‘Strength through simplicity’ isn’t a tag line that Nissan uses for its current X-Trail range, but it’s a line that in many ways reads true. Since it’s inception in 2001 the X-Trail has been a tidy seller for Nissan and its likeable blend of practicality and usability has put a fair few people into SUVs over the years. For 2011, Nissan has given its second-generation X-Trail some mechanical upgrading, an interior refit and a nip and tuck to the boxed-back exterior design. The net result is the further graduation of an already solid package. Car and SUV tagged in on a new diesel X-Trail TL to put it through its paces.
It may be a bit sharp-angled for some tastes, but the X-Trail has an on road presence all its own. Distinctive light clusters front and back are distinguishing features and a strong flat roofline highlights the X-Trails profile. A big glasshouse lets in a ton of light but tinted rear windows keep it cool inside. 18-inch standard spec wheels fill up the high guards and a redesigned chrome grille adds bling. Other exterior revisions include a new front bumper and those unmissable rear LED lights. Overall the exterior tweaking has given the X-trail a modernised, more purposeful look and realigned it closer to the rest of Nissans current range.
Inside the X-Trail, the square exterior lines pay big dividends into a very spacious and practically focused cabin. Interior quality has been further increased with the use of new materials and touch surfaces feel family-grade tough. Our TL spec test vehicle was fitted with leather trim including redesigned, heated front seats that were wide and comfortable but could have offered more lateral support. The driving position is high and upright allowing for commanding visibility and while the X-Trail isn’t a small machine it is easy to place all four corners. The switchgear certainly favours function over form and may not appear as sophisticated as some younger competitors but the big buttons and dials are intuitive and tastefully simple. The X-Trail’s instrumentation has been upgraded with a new black and white display screen sitting between the traditional dials to inform the driver of vehicle details like fuel economy and average speed. Luggage capacity is an impressive 603 litres, fold down the rear seat back and this expands to a cavernous 1773 litres. The flat loading area is well protected by tough plastic fittings and there are hidden plastic storage chambers – perfect for hiding valuables or stowing messy cargo. There’s also tie down hooks and a cargo blind is included as standard fitment.
More equipment than a U2 world tour
Well not quite, but the standard equipment list reads fairly long on the top dollar X-Trail TL. There’s a 6 CD stereo with auxiliary input for iPods, Bluetooth hands free kit, keyless entry and start, climate air conditioning, Xenon headlights, steering wheel controls and a large electric sunroof that really opens up the X-Trail cabin.
Under the sheetmetal
Powering the X-Trail TL is Nissan’s MR9 clean diesel engine developed in a joint venture with Renault. With a 2.0-litre displacement this diesel mill is fairly advanced using Piezo-electric injectors, a diesel particulate filter and special catalysts to keep its emissions and fuel usage low. It produces 110kW of power and a healthy 320Nm of torque while sipping away on 7.4 litres of diesel per 100km travelled. That’s very good economy for a small/med SUV and will help entice those seeking low running costs. The diesel mill comes mated exclusively to a 6-speed conventional automatic transmission with a sequential manual shift mode if you feel like DIY shifting.
Towing capacity is down from the petrol model’s 2-tonne rating, being reduced to just 1350kg with a braked trailer.
The suspension is set-up with MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear. Putting down the anchors are ventilated disc brakes up front and standard discs stopping the back.
Smooth operator on road
Turning the tyres on tarmac the diesel X-Trail is a fairly refined and competent machine. The engine can be a touch noisy when cold but once warmed up it remains nicely low key unless strained. The X-Trail isn’t exactly rapid from a standing start but the 4-cylinder engine is quite peaky for a diesel and will push itself above 5000rpm. Low down torque isn’t bad either and once the turbocharger engages the X-Trail can show some strength. During Motorway cruising the X-Trail feels settled and smooth and while you’ll want space to perform overtaking moves on the open road, it’s certainly capable.
Much like its smaller brother the Qashqai, the X-Trail is just a very easy to vehicle to drive. It’s steering and pedals are light, there’s an excellent driving position and also very little to intimidate any drivers upsizing from hatchbacks or wagons.
Through the corners the diesel X-Trail offers good grip levels from its 225/55 R18 tyres and body roll is less than you’d expect from a burly 1730kg high riding SUV. If you must push your luck with some amateur rally antics you’d want to engage the automatic 4WD system, leaving the X-Trail’s 2WD setting for more mundane duties like motorway cruising and suburban runs. Making on-the-fly changes is easily done through a jog dial in the cabin; in ‘Auto’ 4WD mode the X-Trail uses sensors to split the engine’s torque to each wheel, as it’s required. It’s an effective system and if the going gets rougher there’s also a full 4WD lock mode. With the diff locked, a 212mm clearance height and a torquey diesel engine the X-Trail can get muddier than many competitors. Not match fit for heavier off road work but escaping muddy sports fields or ascending steep gravel driveways should prove regulation movements for the diesel-powered X-Trail.
Keep it safe
In 2011 attracting the family market means taking safety seriously, the X-Trail achieves this with features like hill start assist and hill descent control to stop it slipping on steep slopes. Helping keep this SUV nicely planted on the road is an electronic stability program, ABS brakes with brake assist and an active brake limited slip diff. There’s also front, side and full-length curtain airbags and an immobiliser to stop disturbed joy riders
Overall, the X-Trial is relaxed and refined on road and has a fighter’s chance off road as well. It’s styling may not send hearts racing and its drive might not be intensely engaging, but the body feels well built and the new diesel engine is very capable. The X-Trail’s practically minded interior and drivable nature should win over busy families. The X-Trail post facelift looks a little sharper and it rides well but the big news comes with the inclusion of the TS and high spec TL diesel models. If you take a lot of kids and dogs and stuff everywhere you go? And if you dig the X-Trails bulky frame and welcoming presence then definitely take a closer look at the new diesel offerings.
What we like:
- Diesel engine is smooth and strong enough to be a good fit
- Very practical and durable interior
- Nicely refined on road, a good cruiser
What we don’t like:
- Lower tow rating on diesel model
- Styling won’t appeal to all
Who will buy this car? Breeders mainly, young familles and may also prove popular with newly retired baby boomers. Expect a fair few to find rural homes.
Cool rating: 3 out of 10 here, might score some looks from other mums and dads but won’t be a huge hit with the teenage crew. Sensible and reliable but certainly no Rambo.
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo