The Nissan X-Trail was in danger of becoming something of a dinosaur in the UK. Back in 2001 - when the original X-Trail was launched - the crossover simply didn’t exist. An SUV was a relatively crude affair - slab-sided, upright and with a bit of a drink problem.
The crossover changed all of that. Love them or hate them, the segment-spanning crossovers have struck a chord with car buyers who are all too happy to embrace the blend of efficiency and neat packaging.
You only need look at the Qashqai and Juke - two consistent top sellers in the UK - to see that Nissan has benefited from the rapid surge in popularity. But it has left the venerable X-Trail a little lost at sea. An old school square peg in a decidedly more curvaceous world.
New X-Trail: a seven-seat SUV from the ground up
The X-Trail wasn’t exactly on a life support machine, but Nissan had to breathe new life into the old timer. Its approach? Remove the seven-seat option offered by the old Qashqai 2+2 and design the all-new X-Trail as a seven-seat SUV from the ground up.
Not for the Nissan X-Trail the ignominy and shame of wearing the crossover label. The X-Trail laughs in the face of the crossover. This is an SUV which Nissan hopes will take the fight to the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. And win.
The new Nissan X-Trail looks, to all intents and purposes, like a larger Qashqai. In actual fact, it arguably wears Nissan’s signature look better than its smaller sibling.
Whether this is a good thing remains to be seen. From chatting to a Nissan spokesperson at a mid-launch BBQ, we discovered some internal concerns that buyers might find it hard distinguishing between the two models, perhaps simply viewing the X-Trail as a larger Qashqai with two extra seats.
To do so would be to miss the point of the X-Trail. Nissan wants us to see it as rugged SUV for outdoor types who can’t bear the thought of driving an MPV. And fair play to Nissan, because as far as PetrolBlog is concerned, an SUV is always going to be preferable to an MPV.
New X-Trail: 57.6mpg and just 129g/km CO2
And it’s not as though the modern SUV presents any significant sacrifices over a standard car. Thanks to the X-Trail’s 1.6-litre 130 dCi diesel engine, the SUV has the potential to return as much as 57.6mpg on a combined cycle, emitting just 129g/km CO2 in the process.
That’s quite remarkable, especially when you consider the original X-Trail would be hard pressed to achieve economy figures in the low 40s, with emissions around the 200g/km mark.
Yes, the good figures are for the two-wheel drive X-Trail, with the efficiency of the full fat off-roader dropping to 53.3mpg and 139g/km. But with two-wheel drive variants accounting for 40% of C-segment SUV sales, it’s hardly a red herring. And 50mpg+ from a four-wheel drive SUV isn't exactly disappointing.
On the inside, the new X-Trail can’t quite match the perceived quality of the new Qashqai, but it’s a marked improvement over the old one. Our first test car offered the complete bowls club meets mid-1990s Rover cream leather, dashboard and steering wheel combination, which seems at odds with the authentic offer of an SUV.
The more sombre black leather trim of our second car would make more sense in the real world and has the added benefit of not making you feel like you’ve aged at least 30 years.
Seven seats good, five seats better
Of course, the Nissan X-Trail's major trump card over the Qashqai crossover is the extra row of seats in the back, making it a conventional seven-seat SUV. Not that you're forced into having the additional seats, Nissan will also sell you a five-seat X-Trail.
And ironically - despite the X-Trail being designed as a seven-seat car - it's the five-seat X-Trail which makes the most sense. If you don't necessarily need more than five seats, save the £700 and take advantage of the 550 litres of boot space, multi-configurable boot layout and increased room in the back.
Talking of the back, this is the area where your passengers will thank you for going X-Trail and not Qashqai. There's noticeably more head-, knee- and leg-room in the back seats, with enough room for three adults. It's just a shame the flat-feeling seats offer little in the way of support, something you'll notice if the driver fails to recognise the SUV's rather old school dynamics - but more on this in a minute.
If you do opt for the full on - someone's been busy in the bedroom department - seven-seat X-Trail, you'll find that the third row of seats are fine for small children, but they're better suited for occasional use. Anyone other than professional contortionists will find it awkward accessing the rear seats and the high floor means that older children may find it uncomfortable. Tall adults should forget it, unless they enjoy sitting with their knees in front of their face.
Nissan is launching the new X-Trail with a single engine - a 1.6-litre diesel. As a result, its dealers are going to have a battle on their hands convincing would-be passengers that it has what it takes to offer genuine SUV credentials. As it is, the 130hp unit will accelerate to 62mph in 10.5 seconds in the two-wheel drive version, dropping to 11 seconds for the 4x4.
The diesel engine sounds clattery at idle and rather coarse under acceleration. It also tends to struggle at first, but becomes smoother through the revs, with peak power arriving at 4,000rpm. At motorway speeds and in top gear, it settles down nicely, leaving only wind noise in the cabin.
Old school 4x4 SUV dynamics
It's not a car that likes to be hurried, something that becomes all too evident when you reach the corners. Throw the X-Trail into a bend in the way you would, say a Qashqai, and the horribly vague steering, lack of front seat support and fair amount of body roll come to the fore. It's best to remember this is an old school SUV.
That said, the four-wheel drive X-Trail did tend to perform better on some typically twisty Portuguese coast roads, with more grip and an altogether more pleasant ride. And the light steering makes it very easy to manoeuvre in town and when parking. Nissan also laid on an off-road course, which offered terrain typical of that you'd find on the entrance road to a New Forest car park.
It performed well enough, with the comfortable ride and good visibility being the most notable qualities, but you only need know that a 3 Series Touring and Polo were sharing the same road as us to understand that it wasn't the greatest challenge in the world.
Not that it matters, as we suspect most X-Trail owners won't venture too far off the beaten track, meaning the 210mm ground clearance is probably enough. So - based on the improved road manners and little trade-off in terms of economy - we'd recommend the 4x4 X-Trail over the two-wheel drive version.
New Nissan X-Trail prices start from £22,995
Just bear in mind that ticking the four-wheel drive box adds £1,700 to the cost of a new X-Trail, in a range that starts from £22,995. For this price, the Visia trim offers a generous level of standard spec, including 17-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, tyre pressure monitor system, 5-inch TFT display, cruise control, Bluetooth, air conditioning, hill start assist and - mercifully - a full-size spare wheel.
In keeping with the previous generation X-Trail, Nissan expects just over 40% of buyers to choose the top-spec Tekna trim, which includes such luxuries as LED headlights, heated leather seats, auto parking and a host of safety features. Tekna prices start from £29,295.
For £1,350, you can equip your two-wheel drive Nissan X-Trail with the optional XTronic CVT transmission. We didn't get a chance to test it, so we can't recommend it.
In summary, the new Nissan X-Trail feels like a thoroughly modern interpretation of the classic 4x4 SUV recipe. There's more than a hint of old school charm about the car, with the soft ride, commanding driving position, generous level of kit, good looks and interior packaging being the stand-out qualities.
If you're looking for a proper seven-seater, you're going to be better off choosing an MPV. But if you fancy a Qashqai with a little more space and without the crossover label, the new X-Trail is worth a look.
Exterior images © PetrolBlog.