- 2011 Nissan X-Trail ST; 2.5-litre, four-cylinder, petrol; six-speed manual; five-door SUV
The compact SUV market is burgeoning these days. Every major manufacturer has one to offer, so there has to be something special about a compact SUV to grab your attention and separate it from the pack. The Nissan X-Trail was recently updated, but looking at it, you'd probably never realise. That's a shame, because some may overlook what is essentially a great compact SUV.
The changes are mostly cosmetic with slight detail differences. The front end, for example, features a Patrol-style chrome grille, plus two angled creases that slope down away from the grille, creating an "X" shape, which echoes the car's name. The headlights feature a tear-drop style while park lights are now an L-shaped dotted line at the top of the light cluster. The taillights are now LED too, meaning they're now virtually replacement-free.
Inside there's a redesigned velour trim for the seats, plus slightly thicker and more durable material. The seats are still extremely comfortable and excellent on long journeys. Headroom is outstanding and the rear seats have plenty of space, which features 10mm more legroom due to a redesign of the front seat backs.
Inside, the updates continue through the instrumentation, which now receives a crisp information screen (shared with the new Nissan Dualis) between the speedo and tacho, and displays fuel use, average consumption, average speed, distance-to-empty, outside temperature, time and other details. The dials are clear and feature large numbers and segments.
Storage spaces are plentiful, with good sized door pockets, a massive lidded bin in the centre of the dashtop, cooled cupholders for the driver and passenger, plus a huge glovebox. Although there are some hard plastics on the door trims and centre stack, the dashboard is a bit more pliable and there are no nasty cutlines or ill-fitting trim pieces.
The X-Trail ST 4WD (as tested here) is the base specification, but it now gets a six-stacker CD/MP3 plus Bluetooth as standard. On the steering wheel, there's cruise control, audio controls and phone call/end buttons; the wheel is also height and reach adjustable. As far as features go, the X-Trail ST is already loaded up and that's before you get to the more expensive models in the range.
Despite it being a black test car with a predominantly black interior and large glass area, the air-con worked very well on the run of 35-degree days recently. But what the large glasshouse also gives you is brilliant visibility in all directions except below the back window - a reversing camera would be a good option to have, however it's not offered.
If it's space you're after though, almost no compact SUV today can hold a candle to the X-Trail. Passengers will enjoy the room inside the car, but it's the boot that is (quite literally) the biggest feature here. It's wide, tall and deep, and then you've got the segmented drawer spaces underneath.
The whole boot is plastic coated, which can be a little annoying when prams and bags slide around, but at least you won't get your carpet hacked to bits by sharp objects. But the backs of the rear seats are also covered in plastic meaning that when you fold them down, there's a massive, completely flat floor area for loading cargo. In fact, it's that big you could lay down a mattress and sleep in it.
On the road, the X-Trail's naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol needs a little revving to get going, but it's smooth and quiet and once in its stride it has some legs thanks to the easy-shifting six-speed manual.
It takes a little over nine seconds to get from 0-100km/h and with the recent upgrade, the engine makes the same power and torque (125kW and 226Nm) but fuel use has dropped. It now uses 9.1 litres/100km on the ADR combined cycle but on test we managed slightly higher than that: 10.9L/100km, which for city driving and a bit of off-road work means it's got plenty of potential to drop a lot further.
The X-Trail features Nissan's All-Mode 4WD system which has a rotary switch located on the centre console which allows you to run it in 2WD to save fuel, in automatic - where it will choose if the rear wheels need any drive power - or a locked 4WD setting which splits the torque 50/50 front/rear wheels. The LOCK mode only works up until 40km/h, after which it reverts back to the auto mode, preventing the on-demand system from overheating.
It works brilliantly both on- and off-road. On road, for example, if you are going around a roundabout, leave it in 2WD mode and put the boot in, the front inside wheel will start to spin up. In 4WD mode, it reacts instantly and you get no wheelspin at all, showing the system's predictability.
Off-road it's a similar story. The on-demand system keeps drive happening seamlessly, so much so that even soft beach sand is no challenge, provided the ESC is switched off. If you're thinking about doing sand work and opting for a self-shifter, then don't, unless you're buying a diesel X-Trail: the petrol comes with a CVT transmission and it takes forever to wind up, by which time you'll have bogged yourself.
On- and off-road, the X-Trail's ride is very good. It has a good balance between road holding and bump absorption, although it does tend to roll a bit in corners, and is most noticable in sharp directional changes. That said it's very difficult to get it unglued from the tarmac, and of course, ESC is standard, giving extra backup to the all-wheel-drive system. ANCAP also rates the X-Trail as a four-star car.
That ANCAP rating and the slightly awkward styling are about the only drawbacks to the X-Trail. Its smoothness, off-road ability, ride and practicality all shine through to make this a logical choice for a family who wants a car to get out and about on the weekends.
It has more room than the Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester and Mazda CX-7 and is better off-road than all three. Its on-road manners, however, aren't quite as good as the aforementioned, so it all comes down to what you need. If a colossal boot, good passenger comfort, and decent ground clearance and suspension travel are on your hitlist, then the X-Trail should be, too.