Nissan’s new X-Trail is still a premium SUV with lots of appeal

Brian Joss – A few years ago I did a long-distance round trip on Route 62 from Milnerton to Addo National Park in the second generation Nissan X-Trail and the crossover SUV was well suited to the journey.

It sailed through the scenic Meiringspoort, it took the bumpy road to the Addo in its stride and was comfortable in the Port Elizabeth traffic and it was a happy cruiser on the open road.

There’s an old saying if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Which means if something is functioning adequately don’t change it. An American, Bert Lance, is credited with the phrase which he used in the 1900s when he said he can save “Uncle Sam” billions if he could get the US government to adopt a simple motto: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. “That’s the trouble with government, fixing things that aren’t broken and not fixing things that are broken,” he is reported to have said. 

Sometimes you can use the slogan for the motor industry as well. I can think of some cars that were changed for the sake of change but weren’t an improvement on the older model.

But not so with the new Nissan X-Trail 1.6dCi 4×4 Tekna which was launched recently. I had one to tool around in and the third generation crossover is a much better car in all respects, from the new technology to the handling.

It remains a premium product and hasn’t lost its family appeal. But I think the infotainment centre could do with a bit of tweaking to make it look more modern.

Gone is the square, chunky look which has made way for a nicely rounded bum. It also seems to have grown some, it’s bigger and more spacious too. The Nissan grille is planted firmly in the centre of the new face and the alloy wheels have been redesigned. Other outward changes include integrated fog lamps in front and LED boomerang lights at the rear.

The latest edition of the X-Trail has a lot to live up to and the Tekna which was fitted with a six-speed manual transmission will fill its predecessor’s big takkies easily. There was a small niggle with the gearbox: the clutch has a stutter action, especially at low speeds. I stalled it a few times in snail-spaced traffic which was a bit embarrassing. But I soon got used to its eccentricity. It probably has a lot to do with the way the turbocharged engine operates.

One rainy day, yes, it does rain in Cape Town, we headed out to the Alpaca Farm on the way to Wellington. Trying to get the X-Trail over a gradient which was still slippery from the downpour, it stalled a few time, so I changed from two-wheel drive which is the normal driving condition to Auto mode and it solved the problem. Just like that.

The Tekna features Nissan’s intelligent 4×4 system that uses torque vectoring to manage the loss of traction. Confession time: I tried four times before I switched to Auto that sends power to the rear wheels. I’d also forgotten about the electronic brake which comes on automatically when you stop. Red face all round. In my opinion, Nissan would do better to offer only its tried and tested CVT instead of a manual option. Despite the niggle with the clutch, the six-speed gearbox is smooth and though you need to stir the pot a bit it doesn’t detract from the driving experience.

Inside, all controls are close at hand and you can also operate the aircon, audio and cruise control via the steering wheel. A nice touch is the cooled cup-holders.

The seats are comfortable with lots of support. The dashboard and facia have been designed to be practical. The plastic finishes and trim also have a quality feel.

The seats are leather and the steering wheel and the gear lever are wrapped in the same material.

There is plenty of leg room for rear seat passengers but some boot space has been sacrificed. In the five seater it expands from 500 litres to 1450 litres. But it is still large enough to take holiday luggage or shopping.

Loading is easy and the back doors open wide for easy access. The electric tailgate is a boon if you have your hands full.

There is minimal cabin noise and there were no unexplained rattles even over some corrugated roads. The engine was also so quiet that at times I almost forgot it was a diesel.

Speaking of which the 1.6 turbo charged diesel packs a solid punch and although not the fastest in this segment of the market it doesn’t feel underpowered and easily keeps up with fast-moving traffic. It puts out 96kW and 320Nm of torque at 1750 rpm. Sometimes small can be bigger. The Mazda 2.2 (tested), as an example, delivers 129kW and 420Nm of torque. The fuel consumption of the X-Trail is excellent and in a town and country cycle I recorded figures of just under 6 litres/100km. Expect the figure to increase to 7 litres/100km if you plan on doing a lot of driving in city streets.

Safety features include blind spot intervention; cross traffic alert; emergency braking which uses radar technology to keep an eye on your speed and proximity to the vehicle in front of you, and will alert the driver before engaging the brakes, as part of the Techno pack which costs extra.

There is also an around view monitor to help make parking easier. Although the picture quality was adequate I thought it could do with a bit of sharpening up. The rear-view camera is a useful feature and it is fast becoming a nice-to-have in many cars. All variants have six airbags, three-point seat belts, ABS with EBD and and hill start assist, and Isofix child seat anchors.

I enjoyed driving the X-Trail. It handled everything in its stride with aplomb: mountain passes, motorway driving, slow-and-fast moving traffic and open road cruising. The X-Trail was always firmly planted on the tarmac and ride was comfortable. It’s versatile enough to be used as your daily transport or going on holiday. If you’re planning to pitch a tent off the beaten track, have no fear the X-Trail will get you get there, even if the rough stuff is rougher than usual. And if you can’t bear to leave Kitty or Rover at home, Nissan has developed a range of pet-friendly accessories to keep them in comfort on the journey. 

The Nissan X-Trail comes with a 6-year/150 000km warranty, a 3-year/90 000km service plan and 24-hour roadside assist. Service intervals are at 15 000km. 

The 1.6 DCi Tekna 4WD carries a price tag of R 457 900. Check with your dealer.

CAPTION: The Nissan X-Trail: new look, new technoology. Picture: Motorpress

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