From £40,7907
Hybrid power marks a welcome return to form for the Hyundai Santa Fe rival

The Nissan X-Trail was going to be built in Britain in a deal done in the highest corridors of power. Then Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn (you know, the one now exiled in Lebanon, on the run from Japanese authorities still) walked into Theresa May’s 10 Downing Street in 2016 to ensure the UK’s looming exit from the European Union wouldn’t harm his firm’s latest investment in its Sunderland factory.

Three years later, Nissan announced that the new X-Trail would actually be built in Japan, laying thinly veiled blame for this U-turn on Brexit. Remain or leave and regardless of where it’s built, though, the X-Trail still holds plenty of appeal for British buyers as it enters its fourth generation.

For starters, it returns making an excellent visual first impression. Interest waned in the previous X-Trail as customers found it too similar to the Nissan Qashqai (remember, it had the role of replacing both the Mk2 X-Trail and the Qashqai+2) and too much of a crossover rather than a proper SUV, which it made its name on. So Nissan has reversed that this time, making the X-Trail a chunky, substantial presence on the road once more, rather than a bigger Qashqai.

The staple diesel engines that were once the only gig in town for models like this are no more. Instead, the flagship and predicted best-selling powertrain in this new X-Trail is the e-Power system being introduced across various Nissan models. It’s a novel and clever type of series hybrid, with the front wheels being driven by an electric motor and a small battery that draws its power from a 1.5-litre variable-compression-ratio three-pot turbo petrol engine that’s designed to always run in the most optimal state for efficiency.

Nissan x trail 14 front cornering

Peak system output is 201bhp. If it’s not too much of an oxymoron, think of it as a petrol-powered electric car, with an ICE providing the electricity, rather than a large battery charged from an external source, and you’re pretty much there. In a first in the X-Trail, the e-Power system is offered with four-wheel drive, an additional electric motor powering the rear axle.

Not done with marketing slogans, Nissan has called this electric four-wheel drive system e-4orce (and we haven’t even got to the e-Pedal yet). It’s also soon to be found on the four-wheel-drive version of the firm’s new electric SUV, the Ariya. Peak system output is 211bhp in this version of the X-Trail, which we’re testing here. Another engine is offered, too – a 12V mild-hybrid 161bhp 1.5-litre petrol, offered with front-wheel drive only and not expected to sell in any great volume.

Back to top

There’s no plug-in hybrid, because Nissan doesn’t believe in those, claiming that its e-Power set-up instead offers the best stepping stone to full electrification. Underpinning the X-Trail is the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance’s CMF-C platform, now familiar from plenty of mid-size models, including the Qashqai. Multi-link rear suspension features as standard on a car offered in both five-seat and (tested here) seven-seat forms.

Both share a sliding middle row of seats with a 60/40 split, and the seven-seater gets two small pews that fold flat into the boot floor. They are suitable mainly for children but also for adults on shorter journeys, so long as they are not too tall. Likewise, the middle row (at least on our car with the panoramic sunroof) is better for adults under six foot: Nissan has raised the seats up for a good view forward, but cramped the head room as a result. Mind you, when was the last time you were four-up in a car?

At 485 litres, the boot is a good, usable size in this seven-seater with the rearmost seats folded down, but it’s well short of the 571 litres in the Hyundai Santa Fe seven-seater. The rear of the cabin is a bright and airy space, made even more so by the optional panoramic roof that featured on our test car.

The environment for the driver is pleasing, too. There’s a commanding driving position and a comfortable seat, and all the major controls are easily accessed. The previous generation of Nissans was getting rather bewildering with its arrays of buttons, whereas these new models are more streamlined and simpler to navigate. Thankfully, Nissan hasn’t leapt into the regrettable touchscreen-only approach of some misguided car makers, so there’s a nice mix of analogue and digital here, including a brace of 12.3in screens featuring the dials and infotainment system.

Nissan x trail 06 dashboard

Back to top

Their graphics are crisp and clear, and you can connect using Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, the latter wirelessly. It’s all good, rational stuff in the poking-around stage, a trend that continues when you get on the road. The drivetrain doesn’t show its complexity on the move, working quietly and efficiently without the loud whirrs that series hybrids with CVTs typically produce, albeit without quite the gearbox sophistication shown in Honda's latest system. There’s a noticeable difference when you’re experimenting with the various drive modes, too.

The e-Power system feels its most free and responsive in Sport mode, while there’s a sensation of pushing the accelerator through treacle in Eco mode with also the ‘B’ regeneration setting (via the transmission shifter) and the e-Pedal (which allows for near one-pedal driving by upping the regen further) activated. As is typical with so many of these systems, it does its best work in Normal mode, which I tended to leave it in, along with the e-Pedal activated, as one-pedal driving is a real boon, particularly around town.

For all its sophistication, the crux of the e-Power is that it’s a very efficient real-world system, a good 15-20% or so more economical in the real world than the mild-hybrid X-Trail. The official economy figure is 43.5-44.1mpg, and we got close to that on our mixed-roads test route. What’s more, the electric four-wheel drive allows for better torque control and quicker responses off road, although the X-Trail remains more of an SUV than a true 4x4 in this regard, and we weren’t able to test this on our route.

The X-Trail’s solid and more robust looks are reflected in the way it handles. There’s little excitement to be had here, but nor has Nissan tried to inject much. It’s an easy car to place and feels smaller than it is. Body roll is kept in check and there’s a crispness to the steering when you’re applying lock, albeit also an unwelcome springiness when you’re taking it off.

The major question surrounds the low-speed ride, which was quite harsh on both the 19in and 20in wheels of cars we've tested. The 19s comes on fairly high-profile 235/55 tyres, so in theory there's plenty of rubber to give some cushion. 

Back to top

But over rougher surfaces, the dampers struggle to control the heft in the car and wheel, giving it quite an unsophisticated feel that's at odds with the rest of the largely quiet drive. None of these hybridised, seven-seat SUVs feel light (and no wonder, given the Nissan's 1886kg kerb weight) but other such cars manage to disguise that weight a bit better, ironing out sharper lumps and bumps more than the X-Trail. 

Nissan x trail 02 side panning

That aside, there’s plenty to recommend in this new X-Trail and even more so on price. Seven-seat SUVs are all going down the plug-in hybrid route, which adds plenty of cost, so Nissan is able to undercut electrified rivals here with its e-Power system, which does feel a particularly good match and solution for a car of this size and weight without adding the extra cost and even greater weight that going to a PHEV or a full BEV would bring. It starts at £32,030 for the front-wheel-drive mild hybrid.

Add £2435 to get the e-Power system, a further £2200 for four-wheel drive and then £1000 to get the third row of seats. The Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV will set you back at least £46,615 (or £41,445 for the HEV), whereas you can have a hybrid X-Trail for less than £40,000. It’s a welcome return to form for the X-Trail, even if we can’t quite call it one of our own.

UK impressions by Piers Ward

Back to top


Mark Tisshaw

Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

Add a comment…