The Nissan X-Trail is one of those SUVs that seems to have been around forever. It’s one of the vanguard of road-focused but off-road capable family vehicles that arose in the early 2000s and has been plugging away ever since.
Over the years, it has grown and evolved from a boxy five-seater to a slippery seven-seater but its fundamental purpose has never changed - offering practical and rugged transport for active families.
Now, as the motor industry faces a radical shift towards electrification, Nissan has to find a way to keep its large and traditionally diesel-powered SUV relevant without alienating its traditional customers. To do that, this fourth generation X-Trail blends a modern petrol engine with a return to more rugged styling as it looks to compete with the Skoda Kodiaq, Peugeot 5008 and Land Rover Discovery Sport as well as the larger Kia Sorento, Toyota Highlander and Hyundai Santa Fe.
Externally, Nissan has tried to make a clearer distinction between the “crossover” Qashqai and SUV X-Trail. The last generation X-Trail looked a lot like a scaled-up Qashqai but the new one has a more robust design with a taller, more upright front end, more prominent squarer wheel arches and a deliberately boxier rear design for a more rugged road presence.
Interior and practicality
The interior is also, apparently, almost entirely different from the Qashqai’s but you wouldn’t know to look at it. Design, layout and even materials are very similar across both models, which isn’t a problem. It’s a marked step up over the dull and sometimes cheap feeling black plastics of the third-gen. There’s still a lot of black but it’s lifted by sharp metallic highlights and an appealing grain within the material. Higher-end cars’ interiors are also helped by the optional tan leather. It’s not expected to be a big seller in the UK, which is a shame as it’s a brighter, more eye-catching option than the regulation black leather. Tekna+ cars get the added appeal of a perforated, diamond-stitched finish to the upholstery - sewn with literally laser-guided accuracy, no less.
The instruments and infotainment screens are elements which are shared with the Qashqai. N-Connecta-spec and upwards get a crisp and quick 12.3-inch screen for media and navigation functions while there’s a (faintly) configurable 12.3-inch digital instrument display. Above that a big bright head-up display carries key data such as speed and road sign information. That setup is part of a pragmatic approach that means key information and controls are the most accessible, so there’s a proper array of physical buttons and controls for the three-zone climate control while media functions are all managed via the touchscreen and steering wheel controls.
At the launch of the X-Trail Nissan bosses rightly pointed out that the MPV market is dead and drivers looking for seven-seat options are turning to SUVs. That doesn’t mean the X-Trail is a direct replacement for a true seven-seater. While it can be specified with a third row of seats they are very much designed for occasional short-distance use. Nissan says anyone up to 1.6m tall will fit in the rear row but that requires the second row of seats to be slid forwards (by up to 22cm) to create some space for legs and feet. With the rear bench in its furthest back position there’s generous legroom for adults but shoulder room is still at a premium.
Like its predecessor, the X-Trail’s rear doors open to nearly 90 degrees - handy for getting small people in and out - and the third row of seats folds flat into the floor with the easy tug of a fabric strap, creating a completely flat load area that will take up to 585 litres of luggage. That’s 20 litres more than the third-gen despite the electrified drivetrain.
Engine and driving
That electrified drivetrain is perhaps the most significant change between this new X-Trail and the previous generation. In place of the two diesel and one petrol options there are now just two petrol choices. A mild hybrid 1.5-litre with 161bhp and two-wheel-drive is the entry point, above which sits the e-Power full hybrid, which first appeared in the Qashqai and is available with two-wheel-drive or e-4ORCE four-wheel-drive.
Unlike other full hybrids, Nissan’s e-Power setup uses its 1.5-litre engine purely as a generator to charge its batteries and power the electric motors which drive the wheels. In two-wheel-drive X-Trails that involves a single 201bhp motor at the front wheels, while all-wheel-drive versions get an additional rear motor, taking total output to 211bhp.
Nissan is pitching the e-Power setup as a stepping stone towards fully electric vehicles. Its argument is that with the wheels always driven by electricity, you get the instant and smooth response of an EV, augmented by the range of a regular hybrid. In practice it’s a mixed bag. Initial acceleration is immediate and smooth - just like an EV - and you can cruise around at part throttle in relative serenity. But under heavy acceleration or faced with a long steady climb, for instance, the petrol generator starts to make a noise like an overworked washing machine and performance feels much like any other hybrid.
Put up with the noise and the X-Trail’s performance is reasonably lively, with 0-62mph taking around seven seconds, but this new hybrid can’t match the old diesel for towing capacity (1.8 tonnes v two tonnes). Nor can it do much to better its economy - we saw efficiency in the low-40s during our time in the Slovenian mountains.
Nissan is keen to emphasise the effects of the e-4ORCE system on the car’s on- and off-road behaviour. The twin electric motors allow for smarter power delivery and torque vectoring to aid cornering control as well as reducing pitching under hard braking. It’s not genre-smashing performance and the X-Trail still feels like a largish SUV but it feels like a stable and controlled one in most conditions and has more off-road ability that most users will ever require.
Treat it calmly and maintain a light right foot and it rewards with a calm and quiet driving experience enhanced by a comfort-oriented ride that made light work of some nasty gravel tracks and significant potholes on our test route.
Price and specifications
The X-Trail’s model line-up is fairly simple, with four trims running from £32,030 to £42,520. The starting price will get you a Visia which only comes as a mild hybrid five-seater. Above that sit three increasingly well equipped trim levels all of which can be specified with e-Power (£2,435 extra), e-4ORCE (£2,200) and seven seats (£1,000). Basic equipment includes 18-inch alloys, keyless start, manual air condition, and cruise control while further up the range you’ll find wireless smartphone mirroring and charging, three-zone climate control, heated seats, a panoramic roof and hands-free powered tailgate and the ProPilot assisted driving system.
The launch of any new car is always accompanied by plenty of hyperbole about its significance, how radically different it is and how far it moves the game on. But the talk around the X-Trail is also about how it delivers what existing owners value, and it’s that continuity that stands out.
While it’s definitely a step forward in design, engine technology and quality, it is not a radical departure from what came before, offering the same flexible, comfortable and capable family transport. The benefits of the e-Power drivetrain are debatable and it’s no replacement for a true seven-seat MPV but in other ways it continues to deliver as a practical family machine.
Nissan X-Trail Tekna+ e-Power e-4ORCE
Price: £48,155; Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol powering 120kW front and 100KW rear electric motors; Power: 211bhp; Torque: N/A; Transmission: CVT, four-wheel-drive; Top speed: 111mph; 0-62mph: 7.2 seconds; Economy: 43.1-43.8mpg; CO2 emissions: 146-148mpg