|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
One often neglected choice is the Nissan X-Trail—a compact crossover lost (and almost forgotten) in the vast sea of potential choices. And that’s a real shame since the X-Trail is actually worth a look, if you’re willing to dig deeper than its boxy, derivative, almost ho-hum exterior would suggest. In fact, it’s the compact crossover that could.
At first glance, you’ll probably dismiss the X-Trail as “nothing special”. All the design elements from the boxy body, squared-off fenders, and even shape of the lights seem to suggest that the new X-Trail is a mere facelift of the first-generation model. This is far from the truth since the new X-Trail is all new. Granted the X-Trail still rides on the first-generation’s platform (albeit modified), the new model’s shell is completely new. Nissan designers say they didn’t want to alienate would-be buyers by radically changing the exterior, but at the very least they could have injected more 370Z or GT-R DNA into it. That would have made the X-Trail a killer crossover. As it stands though, the X-Trail is merely “okay”, containing all the prerequisites expected of its class from roof rails to 17-inch alloys to HID headlights. It must be said that the 4WD model does have the Hyper Roof Rail light bar, pioneered by the first-generation model, as standard equipment.
As derivative as it is on the outside, the X-Trail at least gets a much needed boost when it comes to the interior. Where the first-generation model was plasticky and cheap, this model nicely tiptoes the fine line between luxury and practicality. As expected from a top-of-the-line model, the 4WD’s interior is lined with leather (perforated no less) on the seats, steering wheel, and even door trims. The black cowhide is complimented by the two-tone black and gray cabin creating an airy, but equally serious atmosphere. The dashboard is still finished in hard plastic, but the consistent textures, panel gaps, and play of colors does make it an appealing place to be in. There’s a nice assortment of cubby holes and storage spaces in the X-Trail capped off by one of the largest, deepest loading bays in its class. The luggage space, though scratch-prone, is water proof and has a drawer for transporting filthy stuff like gym shoes. Additionally, if need even more space, the rear seats can be folded in a 40/20/40 split. Amazing stuff.
Ergonomically, the X-Trail holds its ground with legible gauges, clearly-marked rotary controls, and chunky buttons on both the dash and steering wheel. Even the seats are well-bolstered, supportive, and offer electronic adjustment for both driver and passenger. Unfortunately, the X-Trail does lack telescopic adjustment for its steering wheel meaning some drivers will find themselves sitting a tad too close for optimal comfort. Even more painful in the X-Trail is the integrated audio system (as tested) as it lacks even a basic auxiliary audio jack. Thankfully, newer models now have a proper multi-media system with GPS navigation and even a rear back-up camera.
The luxurious execution of the X-Trail’s interior provides a good taste of what’s in store in the driving department: this isn’t a sporty crossover nor does it pretend to be. The X-Trail drives much like a larger vehicle—it’s less agile, but more comfortable. And all the on-board systems from the steering, suspension and even drivetrain all seem to be geared towards that fact. The electric power steering is light and vague (especially in 2WD mode) but maintains good body control and ease of parking. The MacPherson Strut/Multi-Link suspension set-up absorbs bumps and road ruts quite well and offers a safe enough road holding, at the expense of noticeable roll when cornering. Even the engine, a 170 horsepower/ 230 Nm 2.5-liter unit would have been the perfect recipe for hooliganism only be to tempered with a smooth, silky, and fuel-economy-oriented continuously variable transmission. The X-Trail won’t win any award for quickest acceleration times, but it does return a very comfortable, shift shock-free driving experience as well as superb fuel economy: 8.63 km/L in pure city driving and 10.70 km/L in mixed city/highway use.
At P 1,550,000, the X-Trail is positioned on the higher-end of the compact crossover segment. And at that price, it’s facing stiff competition not just from its segment rivals but from those considering a 7-seater SUV as well. Blame the lackluster exterior design for the X-Trail’s lukewarm market reception, but dig deeper and you’ll discover a comfortable, roomy, and capable crossover. The X-Trail rarely appears on a buyer’s shortlist of choices, but it still deserves a look.