Overall rating: 3/5
It might sound a bit mad, but the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine and the big Nissan X-Trail SUV actually make a pretty good partnership.
In the metal 4/5
The last-generation Nissan X-Trail, the one that was big, tall and boxy, was rather unfairly overshadowed by its smaller, more successful brother the Qashqai, or at least I always felt so. Big and bluff, it was hugely practical and far better to drive than it looked like it would be.
So I had high hopes for the new X-Trail when it was launched just over a year ago - it's sleeker, has more Qashqai-like styling and now comes with the option of seven seats. Surely a sure-fire hit? Er, maybe not. Qashqais sell by the thousand, X-Trails by the hundred. It's a shame, really, for such a pleasant, capable car.
Would you be swayed by the fact that Nissan is now fitting it with a turbocharged petrol engine? No, wait, honestly. Yes, I know everyone wants a diesel but recent headlines (ahem) may soon start to reverse that trend a little, and if nothing else the new X-Trail 1.6 DIG-T proves that oil-burning isn't the only viable solution if you want a big, seven-seat family car.
Driving it 3/5
Push the start button in a diesel X-Trail and you're met with a reasonably subdued diesel clatter. Push the start button in this one and you get... a quiet whooshing noise and then almost total silence. This is a reminder of just how much noise we have made ourselves put up with by switching wholesale to diesel.
It's a small, light and compact engine this, so much so that, also shorn of four-wheel drive, it trims the X-Trail's weight to a Slimfast-ish 1,430kg. A six-speed manual gearbox is your only transmission of choice, and while it's slightly loose and baggy in its action, it's also light and easy to use.
The 1.6-litre engine feels initially strong as you pull away, and keeps that commendable refinement as you rev it up. It seems to deal well with the X-Trail's mass, but that only remains true as long as you keep working that loose-limbed gear lever. Try and pick up pace in higher gears, especially on long motorway inclines, and you'll find the limitation of the engine pretty quickly - it just can't match the effortless torque of its diesel brother.
It can't match the fuel consumption either, but it's better in this regard than you might think. Nissan quotes an average of 45mpg, which is a bit of a joke, but we managed a not-terrible 29mpg in very mixed driving, much of it climbing near-vertical Alpine roads along the Franco-Swiss border. Emissions are 145g/km, which means €390 road tax - a bit more expensive than the €270 you'd pay for the 1.6 diesel but hardly wallet-busting.
The rest of the X-Trail remains the same. The suspension is just a touch too firm, which means that the ride is too bouncy on badly broken tarmac, and the steering is light and not very good at telling you what the front wheels are up to. That said, it's a faithful and sure-footed thing, perfectly pleasant at a motorway cruise.
The cabin is little short of excellent. A little plain in places? Yes, but our specced-up test cars had lovely cream-coloured leather seats, glossy carbon-fibre trim and a huge glass roof that lifted the cabin ambience up towards BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi levels. The dials are big and bright, the touch-screen infotainment simple and easy to use and the level of safety equipment (which included a blind spot monitor, forward collision alert, emergency braking and traffic sign recognition) make it a hugely reassuring place in which to sit. Perfect for families then.
What you get for your money�N/A
This petrol model isn't confirmed yet for Ireland, but we await the Irish distributor's decision with interest. If priced right, it could well find a cohort of urban-based buyers for whom not only does diesel not make any sense, but for whom diesel has now become a byword for air pollution, instead of affordable tax. Across Europe all trim levels feature air conditioning, alloy wheels and six airbags, LED daytime running lights, a five-inch colour trip computer display, Bluetooth, cruise control and speed limiter. Hill start assist, sliding and reclining rear seats and a luggage board system are also among the features fitted as standard. Would buyers come looking for it? It's possible, certainly given the adverse publicity surrounding diesel power at the moment. The same engine is also available in the Qashqai, where it's equally smooth and nice, and a bit more economical.
Could the petrol SUV be about to make a comeback? Given the furore over diesel and air quality at the moment, don't discount the possibility. The X-Trail's new 1.6 DIG-T engine proves, at least, that there'd be no harm in such a retrograde movement. It's smooth, reasonably punchy and has reasonable emissions - a useful addition to the range.