a fancy electronic damper system but instead simply uses small dabs on the brakes to even out the ride over bumps. The effect is subtle, but there's no denying the ride is pretty good, either way.
The X-Trail is easy to drive around town, with good sight lines. Parking is a bit of an issue without rear sensors, but it's not unwieldy by any means.
The 4x2 variant featured here is understandably stripped down to meet a price point. It does come with keyless entry and a decent 2DIN stereo with good sound, as well as a full suite of electronic safety systems.
The built-in Eco Meter, with its pedal-pressure coaching display, is nice, but it would be even better if you could access the recent trip averages before you turn the engine off. It would also be nice if you could get the 360-degree parking assist video feed as on the 4x4, but that might be asking a bit too much for this price.
The X-Trail 4x2 isn't as impressive as the 4x4 with its more powerful 2.5-liter motor and clever center differential lock, which allows you to run in full 4x4 for maximum traction, or in 2WD for better performance and economy. And let's not forget that cool parking camera. But the 4x2 still gives you some of the best accommodations for your money, as well as a plush ride.
Despite its size, the CVT makes the X-Trail one of the most relaxing crossovers on the market to drive, and a strong alternative to the default choices in this segment.
SPECS: NISSAN X-TRAIL 2.0 CVT 4x2
Engine: 2.0-liter MR20DE variable valve timing I4 gasoline
Power: 138hp @ 6,100rpm
Torque: 200Nm @ 4,400rpm
Drive layout: FWD
Photos by Niky Tamayo