The early 00’s was an unusual time for the buyers of small SUV’s (or crossovers as we tend to call them now); although a number of more traditional ladder-based vehicles remained on sale, there were also a new breed emerging which were based on car platforms. Probably the best known of these was Toyota’s RAV4, but Japanese rival Honda launched their CR-V the year after and has gone on to have arguably more success on both sides of the Atlantic.
By 2001 both the RAV4 and the CR-V were entering their second generations, yet it was only at this stage when the third largest Japanese auto company entered the fray and Nissan launched their first generation of X-Trail to a captive audience of young families, outdoors-y types and caravaners. The first X-Trail was actually pretty successful despite it’s rivals being more established; it handled better than the Honda, was more practical than the Toyota and was several leagues more reliable than Land Rover’s Freelander, so despite a few quirky details (central mounted speedo and oddly textured seats) it remained a well regarded option up until it was replaced in 2007 by a second generation.
Maybe because of this fondness with which buyers regarded the first X-Trail, Nissan saw fit to keep aesthetic changes on it’s new model to a minimum. The boxy exterior of the original was stretched slightly, but apart from this longer wheelbase and tweaked head/taillights most buyers probably wouldn’t have noticed the difference. Inside the changes were noticeable, with a larger boot and much more conventional layout/choice of materials. But even though the X-Trail managed to sell steadily over the subsequent 7 years many buyers had their eyes drawn by the more modern and nearly as practical Qashqai and it’s 7 seat ‘+2’ variant, so it seemed to some that the X-Trail may not be replaced.
However Nissan decided that given the popularity of old rivals like the RAV4 and CRV, the X-Trail should be replaced with a thoroughly up-to-date model, this time paired with the North American Rogue in order to save the development of two seperate models. The new car shares much of it’s underpinnings with the similarly all-new Qashqai and indeed a lot of that car’s looks too; a sleek front end with LED running lights pulled over a body that’s higher than the smaller car’s gives the X-Trail an attractive if non-daring look…the rear is a little bland but again it’s safe and no more plain than rival vehicles.
Inside the new X-Trail and again much inspiration has been drawn from the Qashqai; an attractive fascia covered in piano black trim offers a standard LCD screen and a good range of features like climate control and Bluetooth even in the base car. Higher up trim levels gain a larger 7″ screen and enough cameras to shame a Hollywood studio which give a surround-view of the car for parking; leather also comes up for customers willing to shell out a little more money, as does the option of 7 seats – although these are nearly as small as the tiny pews which could be had in the now-discontinued Qashqai+2. Boot space is also not too impressive, actually being less than the aforementioned +2 and of course the previous generation X-Trail, but it remains competitive for the class.
On the road the X-Trail is likely to handle about as well as you’d expect from a vehicle in this class; the Qashqai’s platform ensures some degree of maneuverability and so most drivers will be perfectly happy that it drives as predictably and comfortably as you’d expect. When the original X-Trail was launched it could be had with the choice of 2 petrol engines and 1 diesel – the base 2.0i petrol could only be had in lowest trim 2WD guise and despite slight improvements in fuel economy it never really caught on. It seems surprising then that Nissan expects most models sold in the UK will only have 2WD, which is now available in all trim levels. What also surprises is that the only available engine in Europe is a 130bhp 1.6 diesel…the fact it drinks from the black pump is expected but Nissan 1.6 4-cylinder is significantly down on power when compared to most rivals – in fact even the original X Trail had a 136bhp diesel and the previous Qashqai could be specced with a 150bhp 2.0L diesel. Maybe Nissan will eventually release an engine choice for those craving a little more overtaking gusto, only time will tell, but in the US the car gets a 2.5 4-cylinder petrol with 170bhp…and even that is described as behind the pack.
When the X-Trail launched earlier this year I was not convinced that it would be a success thanks to it’s similarity to the cheaper Qashqai and lack of power. However, whilst I have not seen vast numbers as of yet, it does seem that the attractive new look of the car and need for a little more space have resulted in another crossover hit for Nissan. It seems that with the medium crossover market seemingly splitting into two, Nissan’s strategy of straddling the line between larger 7-seat options like the Hyundai Santa Fe and smaller 5-seat ones like the Ford Kuga may have paid off!