During the beginning of the 21st century, the SUV rose to prominence in the automotive industry internationally. SUVs used to be big and heavy vehicles and out of reach for most consumers, but many automakers found ways to bring SUVs more affordable while retaining the appeal of an SUV. Nissan’s contender for the midsize market was the X-Trail which debuted in 2001. With the Xterra and Patrol as well as the Pathfinder, Nissan was famed for its lineup featuring off road worthy SUVs, and the X-Trail was no exception. The appeal of the X-Trail was that it did not sacrifice its ruggedness for more car-like characteristics like the Honda CR-V and Toyota Rav4 did. Nissan targeted the X-Trail towards an outdoorsy audience. Based off a platform shared with the Nissan Almera and Primera family sedans, the first generation of the X-Trail achieved success in Japan and Europe due to its combination of reliability and affordability as well as its go-anywhere ability. In just six years, Nissan sold almost a million X-Trails worldwide. A second generation followed in 2007, and the X-Trail refined its virtues while remaining similar to the first. It was redesigned in 2014, and it follows the trend of carlike SUVs. It is the same as the Rogue we get in the States. Having the opportunity to visit Australia, I had to find out what the X-Trail was all about, and whether we Americans missed out.
Styling wise, the X-Trail is not going to win any styling awards. This second generation Nissan X-Trail carries over the first generation’s styling, but in contrast to the first’s smooth and organic design, it is abrupt and chiseled. The front features blocky headlights and a protruding bumper. The grille is plain, but it fits in nicely with the fascia. The side profile continues the macho theme with bulging fenders and an upright roofline. The character line that stems from the headlights to the tailights adds interest to the profile. The window line rises dramatically towards the rear. For some reason, I dislike this styling detail because it creates too much space between the tailights and the windows. The rear is simple with a splash of chrome on the liftgate and generic taillights. The interior is utilitarian in appearance, but it looks durable. Considering that curvaceous and swoopy styling is becoming the norm for most SUVs, the X-Trail’s simple design inside and out is refreshing.
As far as the driving experience goes, the X-Trail does not set any new benchmarks. To drive, it is pleasant, but not exciting. While precise and communicative, the steering feels too light for a car of this size. The light weight is ideal for parking, but at speed, it can feel disconcerting. On Australia’s curvy roads, the X-Trail generates quite a degree of body roll, even at slow speeds. Braking performance is decent, although the pedal feels mushy. The X-Trail rides well in most situations. The worst roads send quivers to the cabin, but most people will not notice it, and the soft suspension means that it subdues most road imperfections well. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to put the X-Trail’s off road ability to the test, but in Australia (and Europe), most people who buy the X-Trail usually live in the countryside and require an SUV to tackle the terrain.
In Australia, Nissan offers the X-Trail with three engine options, a 2.0 liter four cylinder, 2.5 liter four cylinder, and a 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder diesel. Equipped with the 2.0 liter four cylinder, 140 horsepower propels the X-Trail. That may not seem a lot considering America’s appetite for horsepower, but there is plenty of power for most situations. If you stomp the pedal, it doesn’t feel that quick, but the engine more than makes up for it with its flexibility. It never has trouble keeping up with traffic, and it feels reasonably strong at any revs. However, the optional CVT (Continously variable transmission) transmission blunts the four cylinder’s performance. It hangs on to revs too long, and it has that snappy response that CVTs are known for. The CVT sets the revs so low when stopped that it rolls back very easily on the slightest incline. Fortunately, a six speed manual is available on all three engines and it would be the transmission that I would choose.
Refinement is just merely adequate. It is noisy from all counts. You can hear the coarse pavement throughout the cabin, there’s a noticeable wind whoosh around the doors, and the tires roar throughout the cabin. The engine sounds raspy, and it builds up as the revs climb.
Although there are some cheap touches, the interior feels solidly constructed. The navigation system is a chore to use, as you have to use multiple steps just to get to a desired function., not to mention it is slow to respond. The AC controls are as easy as they can get, and the gauges are uncluttered. The navigation function is slow, and it stops working if you are under a bridge or in a tunnel. Visibility for the most part is decent, although it is hard to see over the front, and the view out the rear is obstructed by huge pillars. The cloth seats could use more support as some people might find them too firm. Headroom is plentiful, and access is easy. The steering lacks a decent range of tilt, so you are either to close to the steering or too far to see the gauges. The X-Trail is very narrow for an SUV, and this is reflected in the rear seat. The rear seat is tight, and I doubt that three people can sit comfortably, not to mention there is not that much legroom even with the front seats pushed forward. The cargo area is cavernous, and there are handy storage places underneath the cargo area.
Despite the X-Trail’s age and the fact that it has not really changed since it debuted in 2001, I liked this SUV. In an era where SUVs are sacrificing their toughness and ruggnedness in favor of softer styling and sportier dynamics, the X-Trail stands out. Nowadays, most SUVs need fancy gadgets or sharp styling to stand out, but they don’t really compete well in all around competence. However, this SUV does without calling attention to itself. For me, that adds to its appeal, because I can focus on the SUV itself and nothing else. Even though it is flawed, the X-Trail’s charm makes up for it. Having the experience to drive a 2014 Rogue (which is sold as the X-Trail internationally), it is nothing special, and the steering has no feel. The thing is, even though many people may find this to be ordinary, it is actually the opposite. It’s different.