Nissan X-Trail 2018 st-l (4wd)
review

2018 Nissan X-Trail N-Sport review

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Hey look, its a $2000 black pack that you don't need. Meet the X-Trail N-Sport... now say goodbye and buy the ST-L, instead.
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Nissan is continuing its N-Sport special editions with the new X-Trail N-Sport, which adds a whole lot of black on the outside and, well, not much else. The short version? Don’t buy a Nissan X-Trail N-Sport; save yourself the $2000 impost, buy the regular X-Trail ST-L, and you won’t be disappointed.

Nissan says the N-Sport package ups the ‘cool factor’ of the X-Trail… because you know, black wheels, black bumpers, mirror and roof rails make you cooler, right? Who even says ‘cool factor’ anymore, anyway? It’s kind of like when your parents used to tell you what they thought was cool and you immediately dismissed it and made sure to mark it down as the ‘uncoolest’ thing in the world.

Putting the 1990s-like antics of Nissan’s global marketing department aside, the good news is that the X-Trail N-Sport highlights all the great things about the regular X-Trail and why it should always be on the shopping list of buyers looking for super practical family-friendly SUV.

Believe it or not, the Nissan X-Trail is the best-selling SUV in the world. In fact, last year it was the fourth best-selling vehicle in the world, full stop. That’s an impressive feat, but that global success is not reflected in the charts here in Australia, as the Japanese SUV trails the Mazda CX-5 and the Toyota RAV4.

That still puts it in third place locally, and there are plenty of reasons to explain its popularity. Even so, it’s important to point out that this third generation ‘T32’ X-Trail is starting to show its age. Sure, it was given a makeover last year, but you only need to sit inside to realise how outclassed it feels compared to the likes of the Mazda CX-5, Peugeot 3008 and Volkswagen Tiguan.

The infotainment system feels a generation too old, with slow navigation and no smartphone mirroring technology, the switchgear – whilst well-placed and thought out – can feel a tad flimsy and cheap. There is nothing inside the cabin that seems to be done for the sake of style; this is a car that prioritises practicality above all else.

On the plus side, you have a flat-bottom steering wheel (you know, because you might find yourself in a scene from The Fast & The Furious late one night), the excellent leather quality on the seats and perhaps more importantly, plenty of storage room throughout the cabin and in the second row.

We managed to fit two child seats in the back and the X-Trail still provided enough room for yours-truly to fit in the middle. There are not many medium-sized SUVs that have the width to make that a possibility and, for those families with two young kids, the option of being able to sit between them to stop World War Three breaking out is very desirable. There’s even a seven-seater model available if you need that occasional-use third row.

Nonetheless, whilst it's super practical and hard to fault on those criteria alone, it can’t take away from the fact that the whole cabin ambience gives a sense that the X-Trail is more like a workhorse rather than the sort of car you look forward to driving.

Perhaps that’s the best way to look at the X-Trail: a family workhorse that will likely stand the test of time and serve its purpose without complaint.

But, when you can get all of that as well as style and sophistication elsewhere, it becomes a question of price and the X-Trail N-Sport isn’t exactly shooting to be the best value-for-money option out there, with the price coming in at $39,250 – exactly $2000 more than the regular ST-L. You’ll need yet another $2000 to get the 4x4 variant.

You will likely find that your local Nissan showroom will do a much better deal on a regular ST-L than those prices suggest, so forget the N-Sport and bargain hard on the regular car.

Under the bonnet sits a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine with 126kW of power and 226Nm of torque, coupled to a continuously variable transmission. It’s your run-of-the-mill powertrain, with just enough power and torque to make it seem adequate, but it lacks the punch of the smaller-capacity turbos coming from Europe or the finesse of Mazda’s regular transmission over the life-sapping CVT on offer here.

Nissan says it will sip 8.3 litres of petrol per 100km, but that's likely going to be mid to high 9s in real life.

In saying that, for an SUV that weighs 1534kg, it’s actually a surprisingly reasonable amount of grunt. Fill it up with five adults, though, and it’s a different story. But while it may not be the fastest thing on the road, it provides such exceptional ride quality that it actually puts some luxury SUVs to shame. The simple way in which it absorbs bumps or rebounds from a pothole is exceptional; this is the sort of car your kids will fall asleep in even if you were driving on dirt.

Even more impressive, though, is that the plush ride doesn’t seem to affect its dynamics all that much. Sure, it doesn’t exactly handle like a sporty SUV, but as far as a family car goes, it’s one of the best compromises between comfort and dynamics in its segment.

In addition to the ride, where we also found the X-Trail excels in this segment is Nissan’s inclusion of well-tuned active safety systems, including what it calls Intelligent Emergency Braking (better known as autonomous emergency braking) and forward-collision warning.

As with the ST-L, the N-Sport also gets rear cross-traffic alert, another potential life-saving feature that should be standard on any SUV of this size. It also has a bird’s-eye-view reversing camera, which is rather helpful for those tight car park situations.

We would've loved to see the pedestrian detection and lane-departure warning systems available in this X-Trail, but you'll need to pay up for the higher-spec models if you want the full works.

Other contenders in this segment certainly offer similar safety systems, but apart from the Peugeot 3008, we find the X-Trail’s active safety systems to be the best in terms of finding a balance between being annoying and useful when it comes to warnings and information presentation.

It’s hard to really label the Nissan X-Trail as anything other than 'average' when judged on specific criteria (apart from the ride quality, which is exceptional), but it’s when you put it all together and view it as a package that it all comes together as a viable choice.

This Japanese SUV makes a lot of sense for families that want a no-nonsense offering, especially if you go for the 4x4 version that comes with the ‘lock’ mode, which permanently engages the drive power to the rear wheels, delivering a 50:50 torque split between the front and rear wheels (at speeds below 40km/h), but it can do with more incentives to push you across the line, such as a better warranty than the three years / 100,000km currently on offer, considering a five-year warranty is becoming the norm these days.

Scheduled servicing is also per 10,000km or 12 months, which needs to be 15,000km in this day and age. On the plus side, the costs are not unreasonable, coming in at $232, $413, $322, $488 and $322 for the first five.

Overall, you would be foolish not to at least test drive the Nissan X-Trail if you’re in the market for a medium SUV, for what it lacks in its interior design and overall sophistication, it makes up for with a big focus on practicality, ride comfort and active safety features.

But whatever you do, forget the N-Sport and get the regular X-Trail.

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