/ 31 March 2024

Nissan X-Trail: More of a marathon than a sprint

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In the family way: The seven-seater Nissan X-Trail has plenty of room inside, as well as a sizable boot, and is a comfortable drive.

Once is a coincidence, twice is a pattern. What am I on about? When Nissan launched its latest Qashqai, it proved to be a considerable departure from its predecessor. 

It is, simply put, a phenomenal product. Expecting the same lofty result for the new X-Trail, the third-gen of which was nothing to write home about, might be unrealistic. 

Take a moment to consider that the company that squashed the local love affair with the GT-R isn’t bringing its 400Z here anytime in the foreseeable future and its biggest ambitions for speed within its local lineup extends to the Patrol V8. 

Begrudging commentary directed towards the GT-R aside (because I’ve never driven one), the X-Trail’s biggest performance ambition is the chequered-flag toggle on the centre tunnel, which is supposed to sports things up. It doesn’t. 

But that’s not what the X-Trail is all about. Instead, it’s geared towards a lifestyle of white picket fences — or gated security complexes in the South African context — and school runs, with Nissan even calling it a “family icon”.

If that’s where your buying priorities lie, and the word “practicality” piques your interest, you’ll be pleased to know that the X-Trail features seven seats with a boot space that’s rated at 485 litres, with all seven seats up, while the usable space extends to 651 litres with the third row down. That equates to a sizable boot — you can take my word for it. Not exactly surprising from a family icon. 

How about the fit, finish and look of the X-Trail’s cabin? 

Well, the Acenta Plus proved to be a pleasant surprise, with a solid build quality that also happens to be aesthetically pleasing. 

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It’s a rare combination of factors these days, with carmakers increasingly fitting clumps of hard, unsightly plastic in interiors and then marketing them as “family-proof cabin spaces”. 

Not Nissan, and considering the R810 900 asking price, it feels relatively premium. This price tag also buys a large layer of digitisation with a 12.3-inch instrument and driving information display and a similar size infotainment screen. 

The infotainment system is exceptionally easy to operate and comes with all the bells and whistles you’d expect, such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. 

It also serves as the output feed for the top-down and reverse cameras. 

To reduce clutter, Nissan has restricted the button configurations to only the most frequently used features, such as requesting a camera overlay, skipping or replaying music, drive modes, volume adjustment and the (familiar) climate interface. 

Given Nissan’s reputation for speed, you’d expect some get-up-and-go — besides the toggle that promises pep, that is. Don’t. 

The X-Trail went to the manners academy and, as such, it offers a polished driving experience, if a bit drab and uninspired on the powertrain front. 

It’s powered by the familiar 2.5‑litre naturally aspirated engine, which does duty in other models within the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, paired with an unimaginative CVT gearbox. 

The unit has been tinkered with to produce 135kW and 244Nm of torque, an over-the-board increase of 9kW and 11Nm over its predecessor. 

For the price, which happens to be an interest hike short of a bar when financing, you’d expect Nissan to go the route of turbocharging (it works wonders with the Qashqai’s CVT) or even adopting mild-hybrid systems similar to some EU-spec models. 

The torque, sadly, is too sparse for this relatively large SUV and the gearbox heaves as it tries to make meaningful forward progress. 

Did I mention that it’s an exceptionally comfortable cruiser when the going is easy?

In closing, Nissan managed to elevate its smaller Qashqai to a level where I’m comfortable calling it class-leading adjacent. I am not sure I can say the same of the X-Trail, especially as far as the drivetrain is concerned. It raises questions as to its competence with seven passengers in tow — I only managed to borrow three to be test subjects. 

The styling and overall fit, assembly, quality of workmanship and ergonomics within the cabin get two thumbs up from me, even if the third row of seats can only comfortably fit short-legged passengers. 

I can’t get over the fact that this new generation of X-Trail is more déjà vu than brand-new chapter. 

Still, despite its shortcomings, Nissan’s family icon remains a solid choice for those looking to take the whole family with them, even if it’s more of a leisurely drive than, say, a sprint to the chequered flag.