Nissan X-Trail 2014 Test Drive Review
The new Nissan X-Trail is a huge step up on its predecessor. The range has some quirks, that's for sure, but this is a solid SUV with up to seven seats, which would more than satisfy the 'family wagon' requirements for many car buyers. Find out if it's right for you.
In this review and road test, John Cadogan test drives the 2014 Nissan X-Trail
Nissan X-Trail: Solid, but uninspiring - that’s the Nissan X-Trail story so far. But the 2014 Nissan X-Trail model certainly is an upgrade on the previous X-Trail. In fact, SUVs have become the cornerstone of Nissan’s vehicle portfolio. The company now has six different SUVs: The Juke, Qashqai, X-Trail, Murano, Pathfinder and the ‘I’m so big I’ve got my own gravitational field’ Nissan Patrol.
The 2014 Nissan X-Trail is the SUV Nissan has designed to take the fight squarely to Mazda’s CX-5, Subaru’s Forester, Hyundai's ix35 and Kia's Sportage. So it’s fair to say the 2014 Nissan X-Trail is up against some of the SUV market’s most solid competition.
The 2014 Nissan X-Trail is a huge step forward visually. But does it stack up on fundamentals against leading competitors like Mazda’s CX-5? What about Subaru’s Forester? What about the South Korean Hyundai ix35 and Kia Sportage (which are flipsides of the same proposition)?
Should you even bother putting the 2014 Nissan X-Trail on your SUV shopping short-list? Let’s find out in this review and test drive.
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The over-arching first impression with Nissan X-Trail is: They got the fundamental engineering just right. This thing doesn’t squeak, it doesn’t groan, it doesn’t creak and it doesn’t rattle. It doesn’t do anything nasty dynamically either. Basically you just get in it and tell it what to do, and it does that.
That doesn’t mean it’s exciting or inspirational though. I guess if you want excitement or inspiration, you’re going to have to pay a fair bit more.
The X-Trail offers quality family transportation. And the price is right. The range stretches from just over $31,000 to just over $48,000 - based on estimated drive-away prices. They call is an SUV, but collectively, the X-Trail and its competitors retain only vestigial off-road aspirations. They’re concentrating instead on this segment’s main game - family transportation. Nissan even says the X-Trail is - quote - “family proof”.
There are three specification levels: ST, ST-L and Ti. And this is the mid-spec ST-L. It hits the sweet spot for the majority of family purchasers in Australia. The ST is a little too stripped out and designed to appeal only to the kinds of accountants who approve the purchase of vehicles on behalf of Avis rental cars or something.
The ST-L has some cool features. It’s got a 360-degree ‘surround car’ camera system, which will tell you if you’ve got anything to the side, or behind or in front, and it’s a real plus in sardine-tin garages and tight, inner-city car parks. On the ST-L you also get privacy glass, a seven-inch LCD monitor, sat-nav, DAB radio, a splash of leather, electrically adjustable front seats (that’s both front seats) and dual-zone climate control. Try getting all that, standard, on a $40,000 Audi.
Stepping up to the X-Trail Ti adds about $8000 - which is rather a lot to pay for a compendium of partly cool kit that’s kinda nice to have, but which you don’t really need.
If you’re in the market for a Nissan X-TRAIL, you’re going to have to make some key decisions. Do you really want all-wheel drive? Because that’s going to cost you about $3000 more. Do you want five seats, or seven seats? It’d be nice to be able to cherry pick exactly the specification you want, but in reality there are more limitations than that. The world’s not perfect.
If you want a five-seater with all-wheel drive, you can have that, but you can’t have a seven-seater with all-wheel drive.
You can have a two-wheel drive (front-wheel drive) with either five seats or seven seats. So I guess you have to weigh up pretty carefully whether you’re ever actually going to go for a drive down the beach, or whether you’re just going to park in the car park and walk across the sand.
Off-road ability is almost irrelevant to most owners, but those all-wheel drive X-Trails will actually go a lot further off road than most owners will ever require. Nissan’s All-mode all-wheel drive system incorporates a lockable centre differential, which maximises tractive effort when it’s slippery, and they’ve improved the approach and departure angles with this new model. But the vehicle comes only with a space-saver temporary spare tyre, which is hardly a good idea if you’re looking down the barrel of 50 kilometres of rough gravel between your flat tyre and the nearest likely repair. Good luck getting there with that. The market has moved on. Off-road ability is generally irrelevant. The Nissan X-Trail is family transportation.
Having seven seats is a real benefit compared with, say, a vehicle like a Hyundai ix35 or a Mazda CX-5. The X-Trail is the same size as both, but they’re stuck in five-seater territory whereas you can have seven seats for about $1000 extra with the X-Trail. That’s pretty good news if you’ve got kids, and those kids have friends, and you want to be their chauffeur.
The transmission’s interesting. It’s a CVT (continuously variable transmission). So it adapts in real time by selecting the right ratio, based on the prevailing speed and load conditions that you’re driving in. It’s a little different to driving a conventional automatic, which cycles between defined ratios.
If you want to change gears manually you can do that. You just nudge the transmission selector across, and you’re in ‘tiptronic’ mode. What that means is the transmission just emulates a manualised automatic with seven speeds. Basically the CVT just adopts one of seven different presets. And you can change gears with the stick. It would be nice if there were paddles behind the wheel allowing you to shift manually, but in reality most X-Trail owners are just going to get in, start up, select ‘D’ for ‘drive’ and get from A to B via ‘D’...
I drove the 2WD ST-L for a week, and - you know what - I played with the tiptronic mode, but I drove it in ‘D’. And the 2WD powertrain was absolutely fine for commuting and other daily driving. It was better than fine on bendy roads - at least at the kinds of speeds you’d be driving if you didn’t want to induce instant motion sickness in the rugrats. The front-wheel drive X-Trail in ‘D’ is completely benign as the family wagon. You don’t have to compensate for too many deficiencies. It simply does what it’s told.
It might not appear to be this way, but this X-Trail is slightly bigger in all of the key dimensions, compared with its predecessor. It’s certainly lost that boxy demeanour though, and ultimately that converging roofline at the rear might be something of a compromise if you have bulky items to store in the cargo bay, particularly if they’re tall, bulky items. But everything else about this X-Trail just looks like a sleeker, more wholistic design - and you don’t have to worry about it being any smaller.
The 2.5-litre petrol four is slightly better than adequate, and the CVT does a really good job milking it for performance. But I wouldn’t be feeding the two-litre petrol engine in the base-model - that would be like stepping back from business class to economy. But in a few months, there will be a third X-Trail engine option.
A Diesel engine is on the way and, frankly, I can’t wait for that. It should be an absolute cracker.
After driving the front-wheel drive ST-L for a week, I really admired how solid it felt. And I loved how even the mid-spec X-Trail ST-L managed to feel premium. And - despite being a two-wheel drive - you had to push it insanely hard - way beyond family-friendly - to overwhelm the front end. As a family car, the 2WD X-Trail is completely benign, dynamically, plus well built and impressively equipped - but it’s not perfect.
I hate the X-Trail’s parking brake. Foot-operated parking brakes are a crime against humanity. And it’s got one of those. And some paddles behind the wheel would have been a plus - even though, statistically, as an owner I probably would never use them. And, on the commercial front, Nissan will still try to sting you $500 for premium paint (even on the Ti) whereas Toyota and Mazda have seen the light and basically now they chuck it in for free.
The X-Trail delivers slightly less engine performance than the Mazda CX-5, but in mitigation it doesn’t have the CX-5’s insanely annoying automatic engine shutdown in traffic. (Mazda calls it i-Stop. I call it ‘i-Hate’.) If you’ve got a lot of driving on unsealed roads planned, I’d rate the Forester - partly becuase of Subaru’s insanely successful symmetrical AWD system, and partly because the Forester at least manages to ride around with a full-sized spare wheel and tyre.
X-Trail’s big advantage, compared with Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai ix35 and Kia Sportage is the cost-effective availability of seven seats - and when you don’t need them, seats six and seven fold flat, leaving a completely unencumbered, flat-floored cargo bay.
The new Nissan X-Trail is sexed-up, and it definitely has the underlying substance to justify being on your short list.