► Qashqai's bigger, more serious sibling
► Petrol or diesel, choice of 'box and spec
► We drive a high-spec, AWD, manual diesel
Things you never see: two X-Trail owners, their eyes meeting across a crowded Sainsbury’s car park, interrupting their trolley-disgorging in order to high-five each other. But they should. It’s not the sort of car that inspires forum banter or trilby-tossing street parades, but it is excellent at what it does.
Part of the problem is that it’s easy to be confused by what the X-Trail is. Starting off as a boxy, rugged 4x4 almost 20 years ago, it’s now well into its third generation and at a glance looks like a slightly larger Qashqai. To an extent, it is precisely that. They share a platform, although the X-Trail body is bigger. Adding to the potential confusion, the old Qashqai+2 is no longer available, so your seven-seat Nissan is an X-Trail or nothing at all, although it’s also available as a five-seater.
The facelift to the Mk3 X-Trail a couple of years ago was very modest. Why wouldn’t it be – it’s a huge seller worldwide (if you include sales of the US-market Rogue, which is the same thing with a different name). Since then, there’s been a slimming down of the engine range, but you have a decent choice of spec levels and transmission combinations.
What’s the current choice of hardware?
Nissan has been in the forefront of mass-market electrification, thanks to the battery-only Leaf, but don’t assume that anything approaching the same sort of technology is available on the X-Trail. Your current choice is simple: in the UK you get one diesel and one petrol, both available with five or seven seats. They’re both pretty efficient and modern but there’s not even the mildest of hybridisation involved.
The petrol is a modest 1.3-litre four making 158bhp and 199lb ft, currently offered with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto and front-wheel drive.
The diesel is a 1.7-litre four making 148bhp and a usefully grunty 251lb ft of torque. It comes with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and six-speed manual or CVT.
Our test car has the diesel engine and all-wheel drive – a combination that’s in the rugged, go-anywhere spirit of the original X-Trail – with the manual ’box. The all-wheel-drive system lets you lock it in two- or four-wheel drive, or there’s an auto mode that chooses for you.
Brace yourself: there’s a lot of trim levels
Base level is Visia, from £26,835 (which includes DAB radio). Next up is Acenta, from £27,440, which gets a big influx of safety and convenience electronics, plus dual-zone climate control and a panoramic roof. Acenta Premium, from £28,510, brings touchscreen nav and entertainment. N-Connecta, from £29,940, has wheel diameter increased by one inch to 18, roof rails and hands-free tailgate operation. N-Tec, from £30,820, has a lot of tech features and some black cosmetic touches. And Tekna, from £33,370, brings 19-inch wheels, yet more electronic safety aids, a Bose audio upgrade (but only for five-seaters), LED headlights and heated front and rear leather seats.
Our test car is in Tekna spec, and although it includes a lot of stuff, as is often the case with Nissans it refuses to add up to a premium feel. That’s fine, and at £35k this car doesn’t feel like anything other than good value. In any case, a lot of the most useful and pleasing stuff is the most basic, such as the sliding second row of seats, allowing a significant expansion or contraction of boot space/passenger leg room.
It’s a slow burner…
On a round-the-block demo drive you could well find yourself underwhelmed by the X-Trail. It’s not fast, it’s not dynamically sharp, the design politely declines to blow your socks off, and there’s no novel tech that you’d want to tell your influencer mates about before you’d exited the car park. (Ditto the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Current Volvos, by contrast, score very highly here.)
Live with an X-Trail for a few days, though, and its strengths shine a lot brighter. The comfort. The space. Its easygoing driving characteristics. It all adds up to a car that feels like it’s on your side – that it’s making life simpler and better.
What it doesn’t do is get your heart beating faster or make your hair stand on end, much as Skodas and Volvos don’t. It’s not in any way bad to drive, but there’s a softness about it that quells any desire to take the twisty route. Everyone on board will be comfortable and relaxed, enjoying the bright and airy feel (with no significant curve of the roof to cramp your posture or steal your light), and with heaps of gear in the boot.
If you do need to go off-road, it has decent ground clearance, and Nissan’s all-wheel-drive system is well proven, although the road-orientated tyres won’t let you get over-ambitious.
Nissan X-Trail: verdict
You have kids or grandkids, or friends who like to cadge a lift. You enjoy gardening or other waste-producing activities. You go camping. You tow a trailer. You are no stranger to muddy car parks. You have a dog. You like to do a big shop every week or so. If you tick most of the items on this list, you should consider the X-Trail as a potential facilitator, a tool, a family friend.
If not, then you’re probably better off with something smaller and livelier, although even then you’d doubtless appreciate the X-Trail’s reliability and ruggedness, and the way it doesn’t seem that bothered if you don’t wash it particularly thoroughly or particularly often.
With our thoughts focused on the important things in life – looking after your family and neighbours, that sort of thing – the X-Trail seems like a winner. It doesn’t make a good job of doubling up as a thrill-tastic driver’s car for more frivolous times, but then what SUV does at this price?
Check out our Nissan reviews