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Family SUVs are the in-thing these days, from the run-of-the-mill soccer mum bus to the ultra-luxe Toorak tractors, Australians are flocking to the high-riding wagons.
With decent off-road ability, compact dimensions and an affordable price tag, the original X-Trail was a hit with people who wanted to look adventurous but didn’t want the demanding task of driving a Toyota Landcruiser, for example.
Over a decade since the original, the third-generation X-Trail has done away with its predecessor’s boxy aesthetic and now sports a curvaceous and Euro-inspired look in the hope to win over the more style-focused urban dweller.
Year-to-date the X-Trail is fourth in the medium SUV sales race, behind the Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson and Toyota RAV4, though Nissan consistently sells over 1000 of them a month – so it’s still plenty popular.
The model on test is the cheapest all-wheel drive X-Trail you can buy, the ST.
Priced at $33,980 before on-road costs, this Tempest Blue (a $495 option) X-Trail ST 4WD tester commands a smidgen under $2500 over its front-wheel drive counterpart.
Considering this is a ‘base’ model, you get quite a lot of bang for your buck.
The features list includes a rear-view camera (but no sensors, we’ll get to that later), keyless entry with push-button start, automatic headlights, 5.0-inch colour central infotainment display, CD player, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, cruise control, tilt and telescopic adjustable steering wheel, TFT driver’s information display, manual air-conditioning and two ISOFIX child seat anchor points in the second row.
You also get rear air vents, cooled front cupholders, a roof-mounted sunglasses holder and a ‘Divide-N-Hide’ boot floor which can be configured in 18 ways to make shelves, raise or lower the floor height, and conceal items in the underfloor storage area.
Looking at this entry-level ST variant, you can’t tell much of a difference between the base model and the mid-range ST-L, with the exception of the lack of front fog lights and roof rails. In fact, it looks almost identical to the higher-spec car CarAdvice tested in May.
Personally, I like the look of the current X-Trail. Its face makes it look like a baby Murano – which to this reviewer is no bad thing – while the curvy lines and chrome highlights make the X-Trail look more expensive than it actually is.
Standard 17-inch alloy wheels are far better than the wheel covers you might find on the base Ford Kuga or the steel wheels on entry-level Toyota RAV4s, while the standard-fit LED daytime-running lights are also a nice touch. A space-saver spare wheel lives under the boot floor.
Speaking of the luggage area, the X-Trail boasts a 550-litre boot, which is well ahead of the CX-5 (403L) and Hyundai Tucson (488L), but just short of the Honda CR-V (556L).
Behind the wheel of the X-Trail, it’s comfortable, clean and functional. The lack of a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shifter remind you that you’re driving a base model, but overall, it’s not a bad place to be.
The cloth-trimmed seats are soft, yet supportive – they almost feel like couches. However, the driver’s seat can feel like it’s tilted forward a little, even in its lowest setting – but, it could just be me.
Across the dash and doors there are soft-touch plastics up high, but mid-to-low areas of the cabin are fitted with harder, scratchy plastics that aren’t as pleasant, either in looks or feel. Second row passengers aren’t so lucky, with harder-wearing materials all round.
Despite the choice of harder plastics, the X-Trail feels solidly put together, with no rattles or squeaks heard during our time with the car.
The doors do have padded armrests, however, while a relatively small centre storage cubby in the front row also acts as another place to rest your elbow.
In the second row there’s plenty of head- and legroom for taller passengers like myself, though the seat belt buckles are annoyingly placed – meaning the poor soul in the middle seat needs to have an incredibly skinny bum to not be sitting on one. These seats also split 40/20/40, and are serviced by rear air vents – well done, Nissan.
The middle seat also doubles up as an armrest with cupholders while large bottle holders sit in the doors.
In all-wheel drive models you don’t get the option of a third row of seats, meaning you’ll need to forgo the extra grip to carry two extra passengers.
Powering the X-Trail ST AWD is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, producing 126kW of power at 6000rpm along with 226Nm of torque at 4400rpm.
While that may sound like you’d need to push the X-Trail hard to get anywhere, it doesn’t take that much effort to get up to speed – though you won’t get anywhere quickly.
The petrol engine is mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and though these shifters cop a lot of flak, in this application it isn’t too bad.
There is very little whining that these transmissions are generally known for, and it does a good job of keeping the engine in the power band when you need it, and settling into lower revs when you’re cruising.
In fact, at 100km/h on the freeway, the X-Trail was ticking over at just 1600rpm, with instant fuel consumption sitting at around 5.0L/100km – which is pretty impressive.
Speaking of fuel efficiency, the X-Trail is pretty frugal considering its size. In mixed driving conditions including plenty of stop-start city traffic and some extended runs on country highways with a full load of passengers, it returned an indicated 8.6L/100km.
Considering the manufacturer’s claim is 8.3L/100km on the combined cycle, that’s not bad at all – based on those figures, you can expect a range of about 650-700km per tank.
It also runs on regular 91RON unleaded, so it won't cost a bomb at the pump.
However, on the road the X-Trail is a mixed bag. While the engine has enough oomph to get up to speed without feeling underpowered, it’s no sports car.
The 2.5-litre unit can get a little vocal when pushed, and you really have to mash the accelerator when overtaking on the freeway – especially with all seats occupied.
What’s not so great is the noise from the tyres when on the move; there’s plenty of it, to the point that on the Hume Highway en route to the Victorian town of Kilmore my rear-seat passengers couldn’t hear what I was saying.
Some parents, however, might like this so they can’t hear their children complaining in the back – or siblings in my case.
The brakes are pretty sub-par as well, considering this car is built for carting families around, nothing really happens until you really step on them hard. On numerous occasions it felt like the X-Trail wouldn’t stop unless I stomped on the pedal.
Other annoyances include the numb steering, which is great in the car park, though after one full lock on either side it can be difficult to determine what the front wheels are actually doing, causing you to under- or overestimate how much input is required.
While the standard rear-view camera is a welcome feature the lack of sensors can make it difficult to determine the placement of obstacles not in the camera's line of vision.
The very basic infotainment system can be frustrating to use as well. With no touchscreen, you’re limited to using buttons and the menus can be annoying to navigate – just try pairing your phone for the first time and you’ll see what I mean.
However, audio quality using Bluetooth is pretty good – once you’re finally connected – with crisp sound quality and there were no complaints from the recipients of my phone calls on the road.
Nissan offers a three-year/100,000-kilometre warranty on the X-Trail with capped-price servicing and roadside assistance.
Maintenance is required every 10,000km or 12 months, with prices averaging about $312. Depending on how much driving you do, the servicing program can last anywhere between three and six years.
All up, your 2.5-litre petrol X-Trail will cost $3462 to service over 120,000 kilometres, plus $30 every 24 months or 40,000km to replace the brake fluid – coming to a total of $3642.
Again depending on your driving habits, average maintenance costs can be anywhere between $288 per year if you do 10,000km or less per annum, to $577 if you average around 20,000km.
The X-Trail is not a terrible car by any means, unfortunately it just is bettered in most aspects by its rivals.
If you want value for money and a low cost of ownership, the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage are better options. For driving enjoyment you’re better off with a Mazda CX-5, and if you want something a little upmarket, go for the new Volkswagen Tiguan.
Where the X-Trail does win though, is its cabin space and seven-seat option, making the Mitsubishi Outlander its only real competitor.
In this base five-seat all-wheel drive specification though, the X-Trail doesn’t really make sense. It doesn’t have the off-road capabilities of its predecessor and most of its competitors offer a better package for similar money.
However, if you need a comfortable, no-nonsense seven-seater SUV for around $30,000 the front-wheel drive seven-seat ST is almost $2000 cheaper than this all-wheel drive version and makes better use of the X-Trail’s extra cabin space.
Otherwise, if you want a five-seat Nissan SUV, head to the other side of the showroom and have a look at the X-Trail's little brother, the Qashqai – it’s better value, more stylish, and a better drive.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.