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Driven: Nissan X-Trail DIG-T 163. Image by Nissan.

Driven: Nissan X-Trail DIG-T 163
Does Nissanís X-Trail make a strong enough case to upsize from the similar Qashqai?

   



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Driven: Nissan X-Trail DIG-T 163

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Good points: It's a lot like a Qashqai, only bigger

Not so good: It's too much like a Qashqai, only dearer

Key Facts

Model tested: Nissan X-Trail N-Tec DIG-T 163 2WD
Price: X-Trail range from £21,995; N-Tec DIG-T 163 from £26,730, car as tested £28,285
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door crossover SUV
CO2 emissions: 149g/km
Combined economy: 44.1mpg
Top speed: 124mph
0-62mph: 9.7 seconds
Power: 163hp at 5,600rpm
Torque: 240Nm from 2,000- to 4,000rpm

Our view:

You kind of suspect Nissan hasn't ever quite known what it wants to do with the X-Trail. It started life in 2000 as a slab-sided, utilitarian 4x4-type machine. And it stayed pretty much the same as it developed into the Mk2, which arrived in 2007, so it never really caught the imagination of the UK car-buying public.

Nowhere was Nissan's uncertainty about the model's character more evident than in 2014, however, when it performed an abrupt volte face on the rugged identity of the older cars and went for a V-motion-grilled, smoothed-off, crossover-type affair for the Mk3. In fact, what Nissan basically did was rename the seven-seat '+2' version of the phenomenally successful second-generation Qashqai and slap an X-Trail badge on the boot.

Which rather leaves the biggest Nissan crossover of the lot with a confused and indistinct identity. The X-Trail might bring to mind remote mountain tracks and genuine mud-plugging ability, but all petrol models, like this 163hp DIG-T, are front-wheel-drive only. So this Nissan isn't the one to choose if you live on a Welsh hill farm and you need to tow horse boxes regularly. It's more like a school-run vehicle for people who simply can't stomach the lack of a 'u' in the Qashqai's name.

The references to the Qashqai are apt, as one of the last examples of Nissan's mid-sized crossover we drove was a 163hp DIG-T in N-Tec trim with a six-speed manual gearbox; exactly the same engine and specification as this X-Trail. At £23,750 with metallic paint, the Qashqai is a useful £4,535 less than the X-Trail, although it should be pointed out that - aside from the same £550 for metallic paint on both cars - the bigger crossover had another £1,000 on the seven-seat upgrade, which brings two additional, fold-away, occasional use (read: for small children only) chairs in the boot.

And it's really only size that differentiates these two cars, as in many respects the X-Trail is exactly like the Qashqai. So much so that we spent a lot of the week erroneously telling people we were driving a Qashqai. Indeed, if we were to note any differences, it's that the 163hp 1.6-litre engine that provided adequate performance in the smaller Nissan crossover does feel like it's in slightly too much bodywork in the X-Trail. It's not a massively heavy car at 1,574kg and it's only six-tenths of a second behind the equivalent Qashqai for 0-62mph, but more often than not you'll encounter occasions where a downshift is necessary in the X-Trail to take on only a modest incline. Just like our concerns with the Qashqai 1.6-litre DIG-T, we think the X-Trail petrol would have been much better with the 190hp output version of this engine, as seen in the Juke and Pulsar.

Like the Qashqai, without ever being exciting to drive, the X-Trail nevertheless is a pleasant machine to deal with, given the lightness of touch Nissan has bestowed on all of its major controls, alongside a good level of refinement in terms of wind, tyre and engine noise. So it does the job required of it in a fuss-free fashion, which is all crossovers in this class need to achieve to be considered a success.

In essence, we totally understand why Nissan looked to its award-winning Qashqai when it was shaping the Mk3 X-Trail. But, shorn of four-wheel drive, the larger crossover from the Japanese marque sadly seems to be lacking a defined character. It's more expensive to buy and run than the equivalent Qashqai, and unless you've got four or five offspring and therefore absolutely need the seven seats, we can't see why you'd pick the bigger car over the smaller vehicle - because they're so remarkably similar in feel. It's not even like we can quote decent fuel economy as a benefit, as the X-Trail managed 38.9mpg across 200 miles at 31mph, whereas the same engine in the Qashqai gave back more like 47mpg in the same circumstances.

Perhaps, when the time comes to replace these two crossovers sometime around 2020, Nissan can do a little more to put some real distance between Qashqai and X-Trail. Until that point, our advice is this: if you really want a Nissan crossover, don't bother with the X-Trail - instead, save your cash and pick a Qashqai 130hp dCi.

Alternatives:

Ford Edge: A newcomer that looks the part but is tilting at premium opposition, hence a near-£30k starting price. Also, the Ford can't be had with seven seats.

Honda CR-V: The Honda can be rather expensive in more desirable trim and, like the X-Trail, is undone by its superior, smaller sibling, the HR-V. A five-seater only, also.

Mazda CX-5: Striking looks and a nicer interior put the Mazda ahead of the Nissan, although it's an older model which was mid-life facelifted in 2015. No seven-seat option, either.


Matt Robinson - 1 Jul 2016



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2016 Nissan X-Trail drive. Image by Nissan.2016 Nissan X-Trail drive. Image by Nissan.2016 Nissan X-Trail drive. Image by Nissan.2016 Nissan X-Trail drive. Image by Nissan.2016 Nissan X-Trail drive. Image by Nissan.

2016 Nissan X-Trail drive. Image by Nissan.2016 Nissan X-Trail drive. Image by Nissan.2016 Nissan X-Trail drive. Image by Nissan.    







 

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