What are you driving?
This is the Nissan X-Trail, a big-ish seven-seat SUV to which Nissan has lately added some model year updates, in an effort to keep it feeling fresh. Which it really needs to, as the X-Trail now faces ever-increasing competition in the seven-seat SUV arena, from the Peugeot 5008 and Skoda Kodiaq, to the larger, more overtly luxurious Hyundai Santa Fe. As before, the X-Trail uses the same platform as the hugely popular Qashqai, and shares some of that car's styling too, but is a very different vehicle in feel and function.
For the update, Nissan has tweaked the styling a little (there's a new grille, rather like that of both the Qashqai and the Micra), a little more chrome detailing and more body-colour parts dotted about, new bumpers and, for this top-spec SVE model, all-LED lights, which turn with the steering.
In the cabin, there has also been a mild round of updates, mostly to do with improving the quality of materials used, a new flat-bottom steering wheel and adding some new equipment. Basic XE models now get front and rear parking sensors, DAB radio, electric parking brake, six airbags, cruise control and speed limiter, Bluetooth, air conditioning, 17-inch alloys and an armrest for the rear seats. Extra folding seats in the boot are an option, and our SVE model included such extras as those LED lights, 19-inch wheels, heated front seats and steering wheel, leather upholstery and self-levelling suspension. While there is a new 2.0-litre 177hp diesel engine available, our test car came with the more familiar (and more popular for Irish buyers) 130hp 1.6-litre diesel.
Name its best bits
In some ways, the X-Trail's sheer familiarity works well for it. Because the styling and the cabin are so broadly similar to those of the Qashqai, there's nothing much that owners trading up have to get used to, so you just hoist yourself aboard, and go.
The X-Trail's safety rating is also a big selling point, especially to the kind of family buyer who'll be adding it to their shopping list. This facelift brings with it more of Nissan's ProPilot driver assistance tech, including (optional on the most basic models) autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, 360-degree cameras for parking, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and headlights that switch to dipped beam automatically.
I also rather like the way the X-Trail drives. While the Qashqai sometimes feels too light and floaty, the X has a feel that's, appropriately, a little more rugged and rough-edged, with a 'proper' 4x4 feeling to it. It's not, perhaps, the most rewarding car in the world to drive, but it's comfortable and competent and that's all it really needs to be.
The CVT automatic gearbox is also one of the better that we've sampled. Perhaps not as good as Honda's new CVT, to be found in the incoming new CR-V, but certainly better than older models, and with less of that annoying 'rubber-band' sensation that leaves the engine straining at high-rpm for too long when accelerating. The 1.6 dCi diesel is also an excellent unit - reasonably refined, with solid economy (we easily broke the 45mpg barrier in everyday driving, which is not half bad for something this chunky) and enough power and torque that you probably don't really need to trade up to the new 2.0-litre engine.
Anything that bugs you?
The central touchscreen, just seven inches across in a world where in-dash iPad-impersonators are becoming more common, looks and feels really very creaky and old-fashioned, and that's not helped by slightly chintzy-looking graphics. Likewise, the main analogue dials look a little old-hat compared to some rivals' efforts.
While space in the front two rows is good, the folding third row suffers from very perfunctory legroom and not much room to put your feet, either. Even small kids are going to think it's tight back here.
There are also some odd decisions made as to cabin trim and material. For instance - on the doors, around the door handle, there were some very nice (and expensive-looking) fillets of glossy carbon-fibre (or at least a good impression of the same). But on the main section of the dash, in front of the passenger seat, is a huge chunk of trim, upholstered in a cheap-looking (and feeling) leather, which just looks awful.
The X-Trail's value for money rating is also somewhat questionable. This top-spec SVE model makes a useful foil for the new Hyundai Santa Fe, being fully-equipped for the same money as a basic Santa Fe, but lower down the range the X-Trail is going to find it hard against more youthful-feeling opposition such as the Peugeot 5008, Skoda Kodiaq and the imminent new Honda CR-V.
And why have you given it this rating?
It's only four years old, as a design, but such is the pace of change in this segment that, even net of this update, the X-Trail is starting to feel old. If Nissan had paid more attention to updating the interior (and especially the infotainment) then that might have been ameliorated a touch. Still, it remains a big, chunky, pleasant family SUV, with plenty of space, a decent driving experience, and solid reliability prospects, all of which mark it out as decent.
What do the rest of the team think?
The Nissan X-Trail feels remarkably different to the Qashqai it shares so much with, but I reckon it needs to have the larger engine and four-wheel drive to really justify its existence. Good car, but swamped a little by fresh-faced rivals.
Shane O' Donoghue - Editor