When is a Nissan Qashqai not a Nissan Qashqai? When it has seven seats and a larger rear end. Then you’ve got yourself the all-new 2014 Nissan X-Trail.
The X-Trail has gone from a fun ‘adventure’ crossover to a fully-fledged family trickster as it battles the likes of the Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V. It’s no longer to be the forgotten SUV, but now plays a crucial role as the supporting act for Nissan’s star sales-sheet performers, the Qashqai and Juke. We’re driving the flagship X-Trail Tekna.
The new Nissan X-Trail looks like a Qashqai…
The fact that the X-Trail’s exterior styling apes that of the new Qashqai is not because Nissan’s design department took an early lunch, but instead to show that the X-Trail belongs with the Qashqai, and the new 2014 facelifted Juke.
All three of these products have the pronounced chrome 'V' in their grille, which for the Qashqai and X-Trail extends into the bonnet and flows along the muscular haunches. Where the X-Trail differs is at the rear: it’s longer and roomier than the Qashqai, and there’s the seven-seat option.
Nissan says that any customers of the Qashqai+2, which the X-Trail replaces, bought the car for its larger boot, not necessarily the extra seats. So the five-seater is expected to make up 70% of UK X-Trail sales.
How much bigger is it?
Based on the same modular architecture as the latest Qashqai, the X-Trail is a mere 8mm longer than the slab-sided model it replaces, but it’s the 76mm longer wheelbase that gives the X-Trail the space-race advantage.
There’s a staggering 100mm more legroom than its predecessor, which in real terms means loads of legroom for six-feet-and-taller passengers. There’s also better rear headroom, too: the X-Trail’s roofline is flatter, giving it a much higher rump. Of course, those third-row seats aren’t for people with limbs…
The 550-litre boot eclipses the Qashqai’s 410-litre cargo area, and there's 100 litres more than the old Qashqai+2, err, too. The X-Trail also has a clever multiple height floor that can also segment the boot vertically. The seats, too, can be configured in nine ways, which includes an uninterrupted flat floor. It’s not just big, put cleverly packaged.
What does the Tekna-spec offer in terms of kit?
The X-Trail’s price has jumped by around £570 on the top-spec Tekna, which is expected to make up the majority of UK sales, which is £29,995 in manual, or £31,345 for the ‘X-Tronic’ CVT transmission.
A set of 19in alloys, roof rails, and LED headlights say ‘Tekna’ on the outside, with leather, a fixed glass roof as well as a raft of safety gear inside. There are also tricks like Nissan’s 360-degreee round-view camera for parking, with the 7in colour display also offering downloadable apps, including Google and Facebook.
Is the cabin 'off-road' or more 'school-run'?
It’s a competent school-run control room. Climb into the X-Trail, and the space is immense as you peer through the billboard front windscreen. Sadly, despite a focus on a ‘premium’ feel, the materials are more ‘adequate’: there’s leather everywhere in our test car, with sparkly black-gloss trim on the centre console that wouldn’t be caught dead in an Audi. The steering wheel could be a little thicker, and some of the switchgear is average at best. It feels sturdy overall, but not dazzling.
What about engines?
You mean ‘engine’. There’s only one right now: a 121bhp 1.6-litre turbodiesel, taking over from the old car’s turbocharged 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI. Despite the downsizing, torque remains at 236lb ft. If you’re after a petrol model, you’ll have to wait until 2016.
Despite the increase in dimensions, the new X-Trail is 90kg lighter than its equivalent predecessor, but 0-62mph is still a marathon rather than a sprint, covered in an egg-timed 11.4sec with the CVT. Fuel consumption’s better, too, with 55.4mpg against the old car’s best of 44.1mpg, while C02 has nose-dived from 168g/km to 135g/km.
What’s it like to drive?
It starts with a good driving position, and, bar the super-thick A-pillars, clear visibility. The flat seats are a tad firm, and despite the increase in performance, they’re not up to the task of holding you in around corners. This is where the X-Trail begins to beg for help: off the mark, it’s lethargic and the CVT can’t make the most of the torque.
The six-speed manual is far more engaging and fun to drive, as the CVT is a mess in the Sport mode, with its six stepped ‘gears’, holding revs far too long yet not allowing you to maintain a ‘gear’ when you actually want to. Put it in D, and it’s much better behaved, but there are still holes in the power delivery. The engine’s impressively smooth, reasonably quiet and not harsh, unless you’re wrapping its knuckles.
What’s it like around corners?
Evidently, cornering was low on the X-Trail’s priority list. It doesn’t feel like a big hatch, for instance, there's plenty of body roll, and your passenger will be squashed against the door thanks again to the flat seats. The steering is flimsy and vague, and you demands excessive lock around modest turns.
The ride is pretty good though: all X-Trails have multi-link rear suspension, unlike the Qashqai, which has a cost- and space-saving torsion-beam set-up on the lower-spec models. Even on 19in alloys, the X-Trail dismisses bumps quickly, but it lacks composure overall: you need to caress the wheel to keep it going precisely where you point it, especially under hard braking.
The X-Trail is larger, but it’s also duller. It’s lost its unique identity and character, but at the same time will appeal to a broader audience. It costs more, but there’s extra equipment, it’s cheaper to run, fits more in and is more comfortable. It’s smoother and quieter to drive, yet it feels like an opportunity missed: it handles like you’d expect an SUV to, and that’s on the wallowy, benign side. It will sell solidly, mainly because it’s handsome, practical and loaded with gear.