– by Karl Peskett
The good wife wants a new car. The mates want to go camping off-road. The missus needs space, visibility and ease of drive, as well as being economical. The mates want you to keep up when they’re going off the beaten track. Its gotta be affordable, so what’s a guy to do?
Well, the Nissan X-Trail seems to fit the bill for all of the above, but is it a pretender? How does it really fare off road, especially in diesel guise?
In reading several reports on the previous X-Trail, the All-Mode all-wheel-drive system overheated if severely pushed, and reverted back to front wheels only, a disaster if you’re in soft sand. Reading through the owners manual of the new one, it seems the same scenario will produce the same result.
A quick expedition on the sand behind our local service station with full tyre pressures revealed that with the speed kept up, the X-Trail would cope quite well. Our time at the beach should be an interesting test, then. Three or four hours of constant work would certainly show any problems.
We loaded up the gear, whacked the family in, and along with two other cars (it’s always wise to have companions when going off-road) we headed out to our favourite sandy spot.
The tyre pressures were all dropped to 15psi, still leaving ample air in, so rolling tyres off the rims wasn’t a worry. Except for right at the start.
You see, having made our way past the rocky section and onto the softer sand, we left it in Auto mode, which detects wheel slippage and apportions the power front and back. It works a treat, too, but coming onto the beach, there’s a fair slope, and we thought it would be a good test for the hill-descent control, which comes standard.
Not realising that it has to be on Lock mode for it to be active, and not just Auto, we headed over the crest and picked up speed. By the time we realised it wasn’t working, we were approaching the base of the hill with plenty of speed.
BANG! Despite ABS brakes, the wheels still hit the deck quite hard while turned slightly left. It sounded worse than it was, as the tyre hung onto the rim, and we just accelerated out and along the beach.
So far, despite a slight error, the X-Trail is doing quite well. With the test car being an automatic, you’ll realise that the shortish first gear is just to get momentum, and second gear is where the X-Trail really shines.
Running alongside a Mazda Tribute V6 and a Holden Colorado, the X-Trail wasn’t shy in keeping up. At some points, while keeping a steady 60km/h (on beach sand mind you), if the boot was sunk in, the X-Trail would accelerate a lot quicker than expected, taking the other two by surprise.
The other excellent feature was the VDC remaining off when switched off. Even when sliding around in the ruts, a “hidden” stability control system – as in VW’s Tiguan or Subaru’s Forester – still crops up every now and then, with a quick brake here or a slight clamp there, washing off precious speed. Not so, the X-Trail. It did what it was told. Kudos to Nissan.
You do need to keep the momentum up, though, as the X-Trail’s biggest downfall is its ground clearance. In standard form, the X-Trail must be moving to push the top layer of sand out of the way. The one time we had to brake, to allow other traffic to pass safely the other way, it beached itself on the bottom of the body. A quick snatch out and we were away, only stopping where the ruts weren’t so deep.
Climbing big hills also proved painful as any rutting slowed the Nissan down to the point where even though the engine was willing, there was too much speed washed off to get up and going again. Then is was a case of either backing off and reversing down the hill, or completely burying yourself. We opted for the former.
However if it’s not too deeply cut up, the X-Trail handles it better than a lot of softroaders, despite being a diesel. It powers on after other diesel engines would have given up. Some bog down in the revs, but the X-Trail’s 2.0-litre just recovers, even after a big hit, such as left-foot braking.
Even though our test car was an automatic, there was no hindrance, or slackness in power delivery. Having said that, the manual with its extra 17kW and 40Nm should fare even better. The hill-descent feature also works a treat, even on slippery, crumbly surfaces.
With some inexpensive modifications, the diesel X-Trail could handle even more challenging situations. The drivetrain, although not the smoothest out there, is a winner, and the All-Mode 4WD system never once gave up the ghost, and believe us, we tried.
Not only is the X-Trail cheap to run, inexpensive to buy, and extremely practical and well built, it’s very accomplished, too. As far as SUVs go, the X-Trail in the value for money stakes is a clear contender.
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