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The all-new Honda CR-V and significantly updated Nissan X-Trail – two big nameplates in one hugely popular mid-sized SUV segment – arrived in the second half of 2017. And in November, we kicked off comparing these two revised protagonists’ ranges by pitching petrol-powered, all-wheel-driven, five-seater flagships in the form of Honda’s VTi-LX and Nissan’s TI versions against one another.

Spoiler alert for boat-missers: the Honda took a narrow half-point victory (8 plays 7.5 overall), countering a slight lack of equipment with a fresher, superior cabin treatment and generally finer driving experience.

Rematch time. This time out, we’ve added two seats, dropped the trim level to upper-middle class, kept the petrol-powered format but, for this match-up, paired up front-wheel drives. A twin test, then, between the 2018 Nissan X-Trail ST-L 2WD with 7 seats and the Honda CR-V VTi-L 7-Seats, as they’re officially named.

So what does seven seating bring to the party, take away from the party (if anything) and alter an outcome between the two volume-selling Japanese family-haulers? Let’s find out.


Price and Features

First up, importantly, you can’t have any CR-V or X-Trail variant as a seven-seater. In fact, of the five all-petrol-variant line-up offering either front- or all-wheel drive, this one-rung-from-top-spec, front-drive-only VTi-L on test here is, at $38,990 list, your only choice for a CR-V with three rows of seating.

The ST-L is properly middle of the X-Trail’s five available trim levels, keeping in mind that among the various choices of front- and all-wheel drive and diesel and petrol engines, there are currently 10 different X-Trail variants to choose from.

Still, with petrol power, front-drive and a $38,590 list price, a small if notable $400 saving over the Honda, the ST-L is the one to cross-shop against Honda’s VTi-L. That said, it’s worth noting Nissan offers a significantly more affordable X-Trail seven-seater in more basic ST trim, which saves a whopping $6100 over the more lavishly equipped ST-L we have on test here.

Neither test car has any options fitted per se, though the questionable-looking X-Trail nudge bar does add $1200 to the bottom line as a dealer-fit accessory.

As you might expect, the pair share quite a bit on the equipment front. Both get an auto halogen headlight/LED tail-light combination, LED DRLs, cruise control, powered and heated front seats, leather-appointed trim, 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment with sat-nav, reversing cameras with dynamic guidelines, dual-zone climate control and keyless go.

There are also myriad differences in the nitty-gritty. The Nissan adopts a surround-camera format but without parking sensors, whereas the Honda gets multi-rear viewing with front and rear sensors. The X-Trail has heated and power-folding mirrors; the Honda’s fold but aren’t heated.

More? Rain-sensing wipers, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto phone-mirroring, a panoramic roof, 18-inch alloys with a full-sized spare wheel are all Honda exclusives, but the Nissan gets 17-inchers (with a space saver) and is the only one of the pair featuring rear privacy glass and DAB+ audio. Compared with the manual X-Trail tailgate, the CR-V’s is powered and height-configurable.

Safety-wise, both have full-length, three-row curtain implementation within their comprehensive airbag suites, but hamstringing the Honda’s credentials is the lack of AEB, as fitted to the Nissan. The CR-V does counter the X-Trail’s blind-spot monitoring somewhat with its clever Lane Watch left-side safety camera, but it’s only the Nissan that gets rear-cross-traffic alert.

Close? Perhaps. The lack of AEB in the Honda is a real stinger, though it does, on balance, boast a healthier stack of features. The more you dig, the more you find beyond those features listed above, though ultimately it’s how the various functions and features conspire to finer large-family motoring that’ll tip a result more clearly one way or the other. Clearly no equals in safety, then, even if both come with a five-star ANCAP rating.


Cabins

Longer (+94mm), narrower (-35mm) and taller (+61mm) in external dimensions, it’s easy to presume that the X-Trail’s size attributes translate directly into interior cabin space.

In five-seat configuration, with the third row stowed, it’s 445L for the Nissan against 472L for the CR-V. That’s a sizeable reduction in cargo space compared with the dedicated five-seater X-Trail (565L) and CR-V (522L) stablemates, and worth consideration if you’re really shopping for a five-seater with optimum bootspace and you’re pondering seven-seaters for occasional third-row seating convenience.

It’s a similar story with the rearmost two rows stowed, with the Nissan’s 825L and the Honda’s superior 967L each losing around 100L of capacity taken up by the folded third row. Seats tucked neatly, the X-Trail’s floorspace is quite nice and flat, whereas the CR-V can’t avoid the large step in the floor from the protruding stowed pews.

All seats in play, luggage space drops dramatically to a scant 150L for the Nissan and 135L for the Honda. Both get full-size spare wheels if different parcel shelf arrangements: the Nissan’s a retractable scrim type, the Honda’s a solid unit, though both can be conveniently stowed if need be.

Given both SUVs offer sliding second-row seating, there’s flexibility in balancing the cargo and rear passenger space. Got a bulkier payload? Shove the seats forward.

Want any hope of fitting adults in row two? Jam them back on their seat rails. Thus set, the X-Trail is notably superior for leg room and head room, the latter mainly because the Honda has that standard-fit panoramic roof.

The Nissan’s rear seats are set higher, its windows easier to see out of for smaller kids, and while the leather isn’t quite as supple as the Honda’s, there’s a nice blend of support and ‘give’ in the padding.

The CR-V manages decent leg and shoulder room with the rear seat adjusted to suit, yet has smaller door apertures, which makes it slightly more cumbersome for entry and egress.

The Honda wins on rear passenger appointments, offering dual 2.5A USB outlets for powering the kids’ devices, clever row-two grocery hooks in the lower B-pillars, and ceiling-mounted air ventilation over the third row with its own fan speed control. Both get second-row air vents, but apart from drink holders in the flip-down armrest, the Nissan’s a bit bare-boned.

Each has 40/60 split-folding in row two – the Nissan’s folding flat, the Honda’s tumbling forward for easier third-row access – but you discover quickly, and painfully, that adults have no place in the last two seats.

It’s far too cramped in row three for anyone other than younger kids and pre-teens. In fact, the only rear occupants likely to experience much in the way of long-haul comfort are children – as a mode of adult transport either SUV, in terms of interior dimensions and spaciousness, is realistically a workable four-seater if breathing space is any consideration.

Let’s not sugar-coat this: cramming three rows of seating into a medium-sized vehicle, SUV or not, will always present compromises of accommodation. If it’s comfort by way of maximum roominess that you’re after, you’ll really need to go shopping in a larger vehicle segment, or forego the SUV format for a more smartly packaged MPV-type vehicle.

Up front, the Honda is tech-ier and funkier, be it the form of the seats or the design of the dash and the driver’s instrumentation. Whether that’s more or less attractive than the older-school, more ‘classic’ vibe of the Nissan will come down to prospective owners’ individual tastes.

On balance, the CR-V also has a richer mix of materials and has a quieter and more upmarket ambience. There’s lots of nice stitching, pliant touch points,  and brightwork in all the right places. The front seating is excellent – form-fitting if relaxed enough in shape for long-haul comfort – and you do get a higher perspective and clearer view out of the windscreen and side windows. The flat-bottom-style steering wheel and strange centre-stack mounted transmission controller, though, won’t appeal to some buyers.

The X-Trail’s outward visibility is quite decent, but you do sit lower in relation to the window line, with a more cosseting vibe, and if you’re vertically challenged in stature, judging the front of the SUV when parking requires a little more guesswork.

Classic analogue gauges (albeit with a handy digital speedo), a foot-operated park brake (Honda’s is electric), and a lack of device connectivity – basic USB/12V/AUX ports versus the CR-V’s elaborate dual USB/HDMI/12V array – seem a little more make-do than gestures of features generosity.

Continuing on theme, the Nissan’s infotainment system is rudimentary, with low-rent if proprietary sat-nav – handy if you drop out of mobile signal, which is the bane of smartphone-based applications – with some iffy-looking graphics. You do get a decent if quite fish-eyed surround camera system for parking convenience, though it’s not complemented by any parking sensors.

Like its driver’s instrumentation design, the Honda’s infotainment is slicker, more legible, and the more intuitive of the two SUVs, and has CarPlay and Android connectivity that’s such a big deal to many buyers.

Its reversing camera has switchable angles, though it’s quite distorted and arguably less useful than the Nissan’s… Until you add in the helpful parking sensors. The kerbside Lane Watch camera is also very handy once you get used to it popping up in the (smallish) infotainment screen every time you touch the indicator.

As we found with the five-seaters back in late 2017, it’s the Honda with the slightly fresher, smarter and more utilitarian cabin spaces, though the Nissan balances the tally out with superior second-row roominess.


Drivetrains

Both the X-Trail and CR-V are available as seven-seater versions only with front-wheel drive, each adopting CVT-type automatic transmissions. But the pair take quite different tacks in terms of motivation.

The Nissan’s ageing naturally aspirated 2.5-litre petrol four produces the more modest outputs of the pair, with 126kW and 226Nm. Although the Honda cedes a full litre of engine capacity and 1.5 litres might seem ineffective in a vehicle tailor-made for seven occupants, turbocharging does a heavy lifting to produce a superior 140kW and 240Nm.

Of the pair, the form guide states that the Nissan is slightly more lightweight (1614kg plays 1642kg), though it’s the Honda that boasts a more promising combined fuel consumption figure of 7.3L/100km against the X-Trail’s 8.1L figure. On test, though, the difference in real-world consumption was roughly around two litres per hundred thirstier than their claims suggest.

The X-Trail is quite eager to get a move along, though its engine is the noisier of the pair – it doesn’t help that its 2.5-litre needs 4400rpm onboard for peak torque to arrive. The stepped ‘gear change’ effect engineered into the CVT makes for a satisfying experience on the march.

The CR-V’s engine can be noisy when you lean into it – exiting from a side street, overtaking – but as it swings harder lower in the rev range, with peak torque at 2000rpm, it doesn’t demand as much throttle in the balance of normal driving. And while the CVT lacks the neat stepped effect, the smoothness and quietness of the engine/transmission union extends to a slightly more comforting all-round driving experience.


On the Road

Because the Nissan feels larger from behind the wheel, and its powertrain seems to exert more energy for equal motion, it seems the ‘bigger’ SUV to drive and the slightly more wieldy device around town. And that extends through to parking.

What’s nice about the X-Trail, then, is the lightness in the steering, which is a real godsend when manoeuvring through the tighter urban confines. Unfortunately, though, the downside is that the direction finder is quite aloof and the front end isn’t terribly accurate – which all sounds like petrolhead folly, until the moment you and six of your loved ones get caught out in a slippery corner during slippery first rain, when suddenly steering communication really matters a lot.

The CR-V is a little more satisfying to drive because it seems a little lighter and more accurate on its rubber feet. It doesn’t seem as large in its dimensions and it’s easier to judge its extremities in tight situations. The steering is a little weightier, but it’s far from what you’d describe as ‘heavy’. If there’s a clear down mark to the Honda’s on-road experience, it’s the touchiness of the brakes.

Of the two, the CR-V (on 18-inch wheels with 60-series tyres) is a bit more abrupt in its initial ride comfort, whereas the X-Trail (17s with taller 65-series sidewalls) is super-compliant to the point of feeling quite floaty over road undulations once you’re carrying some decent road speed. Of the two, the Honda feels more tied down and more connected to the road, but the cushy and more pliant nature of the Nissan will surely appeal to a great many buyers.

That is, to a point. Tip the Honda into a corner and, in the negative, there’s still plenty of body roll and, in the positive, there’s a general plushness that co-opts with its smooth and quiet nature to create a very comfortable family-hauling experience.


Running Costs

The X-Trail comes with a fairly rudimentary three-year/100,000km warranty with roadside assist. Service intervals are 10,000km, varying from $232 to $429 per visit (at the time of writing), or $1464 over 50,000km.

The CR-V is covered by a superior five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. With a flat $295 capped-pricing servicing cost per 10,000km, the Honda averages out to $1475 over 50,000km.


VERDICT

The X-Trail ST-L 2WD with 7 Seats is a solid, dependable and well-rounded family truckster, if one that can’t mask its age as an all-round package. That said, its cushy ride and roominess – at least in the first and second rows – and an equipment list that ticks wide-ranging boxes will win a great many buyers over.

For freshness, air of quality, a more comprehensive suite of occupant conveniences and a bit more resolve in the on-road experience, the CR-V VTi-L 7-Seats is an all-round fitter and more contemporary mid-sized seven-seat offering.

Shortcomings with the CR-V include compromised head room due to the standard panoramic roof, no diesel option available in the wider CR-V range and a lack of advanced safety smarts – the Honda Sensing suite of active safety features is only available on the flagship VTi-LX five-seater. That you can’t even option AEB on the only seven-seater variant in the range deserves a smack down (as reflected in our modest rating of seven for Pricing and Features for what’s an otherwise well-equipped package).

But it’s not enough for Honda to lose this closely run twin test.

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