Can a better-mannered X-Trail challenge others vying for family SUV superiority - including the Hyundai Santa Fe, Skoda Kodiaq and Peugeot 5008?

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The original Nissan X-Trail was launched in 2001. Now, almost two decades on, Nissan is keen to point to that car as being a key player in the genesis of the current crossover breed.

Truthfully, however, the right-angled 4x4 – with its all-wheel-drive-only identity and utilitarian attitude – had as much to do with the traditional SUV as it did with any fast-approaching marketing concept. The first X-Trail’s primary qualification as a crossover rather than a pure SUV is likely its platform, which was shared with conventional models such as the front-drive Primera and Almera.

The X-Trail is Nissan's new flagship SUV and also replaces the Qasqhai+2

That MS architecture carried the model through to 2007, when it was replaced by the second-generation 2007-2014 Nissan X-Trail built on the C platform co-developed with Renault. Prior to the current nameplate, Nissan had marketed a small 4x4 SUV dubbed the Rasheen, which was sold exclusively in Japan from 1994 to 2000.

Cut to today and the new Nissan X-Trail’s connection to the kind of soft-roader being conceived at the end of the last century hangs by a thread. Sharing much with the all-conquering Nissan Qashqai, the car is instead intended to fill out Nissan’s crossover range and sit triumphantly at the summit of the C-SUV segment.

To do this, the firm has fitted curves, economy and more kit, and, at the entry level, jettisoned four-wheel drive entirely. For 2017, Nissan gave both the Qashqai and X-Trail a facelift, with the latter getting a sharper looking front, LED rear lights and a more luxurious interior.

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The X-Trail’s principal flexibility is now to do with its size. Designed from the ground up to accommodate seven seats, the model replaces not only its predecessor but also the Nissan Qashqai+2 – which should tell you everything you need to know about how important Nissan considers its new offering to be.



Nissan X-Trail road test review - alloy wheels

As its new proportions are the X-Trail’s main selling point, let’s dive straight into the details. Under the car you’ll find the Common Module Family (CMF) platform, the latest Renault-Nissan architecture which underpins a range of new models, including the Nissan Qashqai.

Using a larger variation of the shared hardware, the X-Trail is 76mm longer in the wheelbase than its predecessor yet manages to be only 17mm longer in total thanks to reductions in the overhangs. The car also has a 60mm advantage between the wheels when compared with the Qashqai – the kind of length required to make room for the option of an additional two seats in the boot.

The X-Trail's CMF platform uses a higher proportion of high-tensile steel, which is a major contributor to the Nissan's weight loss

The latest X-Trail is claimed to be 90kg lighter than its forebear owing to a greater use of high-tensile steel in the CMF’s construction, allied to other weight-saving measures such as an all-plastic tailgate. And while it may be more firmly aimed at on-road duties, Nissan has preserved the previous car’s 210mm ground clearance (in spite of the car being 5mm lower overall).

When Nissan talks of fully integrating the X-Trail into its crossover range, it is in part referring to its adoption of the current design language already seen on the Qashqai and the Nissan Juke. Familiarity with its basic elements minimises claims of boldness, yet it remains a fetching (if familiar) big crossover.

The mechanical set-up is no more complicated. The entire engine range is made up of two 1.6-litre engines - a 128bhp diesel and a 160bhp petrol, and a 2.0-litre diesel - offered with a six-speed manual. A CVT gearbox is available but only with the diesel engine.

The previous X-Trail was no exception, but this new model takes a different route, ditching its predecessor’s 2.0-litre engine in favour of the R9M 1.6 dCi already introduced in the Qashqai. The 1.6 dCi is, in fact, a comprehensive evolution of the F9Q 1.9 dCi previously used elsewhere by Nissan and Renault, its 1598cc capacity achieved by shortening its stroke.

As well as running a higher boost pressure, the engineers employed a much more sophisticated form of thermal management and reduced emissions with the introduction of a cold-loop exhaust recirculation system. Along with redesigned ancillaries and friction reductions, the smaller motor delivers improved CO2 emissions of 129g/km in two-wheel-drive form and 139g/km when taken with four-wheel drive.

Nissan’s electronically modulated all-wheel drive system is available – but not standard – while Active Ride Control (adaptive dampers) and Active Trace Control (to combat understeer) complement a conventional chassis sprung, whether you take two or four-wheel drive, on MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension.



Nissan X-Trail road test review - cabin

Having pressed the reset button on the X-Trail’s exterior styling, Nissan could do little but take a clean-sheet approach to the cabin.

The new X-Trail’s is a sensible, usable and pleasant cockpit, but any trace of the original model’s quirky interior – centrally mounted dials, a proudly protruding centre stack, tactile and unusual seat fabrics and plenty of other imaginative touches – has now been cast aside.

Visibility is good in all directions and the headlights are more than adequate, even in non-LED form

You might even say there’s a conspicuous lack of imagination about the interior, given that so much of what your eyes, hands, feet and backside come to rest on comes straight out of the Nissan Qashqai. We’d argue that Nissan could have instilled the more upmarket, convenience-driven ambience it was looking for without dispensing with so much of the X-Trail’s identity.

Perhaps that identity will be seen as a small price to pay by buyers impressed by the greater material quality, space and ease of use.

Door and fascia plastics are substantial and well finished, and while the larger mouldings aren’t quite premium grade, they certainly feel fairly plush. With the exception of second-row headroom, occupant space is excellent, with sliding second-row seats adding flexibility.

Meanwhile, thought has clearly been employed in the design of the X-Trail’s minor features. The generous cupholders have their own air supply for cooling or warming your drink, and the central storage cubby under the driver’s armrest is large and deep enough to keep a tablet away from prying eyes.

Go for as-tested N-Connecta trim and you get NissanConnect infotainment system comes as standard, bringing with it a 7in display, satellite navigation, DAB tuner, smartphone data connectivity and app-driven online functionality. There is also the inclusion of 18in alloys, keyless entry and start, a 360-degree camera and a number of safety technology such as foward emergency braking, lane departure warning and traffic sign recognition.

The range-topping Tekna models get a raft more safety tech, 19in alloy wheels, a leather upholstery, electrically adjustable and heated front seats, adaptive LED headlights and blind spot monitoring.

The navigation is worthy of particular praise, with good resolution and easy-to-follow directional prompts. You can also program it in advance via Google’s Send To Car app, but there's no built-in Android Auto or Apple CarPlay for the next level of convenience.

Audio system power and clarity are more than adequate and DAB reception is good, while sensibly sized touchscreen buttons make the whole set-up easy to get on with.

The useful Around View Monitor comes as part of the NissanConnect package, but upgrade to top-of-the-range Tekna trim and you also get Intelligent Park Assist, which will steer the car into both parallel and end-on bays.


Nissan X-Trail road test review - engine

Nissan’s decision to power the X-Trail with a 128bhp 1.6-litre turbodiesel and a 160bhp 1.6-litre petrol was a bold one, but one it ultimately backed down on with the introduction of the 177bhp 2.0-litre diesel unit.

The 1.6dCi makes the car competitive on CO2 and fuel economy – important enough in their own right – but make no mistake about it: in one or two areas, compromise has been made.

The Nissan X-Trail is offered with a six-speed manual gearbox or a CVT

That the X-Trail can hit 0-60mph in a shade over 11 seconds is acceptable. The class average is about a second quicker, but there aren’t many rivals that can beat the X-Trail on passenger space, CO2 and economy as well as on sprinting prowess.

The bigger problem is that the X-Trail’s performance soon begins to feel a touch one-dimensional. The motor pulls cleanly from low revs, but quite lazily until 1800rpm comes around – and that’s in spite of gearing that feels short in second and third, presumably to mitigate the effects of that modest powerplant.

When the turbo comes on song, the engine offers a decent hit of torque, but it’s mostly served in between 1800 and 3200rpm. You can easily confine yourself to that slice of the tacho once used to it, but doing so doesn’t make the X-Trail feel like a traditional 4x4 with urge in reserve.

It’s also unmistakably the case that refinement and shift quality from this powertrain aren’t up to the standard set by the smaller Nissan Qashqai – but there’s no reason they shouldn’t be.

The X-Trail is averagely quiet at a cruise but a little gravelly under load, and there’s notch in the gear lever’s action we weren’t expecting – along with a bit of vibration. Our test car also suffered with a couple of minor cabin trim rattles that took the edge off its cruising manners.

When specifying your X-Trail, think carefully before choosing the auto; Nissan’s Xtronic still feels remarkably old-fashioned compared to some rivals. 


Nissan X-Trail road test review - on the road side

The pragmatism that puts only as much power under the Nissan X-Trail’s bonnet as most drivers are ever likely to need also makes for a laid-back, easy-driving, comfortable-riding car that deals with most UK roads well.

The handling isn’t configured to engage your interest but instead simply to ease your passage – a conclusion that’s never going to make this a particularly commendable SUV for the likes of us.

Nissan's X-Trail has a competent chassis and its stability systems are unintrusive

But what the X-Trail does, it does quite effectively, and with just enough consistency and dynamic coherence to tell that the car has been developed with care.

The suspension is stout enough that the car doesn’t roll or heave excessively at cross-country speeds, and it maintains consistent grip and good steering weight and precision at all times.

Relative to some medium-size SUVs, though, it feels soft – compliant at town speeds and fairly absorptive on the motorway, with low-frequency body control that preserves good cabin comfort as long as you’re not hurrying along too fast. It’s a pity that the secondary ride isn’t quieter and better isolated, but it’s not often noisy or crashy, either.

The oily heft in the car’s electromechanical power steering is Nissan Qashqai-like, and we heartily approve of it. The wheel is perfectly weighted and paced for a vehicle of this size, and although it doesn’t give much feedback, it doesn’t suffer with any of the kickback you can find in certain rivals.

It makes the car quite wieldy at low speeds and is generally in tune with the car’s fairly modest grip levels and medium-high rate of roll in corners. Cornering balance is respectable, with serious understeer presenting only when your effort levels extend beyond the bounds of propriety.

The X-Trail’s balance of grip survives track driving quite well, its steering retaining authority even when the chassis is dealing with extremes of lateral cornering loads.

Directional stability is good in the dry, with the ESP working quite hard to keep things equally tidy in the wet. Body control is good enough to keep the car’s mass from becoming a problem during fast direction changes. So while rivals ultimately offer more grip, incisiveness and involvement, the X-Trail holds its end up just fine.

It may not have the beating heart of a proper off-roader, but the X-Trail’s ground clearance bests most rivals — and for drivers needing to cross fields or use rutted tracks, that’s the most relevant mark of capability.

The approach angle would be the limiting factor for serious running in the rough stuff, but the Nissan’s soft chassis rates would make for better wheel articulation than some. ‘Lock’ mode on the 4WD model will ensure a 50/50 front-rear split of available torque at low speeds.


Nissan X-Trail road test review - hero front

Nissan’s desire to turn the X-Trail into a true crossover saw an expansion of trim choices, but 2017's facelift has seen the selection drop back down to two. The range now starts at Tekna level, meaning the model (in two-wheel-drive form) now starts at around £29,000.

That expands the gap between this and the Qashqai, making it the de facto large SUV in Nissan's UK line-up, whether you option one with seven seats or not.

Less than 50 percent retained value after three years isn't great for a crossover SUV

In five-seat form (as here), the competition is intense, with models such as the Skoda Kodiaq managing to challenge the Nissan’s price while giving up very little on the efficiency scales.

To that end, the X-Trail is decent value. The 129g/km of CO2 claimed for our test car is commendable, although it falls short of the bigger 2.2-litre Mazda CX-5’s figure.

The latter returned 55mpg on our gentle touring test, while the X-Trail could manage only 48mpg and a 42mpg overall average. It’s competitive, then, rather than class leading.



Nissan X-Trail road test review - static quarry

Given its recent track record, you’d be a fool to bet against Nissan’s positioning of the new X-Trail.

The growth of the segment is inevitably making the cars within it less traditional – less of the big-engined, square-cornered, tow-anything 4x4 and more added practicality and capability but with a sharper focus on efficiency and value.

The X-Trail needs to be more mechanically refined and a more flexible diesel would be appreciated

That the X-Trail is in the latter camp probably bears testament to Nissan’s understanding of the market in which it competes. This is a handsome, habitable, usable and efficient family SUV – and those are the right boxes to tick for buyers migrating to its niche.

But for veterans for the class who do the occasional bit of towing and more, it may seem a bit of a lightweight, and for us it’s just a tad too soft.

Shortfalls on refinement and driveability, plus a slight lack of the original’s character, take the shine off a car that isn’t quite in the Nissan Qashqai’s class – nor a top five competitor in its own right.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Nissan X-Trail 2014-2021 First drives