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Eco SUVs slug it out

With the South African car market being in slow-puncture mode for the past 18 months, the once-popular SUV has become for many a transport solution they can no longer entertain.

Increased petrol prices, high cost of ownership and a proliferation of model alternatives, such as MPVs and crossovers, have moved consumers to different markets or away from SUVs all together.

Two SUV models that have weathered the economic and environmental storm better than most of late, however, are the perennial Nissan X-Trail and Honda CR-V.

Statistics show that although the medium to large SUV segment has dropped by nearly 90% in some cases, since 2006 the X-Trail and CR-V sales have slowed only closer to 30% year on year. It appears then that for all the ills confronting the large and medium SUVs, both the X-Trail and CR-V appear to be the antidote.

The X-Trail can claim to have the better sales record of the two, as the small SUV sales leader for four consecutive years. But the CR-V is hot on its heels; 2 310 units were sold last year — only 30 less than the X-Trail’s 2 340.

Now each has launched diesel derivatives and on paper it’s almost too close to call. So we put them to the test.

The X-Trail sports the most overt off-road styling of the two. Nissan admits it wanted as masculine an SUV as possible. Depending on one’s stance on the environment and SUVs in general, that may or may not be a good thing. A dominant front grille, high-ground clearance and its hyper roof rails allow the X-Trail to achieve that.

The CR-V in comparison is far more subdued about its SUV status, displaying more refined and sleeker lines across the bonnet and over the A and C pillars.

One might argue more design went into the CR-V’s styling than the X-Trail. The CR-V, with its sleeker disposition and more car-like attitude, shouts less about its size, when it is in fact still a large car if you give it a second take — a fact born out of a morning at the automated car wash with both vehicles, in which the technician, being rather underwhelmed by the CR-V’s size, set the machine for a normal car, only to have to adjust it as I pulled up.

Interior spaciousness undoubtedly goes to the X-Trail. Being the taller and longer car of the two, its cabin has an uncluttered feel and doesn’t suffer from the loss of space the slight taper in the CR-V’s C pillar forms.

The CR-V has a far more cossetting interior that surrounds the driver and lends itself to almost a conventional sedan feel. Driver and passenger arm rests and more cushioning chairs make it more comfortable as well.

That said, I feel the X-Trail has the CR-V beat in the quality of its plastics and switch gear. This goes against conventional wisdom about Honda interiors, but there is something truly satisfying and rewarding about maneuvering and mastering the X-Trail’s switch gear that I just didn’t get in the CR-V.

X-Trail also pips the CR-V in load capacity both with the seats up or folded down.

Where this is normally the deciding factor in shoot-outs, in the case of diesel SUVs one should remember their great benefit to owners comes in their fuel economy and tank range. As you can see, both are evenly matched in the power and torque departments. The X-Trail’s 2,0-litre dci engine develops 110kW at 4 000rpm and 320Nm at 2 000rpm — while the CR-V’s 2,2-litre i-CTDi pushes out 103kW at 4 000rpm and 340Nm at 2 000rpm.

This is why we wanted to “hyper-mile” test them to see how far they can each stretch out a full tank of diesel. The CR-V’s claimed combined consumption figure is 6,5-litres/100km, but when we “hyper-mile” tested it, in admittedly not brilliant Western Cape winds and weather, we returned 5,4-litre/100km on a 1 000km range. That’s a pretty impressive figure.

The X-Trail’s claimed combined consumption figure is 6,9-litres/100km and testing in identical winds and weather, the X-Trail returned the same figure of 5,4-litres/100km on range over 1 000km. Considering that the X-Trail only had 2 000km on the clock and was therefore not as well run in as our CR-V test vehicle, it’s perhaps a figure more impressive in the X-Trail. Although both diesel engines performed perfectly adequately on the open road and in and around city traffic, it was the X-Trail that felt slightly sportier and at an idle, surprisingly, a bit quieter as well.

The more secure stability and road-holding of the CR-V, undoubtedly attributable to its lower centre of gravity and its more aerodynamic stance, is obvious. The X-Trail, with its more slab-like design and taller stance, felt less secure and rolled more, albeit on a solid base of grip. Both claim to be four-wheel drive, but in the CR-V Honda refers to it as “Real Time 4WD” and it’s a system that, though normally two-wheel drive, will activate if it senses any slippage.

The X-Trail, in the SE model, comes with an all-mode 4×4 system. This requires the driver to operate a centre console switch. With the X-Trail in two-wheel mode, it feels less stable than the CR-V.

Your decision on styling will be purely subjective, but what we’ve proved is that the X-Trail is the bigger car with more practicality and off-road capability, while the CR-V has a more car-like attitude on road. We’d hoped the “hyper-mile” economy run would be a good way to separate the two, but both performed brilliantly in that as well.

In a shoot-out as close as this one it appears one can separate them by only one last factor — the price. The Honda CR-V i-CTDI 2,2-litre manual costs R352 900 and the Nissan X-Trail dci 2,0-litre SE manual costs R343 990.

Fast facts
Nissan X-Trail dci 2,0-litre SE manual
Price: R343 900
Engine: 2,0-litre turbo diesel
Power: 110kW at 4 000rpm
Torque: 330Nm at 2 000rpm
0-100kph: 10,2 sec
Top Speed: 190kph
Emissions: 187 g/km
Consumption: 6,9-litres/100km (combined/claimed)
Transmission: six speed manual
Drive: All mode 4×4
Driver aids: ABS, EBD, ESP
Euro NCAP: four stars
Airbags: driver, passenger, side and curtain
Security: alarm system, central locking

Honda CR-V i-CTDi 2,2-litre manual
Price: R352 900
Engine: 2,2-litre turbo diesel
Power: 103kW at 4 000rpm
Torque: 340Nm at 2 000rpm
0-100kph: 10,6 sec
Top Speed: 186kph
Emissions: 183 g/km
Consumption: 6,5-litres/100km (combined/claimed)
Transmission: six-speed manual
Drive: Real Time 4×4
Driver aids: ABS, EBD, ESP
Euro NCAP: four stars
Airbags: driver, passenger, side and curtain
Security: alarm system, central locking

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