The arrival of the third-generation Nissan X-Trail heralds a complete departure from Nissan’s previous design language for the SUV, which had spawned two popular yet boxier models.
Taking design cues from the Juke, Pathfinder and Murano crossovers, the latest Nissan X-Trail trades the much-loved squared-off lines and upright stance of the previous model with softer, more contemporary styling.
Some will see the change in design as a massive gamble given the popularity of its predecessors, which had racked up 140,000 sales here between 2001 and 2014.
Still, it’s a fresh look we find attractive (though somewhat homogenous in the segment) and boasts a raft of new tech and features including, for the first time, a seven-seat option.
In fact, the seven-seat Nissan X-Trail effectively replaces the Dualis+2 as the company’s smallest SUV with a third row option – and the only vehicle in the segment (other than the Mitsubishi Outlander) that offers the extra two seats.
Nissan has also sharpened the pricing on the 2014 X-Trail range with the entry-level 2WD 2.0-litre petrol ST manual priced from $27,990 (down $500) and the top-of-the-range 4WD 2.5-litre petrol Ti from $44,680 (down $410) despite gaining new technology and equipment.
That’s a starting point below the Subaru Forester (from $29,990) and Toyota RAV4 ($28,690) but higher than a number of other rivals that include the Holden Captiva (from $25,990), Honda CR-V (from $27,490), Kia Sportage (from $25,490) and Mazda CX-5 (from $27,880).
While it launches as an all-petrol line-up, the Nissan X-Trail will add a turbo diesel engine (from the current Dualis) to the range later in the year.
The petrol models still represent plenty of choice, with the new range including three grades (ST, ST-L and Ti), two and four-wheel drive, 2.0- and 2.5-litre engines and five- or seven-seat configurations.
However, and perhaps inexplicably, you can’t get a seven-seat X-Trail in four-wheel drive (which also means there’s no top-spec Ti with seven seats available), though Nissan says that if there’s a demand for such a combination they’ll make every effort to add it to the range.
Nissan didn’t provide any manual STs for the launch drive, so it’s probably fair to say that sales of the new model will lean overwhelmingly towards the car maker’s next-generation CVT transmission, dubbed Xtronic.
The X-Trail ups the ante when it comes to equipment levels, with all variants boasting a reversing camera, alloy wheels and push button start.
The base ST grade also gets daytime running lights, 5-inch LCD screen, cruise control and Bluetooth phone and music streaming.
Trading up to the mid-spec ST-L adds key features such as a 7-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, digital radio (DAB), leather trim with electric adjustment and heating on the front buckets, dual-zone climate control and Nissan’s Around View Monitor.
The well-equipped Ti gains additional kit including 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights (high and low beam), power tailgate, panoramic sunroof and auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
The Ti also introduces several advanced safety systems borrowed from the top-spec Altima Ti such as Moving Object Detection, Blind Spot-and-Lane Departure Warning.
The cabin itself is a significant improvement over the utilitarian fit-out in the old model, with plenty of soft-touch surfaces and brushed metallic accents, as well as an ergonomically sound layout.
The overall effect is an interior that looks and feels decidedly more premium with a new steering wheel, instrument cluster (including a useful LCD colour display) and a liberal spread of piano black plastics that complete the makeover.
As with the Altima, the X-Trail’s ‘zero-gravity’ inspired front seats are well cushioned and wonderfully comfortable, making long stints behind the wheel a real pleasure.
There are modest dimensional gains, too – 30mm of width, 10mm of height, and 5mm in length – but the result is a new X-Trail that looks as large as a Nissan Pathfinder.
Unlike the old model, the second row seats are now on rails that allow them to slide, as well as reclining with a 40/20/40 split-fold layout. The result is substantially more rear legroom and easy access to the third row, where applicable.
Passengers in the second row also sit elevated, stadium style, while children in the third row also enjoy improved visibility from the similarly raised seats (suitably tested by this reviewer who is shorter than his 12-year-old daughter).
There’s also a new rear storage system, known as Divide-N-Hide, which Nissan claims can be configured 18 different ways, and while it’s certainly flexible, we think it’s a step backwards compared with that in the previous-generation X-Trail.
For starters, the aperture isn’t nearly as wide, and gone are the clever plastic drawers that slid under the cargo floor, allowing for items such as wetsuits and muddy footy boots to be quarantined from the main luggage space.
The cargo floor was also entirely plastic (with rubber dividers to prevent things from sliding around), which allowed it to be washed out, a feature not possible with the carpet-clad flooring on the latest iteration.
And while buyers will welcome the power rear tailgate on the top-of-the-range Ti, we found the ‘swipe to open’ function to be a touch finicky and not as effective as the rival Ford Kuga Titanium that positions its sensor in the bumper rather the above the number plate.
Under the bonnet, the X-Trail’s 2.5-litre petrol engine is essentially a carryover from its predecessor, with just an extra kilowatt of power added to increase output from 125kW to 126kW, but with the same 226Nm of torque.
Despite gaining an average of around 34kg in heft, the four-cylinder engine still delivers sufficient punch off the line (without feeling sporty), and there’s decent mid-range pull for safe high-speed overtaking on country roads.
While the new and improved CVT in the latest Nissan X-Trail doesn’t change this reviewer’s general dislike for pseudo-automatic transmissions that function with belts and pulleys, it is more refined than most – at least under light to moderate loads. Apply full throttle, though, and it’s still irritatingly noisy from 4500rpm.
However, reduced friction and hydraulic losses mean improved fuel economy.
We tested the four-wheel-drive Ti version over 160km and achieved an average consumption of 8.2 litres per 100 kilometres on 91RON, while the 2WD ST-L dropped as low as 7.9L/100km over a shorter 100km test distance – both figures close to the manufacturer’s claim.
For those after more driver engagement from their X-Trail, this CVT also has a manual mode, which effectively mimics up to seven ratio ‘shifts’, leaving the driver with greater control.
It’s certainly useful if you need to hold higher engine revs when climbing step inclines or even high-speed passing, but like all CVTs it’s not going to fool you.
Dynamically, though, the 2014 X-Trail is much improved.
Fitted to all variants is Nissan’s Active Ride Control, which monitors the road surface and effectively alters the suspension damping to control the vehicle’s pitch. We found it particularly effective in managing body roll, which was minimal even during high-speed cornering on the open road.
We also found the ride comfort varied between the four-wheel-drive Ti riding on 18-inch alloys, which was busy and less comfortable than the two-wheel-drive seven-seat version, which was noticeably more compliant.
There’s also a satisfying weight and responsiveness to the electrically assisted power steering, along with some feedback. The brakes, too, are very good, even if there’s more pedal travel than we’d like.
The new X-trail also gets slightly less ground clearance than the model it replaces, but an off road loop still showed the four-wheel-drive version with Nissan’s 4x4-i system to be sufficiently capable.
Even in the default 2WD mode (activated by a convenient rotary selector dial on the console), the system will automatically engage all-wheel drive if the vehicle detects any loss of traction.
We used the Lock setting, which permanently engages drive to the rear wheels, with a 50:50 torque split between the front and rear wheels when travelling at speeds below 40km/h.
There’s no question that as an economy-conscious family hauler, the new X-Trail ticks most of the boxes without being class leading.
It looks good, is well equipped, and the seven-seat option for less than 30 grand should find favour with larger families on a modest budget.
2014 Nissan X-Trail two-wheel drive prices
2014 Nissan X-Trail ST 2.0L manual $27,990
2014 Nissan X-Trail ST 2.5L Xtronic $30,490
2014 Nissan X-Trail ST 2.5L Xtronic Seven seat $31,580
2014 Nissan X-Trail ST-L 2.5L Xtronic $36,190
2014 Nissan X-Trail ST-L 2.5L Xtronic Seven seat $37,190
Four-wheel drive prices
2014 Nissan X-Trail ST 2.5L Xtronic $33,980
2014 Nissan X-Trail ST-L 2.5L Xtronic $39,080
2014 Nissan X-Trail Ti 2.5L Xtronic $44,680