While the Nissan Qashqai takes all the headlines with its claim as the segment-creating crossover, and its position as the firm best-seller of the type among ever more rivals, its larger, longer-lived sister model, the Nissan X-Trail, is fighting back.
Globally, the X-Trail is more popular than the Qashqai, and everything else – in 2016, 766,000 global sales wrested top spot in the market from the Honda CR-V. In the UK, meanwhile, X-Trail sales are mushrooming. When the latest generation launched in 2014, it sold 6,027 – last year that figure was 19,096.
The X-Trail has always boasted a more muscular look than the Qashqai, again pitching towards a more adventurous customer base. So the exterior upgrades on the new model play to that audience, while according to Nissan also aiming to make the car appear a bit more upmarket.
This is the most competitive sector in the British new car market, however, with new rivals appearing virtually every month. So it’s time for a mid-life update – nothing radical, just a package of improvements in a bid to keep the model in the front line.
The family-look V-motion grille is now wider and more purposeful, and houses a 3D printed version of the Nissan badge. Such new production technology makes it possible to house the radar equipment for the increasingly important driving aids now available with the car.
The foglights have evolved, from circular to more in-your-face rectangular designs, while new LED lighting signatures match each other front and back.
The car is longer, by a mere 15mm, than its predecessor, and it stands 25mm higher, all adding to that aim of purposefulness. There are also four new exterior colours amongst the choice of 10, including the somewhat oddly named ‘Palatial Ruby’.
And it does all work – the X-Trail has presence whether sitting in a car park or a quarry…
Buying and owning a Nissan X-Trail
Buyers choose the X-Trail over the Qashqai for many reasons. While not a proper mud-plugger, it’s the most off-road pitched Nissan crossover. And crucially, since the demise of the Qashqai+2 in 2013, the X-Trail is the only Nissan crossover to offer seven seats.
Choose the top Tekna grade, as almost half of all X-Trail customers do, and you’ll now get adaptive headlamps with a cornering function, as well as a chrome styling moulding along the bottom of the doors.
All Nissan X-Trails boast plentiful equipment. Cruise control with a speed limiter, Bluetooth connectivity, manual air-conditioning, electric folding / heated door mirrors and alloy wheels are standard across the range, while DAB radio is also now on every car. Tekna customers who don’t need seven seats also get an eight-speaker BOSE sound system.
The Nissan X-Trail was crash tested by Euro NCAP in 2014, when the current model was first launched. It scored five stars then, although the ratings are tougher now. A host of driver aids feature, again the number of technologies depending on the grade selected, though autonomous emergency braking is available across the range and will now also react to pedestrians in the car’s path.
Also standard is hill assist, and this has been improved. Instead of holding the car on a gradient for up to five seconds it will now do so for up to three minutes. If the driver doesn’t act before those minutes are up, it applies the parking brake.
The ‘Intelligent Mobility’ suite of active safety aids available also includes blind spot and lane departure warnings and traffic sign recognition, while the car now adds an alert for crossing traffic when reversing.
In 2018, the Nissan ProPilot system will become available. Controlling steering, acceleration and braking in one line during both heavy traffic and high-speed cruising, it’s a significant step on the road to autonomous driving.
Inside the Nissan X-Trail
Inside the car, Nissan is going for a more premium feel. So there is a thicker and D-shaped steering wheel, which we are told improves visibility of the instruments behind by 17%. Additional soft leather and (for Tekna buyers) heating on the steering wheel and the second row of seats, adds to the comfort. However, the layout of the dash and centre console remains unchanged and looks somewhat cluttered compared to rivals, while the graphics on the sat nav screen appear dated amongst today’s tech.
Practicality plusses include a function on higher-spec models that lets one open and close the tailgate by kicking the air under it, while the opening height can be set so it doesn’t smash into those overhead shelves in the garage.
Despite the lack of any mechanical updates, Nissan has found another 15 litres of boot storage space, we are told through ‘better packaging.’ The 565 litres outstretches rivals such as the Ford Kuga and Mazda CX-5, though it is still 24 litres less than the Honda CR-V.
Of course one can instead choose to have two more seats, available right across the X-Trail range and a notable plus for those who need the people capacity. Such seats are usually pretty cosy but the X-Trail’s are no worse than the dwindling number of rival offerings.
Driving the Nissan X-Trail
A look under the bonnet provides much less to write about, as Nissan sees no reason to change the mechanical specification of the X-Trail. So the choice remains at three engines, just one a petrol unit offering 163hp, 45.6mph combined cycle fuel economy and a 145g/km CO2 emissions figure.
The entry-level diesel is a 1.6-litre with 130hp, stretching the mpg to almost 58mpg and shaving the CO2 levels to 129g/km. That’s in two-wheel-drive form, and with a manual gearbox – you can also have it with an automatic if you prefer, or instead combine the manual with a four-wheel drive transmission.
Topping the range is the 2.0-litre diesel of 177hp, again with manual or automatic gearbox and in manual form with two or four-wheel drive. At a time when the crossover market is abandoning power to all four corners, it’s pleasing to see Nissan retaining it – only the petrol engine can’t be had as a 4WD model.
This, of course, maintains the image of the X-Trail being an adventurous off-roader, but it’s not that much of an all-rounder – there’s no hill descent control, for example, and definitely no low-range differential or stuff like that. And the position of the air filter in the engine bay ensures one would not want to go wading into too deep a river in this car.
In truth, however, such elements are not needed. The drive route on the launch event included ‘off-roading’ – effectively around various bits of a quarry with some steep ups and downs, some highly muddy bits and the edge of a flooded pit to fool around in. The X-Trail took this all in its stride, revelling in conditions that virtually every car sold in the UK will likely never come close to tackling.
More importantly, on the road the X-Trail remains an unflustered ride. The Car Expert got to try both diesel engines, the 130 in 2WD and the 177 in 4WD, and unsurprisingly the larger one proved more accomplished. In particular, it offers the power – 9.4 seconds to 62mph – that suits the exterior image.
The chassis appears tuned to the comfortable rather than the performance-pitched – while the launch route passed a very famous set of challenging roads used regularly by sports car testers, we weren’t tempted to turn onto them. But the X-Trail copes well with the surfaces it is presented with, particularly when the tarmac runs out.
The Nissan X-Trail has plenty of fans and they will welcome this programme of updates that mostly bring the car into line with recent developments.
Against some of the most recent rivals, however, the X-Trail is beginning to look a little dated, and it may have more problems winning selection over the most recent, more stylish and in some cases cheaper rivals such as the Skoda Kodiaq.