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When the new Nissan X-Trail arrived earlier this year there was one glaring absence from the range – a diesel variant.
Fast forward six months and the line-up is now complete thanks to the addition of a new 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine developed in collaboration with Renault and familiar from the smaller Qashqai crossover.
The Nissan X-Trail diesel is available in two specification levels: the base TS at $35,380 for the front-wheel drive and $35,680 for four-wheel drive, and the flagship TL at $46,280 2WD and $46,580 4WD (all prices before on-road costs).
The reason for just a $300 difference between two- and four-wheel drive? Oddly, front-drive X-Trails are paired exclusively with an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT), while 4x4 X-Trails can only be had with a six-speed manual transmission. Nissan Australia says there are no plans for a 4WD diesel auto – as was offered in the old X-Trail.
Likewise, there are no plans to offer a seven-seat version of the X-Trail diesel, leaving people-moving duties to petrol X-Trails.
The Nissan X-Trail TL 2WD CVT, which compares most closely with the Volkswagen Tiguan 130TDI ($39,990), Honda CR-V DTi-L ($45,340), Mitsubishi Outlander Aspire ($46,890), Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring ($47,030), Jeep Cherokee Limited ($49,000) and the Toyota RAV4 Cruiser ($50,790) – all of which team diesel, 4WD and auto as standard.
This X-Trail is presumably a school-run specialist, then, leaving the more adventurous excursions to the manual versions.
A look at fuel consumption figures makes for good reading for the Nissan. Its combined cycle rating of 5.3 litres per 100 kilometres places it narrowly ahead of the CX-5 (5.7L/100km), Cherokee and Outlander (both 5.8L/100km), and well clear of the other contenders.
This tells only a fraction of the story, however.
The X-Trail achieves that frugal figure because its engine is the smallest of the bunch (2.0-litre in the Jeep, 2.2-litre in the rest). As a result, it’s the least powerful, producing just 96kW of power at 4000rpm and 320Nm of torque at 1750rpm.
The old X-Trail 2.0-litre diesel, by contrast, produced up to 127kW and 360Nm, while the CX-5 in GT specification offers an extra 33kW and 100Nm for just $750 more and throws in 4WD.
Unsurprisingly, the Mazda and its larger-engined counterparts offer performance that leaves the Nissan languishing a long way behind.
The X-Trail feels gutless below 2000rpm and little better north of that. It’s sluggish off the mark and the CVT is slow to react, and it’s not helped by the X-Trail’s bulky body and 1562kg tare weight, which is only 28kg lighter than the bigger-engined, 4WD CX-5.
The CVT’s Sport mode – which effectively just holds the engine’s revs 500-1000rpm higher than normal – is mandatory for overtaking and inclines to ensure you’re not left stranded without revs waiting for a response.
The tiny 1.6 naturally has to work harder than its rivals and sounds raspy at high engine speeds, though is at least refined and quiet when cruising.
We recorded fuel consumption of 8.5L/100km on a drive loop that favoured highway kilometres – a figure that was only a few tenths better than the torquier CX-5 on the same journey.
The refinement doesn’t extend to the X-Trail’s ride quality, however.
The suspension’s soft set-up means it delivers a cushioned ride over highways and smooth country roads, though it’s never completely settled, nodding its head and bobbling over the slightest of imperfections.
It feels clumsy over rougher surfaces, falling heavily and loudly into potholes and bouncing over bumps.
It feels frumpy and busy around town too, and the experience isn’t helped by the X-Trail’s slow steering, which forces plenty of arm-twirling to negotiate tight street and car parks.
The steering feels floaty around the straight-ahead position, though is at least reasonably consistent and predictable from there.
The X-Trail shares its major underpinnings with the Qashqai, and while it’s not as nimble as the compact crossover, it’s a competent handler that doesn’t shy away from corners thanks in part to its grippy Dunlop Grandtrek tyres.
While far from a dynamic star, the big Nissan really shines on the inside.
Its 550-litre boot – accessed via a power tailgate – is one of the largest in the class and has a low loading lip that makes piling in shopping or luggage easy. Flat carpet floor panels can be lifted or removed entirely to reveal segmented plastic bins that are ideal for storing wet or grubby items.
There’s also a clever space for stowing the cargo cover when it’s not in use and a 12-volt port for powering and charging electronics.
The rear seats are very versatile, sliding a long way forward and back and reclining or folding forward flat to create a massive cargo space. Good width means all three seats are usable, and they’re comfortable despite offering little bolstering or shape. Legroom is excellent though headspace is compromised slightly by the standard inclusion of a full-length panoramic glass roof.
Air vents, bottle holders in the doors, cupholders in the centre armrest, seatback pockets, reading lights and leather-lined door panels mean rear-riders are treated better than in most mid-sized SUVs.
The X-Trail is comfortable up front too, and similarly well packaged, offering a generous glovebox and centre console bin, cup and bottle holders, 12-volt and USB ports, and quality soft-touch plastics across the door uppers and dashboard.
Fit and finish hits a high standard, and it’s well supported by a neat centre stack with intuitive infotainment and climate controls. The 7.0-inch touchscreen facilitates easy Bluetooth phone pairing and simple satellite navigation operation.
Equipment highlights include keyless entry, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, front seat heaters, an anti-dazzle rear-view mirror, auto LED headlights and rain-sensing wipers.
The ST-L petrol is arguably better value, however, retaining the TL diesel’s front-drive CVT layout and undercutting it by $8690 while forgoing the likes of LED headlamps, sunroof, power tailgate, and some driver aid systems. Even the Ti petrol, which is identically equipped to the TL but also throws in four-wheel drive standard, is $1090 cheaper.
The X-Trail TL gets plenty of standard safety equipment including a 360-degree Around View Monitor camera system, blind spot warning, lane departure warning and moving object detection, along with six airbags (dual front, side and curtains) and electronic stability control.
Emergency auto braking (standard in the flagship CX-5 Akera) and adaptive cruise control and auto parking (optional in the Cherokee Limited) are not available, however.
Nissan’s capped-price servicing program (applied in 12-month/10,000km intervals) is good value at $888 for the first three years but becomes more expensive, totalling $2115 for the first six services (72 months/60,000km).
Like all Nissans, the X-Trail is also backed by a three-year warranty and three years of roadside assistance.
Nissan expects only 15 per cent of X-Trail customers to pick the diesel over the more affordable petrol – and we can’t say we’re too surprised. If you’re considering the X-Trail, we’d recommend the petrol version, which is cheaper, available in 4WD auto and seven-seat specifications and economical in its own right.
Although reasonably efficient and refined, the 1.6-litre in the new X-Trail diesel is dramatically underpowered, while even then Nissan hasn’t capitalised on the considerable strengths of this SUV’s roomy cabin by delivering a comfortable ride, leaving some of the opposition better balancing space and comfort, not to mention performance and economy.
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