2008 Nissan X-Trail review

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2008 Nissan X-Trail review

CarAdvice rating: (4.5)

Model Tested: X-Trail ST-L

Recommended Retail Price: (Manual models) $31,990 - ST, $35,990 - ST-L, $38,990 - Ti

Options Fitted: None

- by Karl Peskett

Several years ago, at school, there was a young guy named Bradley. Now Bradley was about 6-feet tall, was fairly lanky, and was as white as photocopy paper. Yet somehow he managed to be blacker than Fiddy Cent. You see, his cap was always backwards, his musical repertoire comprised every rap song ever written, and his jeans were baggier than a mouse wearing a tuxedo.

Bradley's problem was image. He just couldn't accept what he was, and several years later, he was no hip-hop music producer. No, he was just another white guy again, and was back to normal. Which is why it annoyed me at the time, that he couldn't just be himself. Why did he have to try to impress everyone?

The same goes with the Australian car market. What is it with people buying four-wheel-drives when they're clearly not going to ever go off-road? I have several friends who have bought soft-roaders and refuse to even take them down to the beach. "I might scratch it" was one of the responses, and what scared me even more was that they were dead serious.

I approached Nissan's new X-Trail with the same viewpoint I always have. If you're not going to take it off road, then there's little reason to buy one. Put it this way - I own a 2001 Holden Astra hatch. The pram we use for my son fits in with no problems. A Commodore has trouble fitting it in the boot though. I've yet to come across a soft-roader under $40K which would swallow it as easily. Until now.

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The boot space in the new X-Trail is just excessive. But in a good way. And because the lip is low, loading it up is a cinch. Then there’s the sliding drawer with dividers, in which you can separate various items. This new Nissan is starting to look extremely practical.

What let the previous generation of X-Trail down was its bits-and-pieces interior. The dash sat in the middle, there were a hundred different surfaces, and nothing seemed to integrate well – put simply, there was no feeling of quality. You bought a cheap soft-roader, and you got, well, a cheap soft-roader. This one is different. Very different.

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For starters, the dash sits in front of the driver. It’s a simple readout, although the circular central LCD panel containing the fuel gauge and outside temperature can be a little hard to read, due to glare. The familiar Nissan heater and ventilation controls fall easily to hand, as does the stereo. The centre stack is bordered by subtle matt metallic strips, while the rest of the dash fascia is finished in a nice medium grey. The black dash top contains a huge lidded bin, and the glovebox is sized to be practical.

Speaking of practical, the rear seating (and front for that matter) is generous in both headroom and legroom. It’s also quite supportive, and just a nice place to be. Aircon vents are supplied for passengers too. Visibility from both front and back is excellent, however a reversing camera would be good in this day and age.

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But where the new X-Trail shines is in fit and finish. Everything seems to go together well. Of course, we’re not talking Audi quality here, but for the price, it is deeply impressive. The seat trim could be a little nicer, but it’s built to be durable, and if you option up to the Ti, you get leather trim anyway. The ST-L model we tested also had leather on the steering wheel, which was nicely shaped, and tactile.

Probably the steering is the weakest part of the X-Trail package dynamically. Electric steering doesn’t give you much feel, as you probably know, and this car is no different. It is suitably responsive however, and what it lacks in feedback, it makes up for in smoothness. It genuinely feels like hot-knife-through-butter material, and isn’t too light either. In fact, given its accuracy and ease of steering (as well as a 10.6m turning circle), I’m willing to put up with no feel – and that doesn’t happen often.

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The smoothness carries over to the ride, too. Bump blotting is the X-Trail’s specialty. It does roll a little, as well as dive and squat under acceleration and braking, but it’s not over the top. The suspension tune is perfect for Australian roads, and its all round dynamics are very good. The ESP does take a while to control flick and lift-off oversteer, but we’re talking extreme conditions, and in the dry too. Wet and gravel calibration is a lot better.

The 2.5-litre, four cylinder engine is probably a little underpowered in this market segment, being that it only makes 125kW and 226Nm. But it makes good use of it, and is mostly smooth throughout the rev range, except for just near the redline, where slight roughness is heard. It pulls very cleanly though, and is linear in its delivery.

Plus it’s mated up to a close ratio 6-speed manual, which is a delight to use, with its quick, light and positive action. It gives a light, rubbery click when selecting each gear, and is almost Golf-like in its action. The clutch is easy too, so this would be my pick, rather than the slow CVT.

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The other reason I’d pick the manual is for going off-road. In sand, the CVT takes too long to wind up, whereas your power is instant in the manual. And in such conditions, the X-Trail does quite well. We didn’t really get a chance to push the limits of the All Mode on-demand four-wheel-drive system, but in the little time we had it off-road, it did very well.

Ground clearance could be a little better, and the departure angle is also a bit limited, but for normal scrub, bush tracks and beach work, this is a fine performer. Another huge plus is standard fitment of hill start and hill descent control across the range.

So not only is the X-Trail looking practical, but it’s also excellent value for money. The base model (ST) is $31,990, and has all the features the ST-L has, except for 6-stack CD player, and leather handbrake and wheel. What you are getting, is a roomy, practical, smooth, well built car, which will bush bash if you want to.

It’s not often I would choose a soft-roader for simply doing the family run. But if you buy an X-Trail for just that one, practical role, I won’t hassle you. I’ll applaud you. The bonus is, you can actually use it for more than that.

It’s funny how perceptions can cloud your judgement. The end result is, I approached the X-Trail with negativity, and left with positivity. In my book, that means Nissan has done its job, and done its job very, very well.

2008 Nissan X-Trail specifications

Engine: 2.5-litre four cylinder
Power: 125kW
Top speed: N/A
Safety: Dual front, side and curtain air bags, - ABS, ESP, TC, EBD, EBA, seatbelt pretensioners
0-100km/h: Approx 10 secs
NCAP rating: N/A
Turning circle: 10.6m
Fuel tank: 65 litres
Fuel consumption : 9.5-litres/100km
Fuel type: 91RON unleaded