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Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review

Nissan’s four-wheel drives have always been at the forefront of off-roading. Be it the Patrol, Navara or the Pathfinder, the Japanese company has a long and rich history of four-wheel driving success.

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the first vehicle to cross the Simpson desert. Want to have a guess as to what that was? Yep, a Nissan Patrol.

The hard-core off-roaders are either always in Patrols or LandCruisers, with the occasional Defender thrown in, but what about the majority of us ‘normal’ humans that want to indulge in some off-roading but not the seriously heavy stuff?

Nissan Australia believes there is a market of buyers out there who would like to do recreational four-wheel driving, but not necessarily the serious stuff. Unlike the hard-core drivers, a healthy number of new recreational four-wheel drivers are also female. To cater for both men and women in this emerging market, Nissan has the all-wheel drive X-Trail.

Nissan’s number one position in the compact SUV segment (with X-Trail and Dualis) is not clearly evident at first glance. Although competition from the Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4 has seen X-Trail fight hard to maintain momentum (currently second to Forester with 9.9 per cent market share), it’s well regarded in the industry as one of the best proper all-wheel drives in its segment (Suzuki Grand Vitara being the other contender).

Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review

To showcase what the X-Trail is all about, Nissan Australia brought us to Mount Hotham, famous for its many four-wheel drive tracks and beautiful scenery. Nissan hosts a yearly 10-day Beyond Mount Hotham four-wheel drive adventure, which attracted more than 100 people this year. The event is organised by Four Wheel Drive Victoria, a 35-year-old club that boasts 14,500 members.

Our plan was to cover as many of Mount Hotham’s spectacular tracks as possible in one day. For the majority of the time we found ourselves in X-Trails crossing rivers, dirt tracks and climbing mountains. For the more serious stuff we enlisted the help of Nissan Pathfinders and Patrols.

Although the current-generation Nissan X-Trail has been around since 2008 and is not exactly the most attractive car in its segment, it’s the compact SUV’s great practicality, off-roading credentials and excellent powertrain combinations that have seen it remain the second best selling vehicle in its class this year.

As we began our drive through the twisty mountain roads surrounding Hotham, there was a quick sense of realisation why the X-Trail has been so successful. For a start, the interior’s design may be simple and lacking gadgets, but run your fingers along the dash and doors and you’ll feel the high quality soft-touch plastics used throughout. The seats are comfortable and the cabin is a relatively nice place to be, given the type of vehicle.

Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review

A simple dial will see you switch between 2WD, Auto and Lock. For the most part you can simply leave it in Auto and the X-Trail’s computer system can work out which end to place the power – which is exactly what we did for the duration of our drive.

Despite the four-wheel drive briefing we endured prior to the course, the X-Trail is a pretty easy vehicle to handle off-road. If you understand the basics (where to place the wheels, how to handle climbs and descents), Nissan’s compact off-roader will have no issues crossing rivers, climbing hills and bringing you to locations that simply require a stop for admiration.

The on-board computer system can work out which wheel needs power to help you get out of tricky situations and after crossing a series of rivers and speeding along mountainous roads, we can confirm it works rather well. The Nissan’s numerous active safety systems also keep the X-Trail in line when driving on loose surfaces. On a few occasions when our X-Trail began to lose a bit of traction, the stability control quickly took over and corrected our mistakes. It works beautifully on dirt roads as it’s not too intrusive (letting you have a little bit of fun) but comes in when you really need it.

The Nissan X-Trail is available in a few flavours, including 2WD or 4WD with a choice of petrol or diesel (manual or automatic). For those contemplating a bit of recreational off-roading, the 2.0-litre turbo diesel is a good choice, particularly when coupled with Nissan’s excellent six-speed automatic. Apart from the Kia Sportage diesel (which is nowhere near as versatile off-road but provides a great diesel engine and gearbox combination), it’s hard to find a package that can match the X-Trail’s off-road ability, diesel powerplant and six-speed automatic.

Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review

The 2.0-litre diesel is good for 127kW and 360Nm of torque (110kW and 320Nm for automatic) and , which will see it sip about 7.4L of diesel per 100km (7.2L/100km if you go for a manual). If you do want to do a bit of off-roading, don’t be fooled into thinking manual transmissions are the way to go – even if it does offer a little bit more oomph. The old-school mentality of ‘real four-wheel drives are manual’ is no longer true. An automatic transmission will make even the hardest four-wheel drive task significantly easier, regardless of how good you are. In the case of the X-Trail, the six-speed automatic coupled with a diesel is a godsend in this category.

It’s hard to fathom the sort of tracks an X-Trail couldn’t cross, but they exist. For that purpose we were put in Pathfinders and Patrols. We climbed and descended a series of heavy-duty tracks that required patience and a thorough understanding of where to place the car.

The Patrol and Pathfinder have a sort of ‘go-anywhere’ attitude to them and although having a great deal of four-wheel driving skill is handy, some drivers on our journey were first-time off-roaders and had no issue crossing some of the toughest courses on offer, thanks largely to mentoring on offer from our four-wheel drive experts and of course, the vehicles themselves.

Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review

The Nissan Pathinder Ti550 is an interesting SUV. As with all Pathfinders it’s based on the Navara, which means it’s essentially a truck that has been turned into an SUV. As a result, it’s a little rougher around the edges than the X-Trail but does provide excellent off-roading ability.

The 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 is an absolute cracker of an engine, providing 170kW and an enormous 550Nm of torque. Best of all, it’s mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission (yes, seven) which ensures a smooth drive. How many other Japanese SUVs out there produce that much power and torque and employ a seven-speed auto? None.

Weighing 2170kg means it’s not as quick as the figures may have you think, but it does pull hard from low revs. We found the Pathfinder and Patrol capable of eating up pretty much anything we threw at it on the day.

The current Nissan Patrol has been around since 1997, which is a remarkable feat in today’s industry. Next year will see the introduction of the all-new Nissan Patrol but Nissan Australia will continue to sell the current model at the same time since the incoming Patrol will only be available with a whopping 5.6-litre petrol V8 and is unlikely to be available with a diesel any time soon.

The Nissan four-wheel drive day was a good eye opener as to how four-wheel driving doesn’t have to be about a bunch of over-enthusiastic guys trying to out-do each other. If you have a capable vehicle, recreational off-roading can be a rather fun activity for the whole family.

Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review
Nissan X-Trail & Pathfinder Off-road Review

Nissan’s X-Trail was still the highlight of the day, despite not being as capable as the Pathfinder or Patrol (mainly due to its ground clearance), the practicality, interior refinement and overall usefulness of the vehicle makes it the perfect daily SUV to take the kids to school in and a weekend warrior capable of conquering some tough terrain.

If you live in Melbourne, Mount Hotham is about 350km away while Sydney folks will have to make an adventure of it, with a good 750km drive to get there. There are many tracks on offer but some notable ones include

  • Davies Plain Drive
  • Wonnangatta Drive
  • Otways Drive
  • Snowy River Drive
  • Mallee Drive
  • Grampians Drive

Four Wheel Drive Victoria offers a whole variety of activities for first-timers and professionals alike, with a new emphasis on female-friendly courses (and before you think it’s a dumbed down version of the ‘real’ course, it’s exactly the same tracks as the standard ‘men’s’ course). If you happen to own a Nissan X-Trail (or something similar) or are planning on buying one, don’t write it off as just a city commuter before you give this a go. We couldn’t think of a better way to explore its potential than by driving through historic sites in beautiful country Victoria.

  • craig

    The auto diesel you recommend is only good for 110kw, not 127kw as written.

  • craig

    The auto diesel you recommend is only good for 110kw, not 127kw as written. I think it also gets less torque from memory.The 127kw is for the manual.

  • Grr

    Having personal experience with the pathy on offroad situations (work), there is no way in hell i’d take the pathy on a serious 4×4 journey. Nissans reliabilty is extremely poor and stuff is always breaking or faulting!

    Just have a look at any ‘dodgy’ car forums and the pathy make several appearances!

    Its a real shame – coz the exterior design and interior layout are pretty good and suited to it use …..

  • Hmmm…

    The Patrol is indeed a very capabable and real 4WD, if you took an X-Trail on any proper offroad track in Tassie you’d get in real trouble, real quick. Do they have proper recovery points that will be safe if a snatch or winch is required?
    It’s wrong for people to believe that these vehicles will actually go anywhere properly offroad, they might be fine on a fire trail and a shallow water crossing but it’s incorrect and ultimately dangerous if people have the belief that an X-Trail is a real 4WD, it’s wrong to advertise them as such.

  • http://www.caradvice.com.au Alborz Fallah

    Have a look for kw for diesel – i thougt the same as you http://www.nissan.com.au/webpages/support_templates/grade_comparator/Spec_sheets/NXT0317_A4specs_FEB%202011.pdf

    I will recheck with Nissan.

  • CS

    Using the word 4wd and X-trail in the same sentence doesnt work for me. It is not a 4wd, it is a softroader – no ground clearance, no low range, no decent tyre sizing, etc, etc, perhaps you should have said AWD, not 4WD. Recent trip to Gnaraloo, had to tow 2 X-Trails out of bogged situations where proper 4wds did not have a problem. Good vehicles for something, but not as a 4wd..

    • Alex

      Not to mention the ‘4WD’ overheats and disengages at a whim leaving you with FWD until it cools down.

      Handy feature for blocking a trail for a few hours.

      No recovery points so don’t get bogged or you tear you tie down hooks out LOL!

      No underbody protection (like the pathy) so kiss your fuel tank good -bye when rock hopping (Bet you didn’t even leave the graded dirt roads anyway).

      Missleading, but good to see you took a proper 4Wd with you (Patrol).

      • http://www.caradvice.com.au/ Alborz Fallah

        Folks, our convoy of X-Trail had no issue doing the 4WD tracks on offer, sure they are not as capable as the pathfinder and patrol, but they do a good job for the basic courses, which is what the majority of drivers would be after anyway.

    • Lynchy

      I understand why it strikes a raw nerve with some hardcore 4x4ers when the likes of the x-trail is referred to as a 4×4 but I thought it had low range, if it does then the fact it has poor clearance, no bash plates or recovery points is a moot point. It’s not dangerous to advertise it as a 4×4 because that is what it is. If the customer who buys one of these thinks it’s going to go the same places as a Patrol or Land Cruiser then they shouldn’t have a licence in the first place but it’s not Nissans fault for advertising it as a 4×4.

    • Artega

      I have taken my x-Trail on Fraser Island, Moreton Island, Stockton and anywhere with sand on the East Coast. I have owned a LandCruiser, a Hilux and a Navara.

      I would rate the x-Trail in sand any day.

      Outback off-road I wouldn’t. But never under-estimate the x-Trail’s capability when driven by someone with sill.

      • Artega

        *skill that is not sill


      • Alex

        Sand is not the same thing. I have driven all those places in a Subaru with no dramas, but when you see what is encountered in land you’ll wet your pants.

        I haven’t mustered up the courage to punish my own patrol after I have seen what some people do to their real 4x4s. You need deep pockets, much like modifying turbos to go faster, things will break.

    • Mustbeme

       Whether you like them or not , an xtrail is a four wheel drive as in all four wheels can be driven by the engine through the gear box , are you getting confused with the 2wd x trail ?

  • Mr Gaspo

    The xtrail is certainly a good family car, especally the diesel auto. Negatives for me are it’s styling, the 9.4 l/per 100 km urban fuel use and it’s 4 star safety rating.

  • maximark

    The petrol Xtrail has a serious problem with the CVT gearbox, lot of xtrail owners has their xtrail transmissions replaced,mine replaced twice and still have the same problem.

    I know a few owners that their xtrails are just a few months out of warranty and the transmission problem start to show up. As a new car owner you don’t want to spend $7000 for the transmission replacement.

    • Dave L

      I read a lot of negative comments about CVTs on this site and others – particularly the Nissan trannies and some Mitsy ones. My local motoring association has also cautioned me against them. There is a growing trend of CVTs being included in cars that are of interest to me, and I’d appreciate any views on whether all CVTs are that bad, or is it restricted to certain manufacturers like Nissan?

      • Alex

        I am biassed to Subaru, but never the less their CVT has not posed any problems so far an has been around for over two years now hear and overseas.

        Apparently subaru invented or patented the modern CVT back in the 1980s and have been using them in the Justy.

        • RS Man

          You have to go way back to Van Doorne and DAF to see the origins of the modern CVT. Just because Subaru put them in the Justy doesn’t mean they invented it.

  • Model T

    I’ve owned a diesel automatic X-Trail for just over two years and, on balance, it’s a good car. We can fit two prams in the back and still have plenty of room left. The six speed auto is smooth and responsive, and we haven’t had any reliability issues. It’s comfortable and relatively frugal (6.6 l/100 on the open road and 8.4 l/100 in the city) and it will handle snow, sand and most fire trails with ease. The only issue, however, is a BIG concern about the oil separator – a design flaw which is first evident with visible oil deposits on the INSIDE of the air filter. It’s anyone’s guess what these deposits will do to the engine in the long run (another “hand grenade” from Nissan?). There is an easy and effective solution – mounting an after-market oil separator – but Nissan won’t even acknowledge this well-documented issue, let alone do something about it.

  • Henry

    Although i like it, the Pathfinder is starting to look dated and looks a little like the Ssangyong Rexton witch looks a little better!

  • Mojo

    A friend of mine bought a used X-Trail(current model) and converted to gas. After that, the car would not shift beyond first gear. Natural the blame went to the conversion guy. Poor fellow, he could not pin point the problem even after seeing transmission specialists. One of the mechanics discovered by accident that one of the wires (connected to the transmission system) had a hairline cut. Took my friend 3 months to solve the problem. That was probably why the previous owner sold the car.

  • LN

    I have actually driven my old T30 X-Trail down there at Mt. Hotham a few years ago. It is a very controlled environment so issues or problems you would encounter are are minor however in saying that, you seriously would not take your Rav 4, Kluger or Murano down there especially during winter.

    The drive around Mt. Hotham was fun and enjoyable and after reading that review, it has given me that urge to go back down there and do the 4WD tracks again… I know where I am going on easter!

  • http://N/A Lawrie Baker

    I drive the T31 with CVT and it is great offroad when the correct settings are used. In soft sifting sand it does need tyre deflation. With low tyre pressures it will climb moderate dunes: an electric pump is a necessity!
    The Renault Koleos is a T31 under the skin, and should be the same as the T31 offroad.

  • Andrew

    If Nissan is happy to tout the 4wd capabilities of the X-trail, why don’t they incorporate a fundamental safety feature like rated recovery points?
    It’s all well and good to have the smart computer on board, but at some time anyone 4wd’ing with an X-trail is going to get caught in sand, or mud or whatever. Other 4wd drivers do not want to perform a snatch recovery because the rather small Single screw-in “recovery point” on the T31 is not rated. And quite understandably the driver performing the snatching does not want to wear a shackle in the back of the head due to a recovery point failure.
    It would be useful if Nissan could provide the rating of this point, or provide a rated screw-in point, or even better a pair of points so the front can be bridled.
    I’m curious to know what legal implications there are for Nissan if someone uses the (non-rated) “recovery point” (as described in the vehicle manual) in a proper manner for a snatch recovery, but the point fails and causes a fatality? I guess it comes down to whether the “recovery point” is “fit-for-purpose”.
    By the way, I do have a T31 diesel.

  • Liz

    I am looking for some advice on the xtrails i have been currently seeking one for awhile threw a broker whom has found issues finding one but he has struck luck times 2
    2008 diesel auto 79000kms for 26k
    or 2006 sts extreme petrol auto alloys 65000kms sunroof nudge & roof racks  23k
    if anyone can drop me a line with opinion muchly apreciated 

  • mike

    i have the 2011 xtrail 4×4 cvt auto.  just wondering what is the issue with cvt.  what happens to the car when you have problems with cvt.  has any one had problems with the 2011 model??

  • Manolo

    Can someone please help me with a question about the Nissan Xtrail extreme? Im trying to find out in the “AUTO4x4″ makes it a 4×4 LOW and HI. Thanks very much.

    • Karl Sass

      As I understand it the Xtrail does not have low range. The Auto mode is basically 2wd and automatically engages the rear wheels when it detects wheel spin. Lock mode gives constant 50/50 power distribution to the front and rear wheels.