When it comes to a seven-seater medium-sized SUV, the options are somewhat limited. The Nissan X-Trail provides a very reasonable choice at a decent price point, but despite its arguably modern exterior, it lacks the modern touch of its competitors on the inside.
The Japanese-built Nissan X-Trail is available in a staggering 10 different variants, ranging from five- or seven-seater front-wheel-drive models to five-seater all-wheel drive with petrol powertrains and the recently added AWD diesel that is available as a five-seater only.
As is the case, all seven-seater models, like our ST-L test car here, are only available with the petrol engine driving the front wheels. That may bother some, but we feel it's a non-issue unless you intend to take your X-Trail to the beach or soft-roading.
From the outside, the Nissan X-Trail is probably best described as inoffensive. It’s typically Nissan in so much that it blends in, but never looks out of place for the wrong reasons. The chrome theme exemplified through the Nissan grille is carried through the roof and door handles and into the rear tailgate and rear bumper, helping bring about a sense of differentiation in the otherwise plain design.
In the striking red colour that our X-Trail came in, the family-friendly Nissan is actually a half-decent looking vehicle – well, at least on the outside.
Jump inside and it’s a bit of a different story. Considering that this class is now occupied by vehicles such as the Peugeot 3008, which feels an entire generation (or two) ahead, the X-Trail struggles to bring about a sense of emotional appeal on the inside.
There is a reasonable amount of room in the second row, so if you have two young or teenage kids, they will fit fine. The third row with its two additional seats is really there for the occasional use, or if you have a child in a booster seat (no younger or older will find it that comfortable).
The boot measures 445L when the third row is not in use, but reduced to just 135L with both third-row seats in use. However, if you only need one of the two seats in the far back, it still has plenty of room.
It’s a very old-school cabin otherwise, though, in the sense that the placement of the instruments to the way the dash flows and connects feels somewhat out of date. Especially when you consider the air-con and infotainment switchgear that could be mistaken for being from a decade-old vehicle, not to mention that they feel somewhat flimsy.
But it’s the 7.0-inch infotainment screen that really bothered us the most. The navigation system offered by Nissan in the X-Trail is extremely poor. It’s reminiscent of old Navman systems from the early 2000s. That's not an exaggeration – it’s not only slow, but the display and usability are cumbersome at best. It’s perhaps the most inferior navigation system we’ve used in a new car for the last few years.
The quality of Bluetooth telephony was equally disappointing, with the multiple tests resulting in complaints from the other party with regard to voice clarity, forcing us to use speakerphone instead, which defeats the point.
But of course, there are lots of positives with Nissan’s offering. The X-Trail is actually a very respectable car once you get over the old-schoolness of the cabin. The ride quality is topnotch, absorbing the bumps and yet providing a more than adequate dynamic package.
On the go and even through country roads, it’s a very accommodating place to be. After a long drive from Brisbane out to Warwick and back, with our two young boys, both my wife and I felt the X-Trail was an excellent family SUV for its $39,085 (plus on-roads) asking price. We were very impressed by the limited amount of cabin noise that found its way in at 110km/h, and just how smoothly it traversed the long drives.
The ST-L models are powered by the larger of the two petrol engines on offer, the 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder, with 126kW/226Nm coupled to a continuously variable transmission.
For an SUV that weighs 1534kg, it’s actually a surprisingly reasonable amount of grunt. Is the engine outdated? Compared to its smaller-capacity turbocharged European rivals, sure, but put it up against the same-sized power unit from the ever-popular Mazda CX-5 and the X-Trail holds its own.
The CVT tends to dull the driving experience somewhat (an area where the six-speed torque converter automatic in the Mazda shines through), but getting it up to speed or merging on the highway is a relatively effortless exercise.
The steering is rather weightless, but works well for the application. It’s well poised to respond to sudden obstacles on the road, and the suspension – as soft as it is – is very well calibrated for Australian requirements.
Nissan claims a fuel economy of just under 8L/100km, but expect to get around the mid to high 8s in a realistic day-to-day suburban driving scenario.
What we love about the X-Trail is Nissan’s addition of active safety systems now standard across the range, including what it calls Intelligent Emergency Braking (better known as autonomous emergency braking) and forward-collision warning. The ST-L also gets rear cross-traffic alert, another potential life-saving feature that should be standard on any SUV of this size.
The high-spec Ti and TL grades also get pedestrian detection as part of their autonomous braking system (odd to exclude this from the base models), as well as an adaptive front lighting system. Meanwhile, if you go for the Ti, it will also come with active cruise control and lane-departure intervention.
You won't go wrong picking the Nissan X-Trail as your vehicle of choice, however, we would advise working with the dealer for a sharp deal, as this is a hotly contested market and there are no illusions here that the offering with Nissan is best in class.
At the end of the day, the Nissan X-Trail is a great family workhorse. It will serve its purpose as an affordable and well-built 5+2 family SUV. If seven seats are required, it should be cross-shopped with the Mitsubishi Outlander, Honda CR-V, and if price is an issue, the Holden Captiva 7. Otherwise, if it's a five-seater medium SUV you're after, there are more modern options for similar coin.