Nissan's big, capable X-Trail, the larger SUV sibling to the Qashqai crossover, is big on capability and space, if light on changes in this mid-life facelift.
In the Metal:
It's evident that Nissan didn't think there was much wrong with how its X-Trail looked, so this mid-life update doesn't go too far to change it. There are some new headlights, a slightly revised grille, re-profiled bumpers and a few other subtle changes. If you immediately spot the rectangular rather than round fog lights up front, then your business card probably says that you work for Nissan. Or you really should get out more. The thing is, the X-Trail's a big, purposeful looking SUV, taking the smaller Qashqai's looks and scaling them up. It works well, being nicely proportioned, and particularly striking in some of the new colours that Nissan now offers it in - it's just not too radically different from before.
That's also true inside, where the changes centre around the infotainment system and higher quality materials. Nissan is also getting very excited about its new flat-bottomed steering wheel. It's thicker rimmed, has a smaller hub and it's easier to operate the buttons on it, while on higher grade models it can be heated. Like the exterior, you'll need to have jumped immediately from the last X-Trail to really spot the differences. That's not necessarily a complaint, as it's all nicely built, even if the new materials still aren't going to worry most premium rivals. The space on offer is good, too, and the X-Trail is offered in five- or seven-seat configurations.
You can sit behind the X-Trail's flat-bottomed steering wheel for a few minutes trying to play spot the difference in the cabin, but there's no point in doing the same when you drive it. The changes under the skin amount to exactly nothing, Nissan clearly figuring that everything is fine with how the X-Trail drives. By and large it's right, too, as the X-Trail does everything you'd expect it to. However, in any model powered by anything but the 2.0-litre 177hp turbodiesel, you'll not be going anywhere particularly quickly. Even the range-topper needs a bit of work to move it, as the pursuit of good fuel consumption (which is a decent 5.6 litres/100km with the easy-shifting six-speed manual) means the X-Trail's gearing is long in the later ratios. Rev it in the pursuit of some urgency and it gets a bit gruff, being obviously diesel compared to the smoothness of some rivals' alternatives.
That much-talked about steering wheel directs the X-Trail where you want to go, but there's not much weight or feel, although it's accurate enough. The suspension keeps things mostly in check, although it can get a little bit bouncy on more challenging roads. This is all fairly standard for an SUV of this size and type, and the X-Trail is unremarkable to drive, which is an observation rather than a complaint. We can't help but think that Nissan could have at least made an attempt to add some interest behind that new flat-bottomed wheel, particularly as newer rivals offer a sharper, more interesting drive - yes, we're talking about the Skoda Kodiaq.
What you get for your Money:
Nissan Ireland has yet to confirm prices, but it's likely that buyers will favour the 130hp 1.6 diesel, rather than the higher power 177hp 2.0-litre unit. All models get a choice of manual or CVT automatic transmissions (the former being our preferred gearbox), two- or four-wheel drive and an expansive equipment list. Nissan is typically generous from its entry-level trim choice, although if you want its latest driver aids - Lane Keep Assist, Intelligent Cruise Control and Traffic Jam Pilot bundled under the ProPilot autonomous banner - you'll need to wait until 2018.
The Nissan X-Trail's mid-life update doesn't add up to a particularly impressive gain, being based on slight styling revisions inside and out. The wait is on for Nissan's new autonomous tech, promised in 2018, but we can't help but think Nissan has missed an opportunity to improve how the X-Trail drives, particularly given the quality of some of its newer rivals.