When the T32 X-Trail succeeded the T31 in 2014, the TV advert showed a family taking a shortcut through a farm. When they arrived at the other side the kids in the back were covered in gunk and milkshake. Even running over a hose was enough to send a cascade of green slime leaping from its container. There is some truth in that advertising because that is the worst feature of the T31 - its low speed ride over speed bumps and entrance ways is appalling. No matter how low the speed, if you hit a speed bump the rear will bunny hop over it. Maybe it needs 500kg of bricks to hold it down.
In contrast, the X-Trail will handle gravel, corrugations and patched roads with almost magic carpet detachment. The first thing I noticed when driving it home in 2009 was how smoothly it coped with rural backs roads. It was actually my first real drive in an X-Trail. The test drive was in town in an auto and it was not a pleasant experience. I had taken a punt that the manual would be better and I was thankfully right - but not completely.
The X-Trail handles like a stack of mattresses. The body leans a lot, reminiscent of the cars of the 1960s and early 1970s. The brakes and accelerator are a little too sensitive to my taste, particularly after coming out of a VW Polo. Brakes and accelerator on the VW were perfect in how response matched the input whereas the X-Trail brakes will grab when cold and the accelerator has too little between being unable to move and leaping forward. With the CVT fitted, the package did not lend itself to driving pleasure. Adding a clutch and gear stick made it a better drive but not in town. 95% of my driving is open road and it is there the X-Trail comes into its own. It can cover big distances effortlessly, even winding mountain roads. 'Unfussed' is how I describe the T31 out of town.
Despite its bulk it will lug up hills without stirring the gearbox continually looking for some torque. It has a lot more power than the paltry 1.4-litre in the VW. Overtaking is a lot safer compared with the VW but it still requires plenty of road. Cruising past a slower car is the idea to have, and not flash past.
Those are the negatives. I bought the Nissan for space, reliability and spares support; a change from the Polo on all three. The X-Trail delivered in heaps, and I could get amazingly large objects in the back. It has run for 11 years with only two NRMA visits to deal with flooding, as T31s don't like to be moved a few feet and shutdown. It confuses the computer. Owners should let it run for a minute so that it won't add choke needlessly. The other unexpected service stops were for broken glass and flat tyres, and any car can suffer those.
Nothing has stopped working except for a fog light shattered by a rock. After 170,000km it still has original brake pads, clutch and amazingly all but one light bulb. A dome light was replaced. Original battery was replaced about eight years into ownership.
The interior has stood up well. The driver's seat has lost a little shape in the cushion edges but the stitching has not split. Wear on driver's side carpet is high, naturally for a manual, and the plastic cover for the floor of the boot is scuffed. It is not as durable as claimed, nor do the rubber strips that are meant to keep things in place do anything.
The X-Trail is waiting for its replacement to arrive, a Subaru Forester. It is as big a transition as it was from push bike to Mum's Hillman Minx. No serious technology in the X-Trail except for the 2WD/4WD dial (it works brilliantly). The rest is pretty agricultural, driven home by its very poor instrument panel. Lighting is lousy and has too many reflections. The Forester's panel is digital, bright, sharp.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I should have bought a Forester in 2009. It was more like the VW in finish and character but with Japanese reliability. Instead I tried to support a small town car dealer. I got a solid, reliable, practical vehicle for someone in the bush so I can't complain about that. However X-Trails are characterless and boring. I expect more than that, even in an SUV.