- Max Speed
Think of the new X-Trail as a beefed-up Qashqai, and you'll be about right. They share the same platform, and the family resemblance is obvious. But park them side by side, and the X-Trail comes up higher and longer, a clue to the optional third row of seats lurking in the boot. So it's a seven-seater, which means it also takes the place of the Qashqai +2. Nissan could, in fact, have branded it as an oversized Qashqai - such are the similarities between the two - but decided the X-Trail brand was still strong enough to carry itself.
The outgoing X-Trail paid no attention to fashion. It was boxy and robust and would happily muddy its boots now and then. But it was the last of Nissan's traditional SUVs, before the inter-breeding that gave rise to the crossover. This time around, then, someone has bothered to style the X-Trail with all sorts of dips and curves that help to disguise its size and give it a more carlike appearance. But underneath all that, it's still essentially a big and useful SUV. And - when fitted with the optional, part-time four-wheel-drive system - it's still a bit off-roady.
Despite the new looks, the emphasis is still on practicality and handiness, rather than feigned sportiness. In a world where manufacturers try desperately to convince us everything is ‘sporty', this is very refreshing.
The optional third row of seats will cost you £700, and even grown-ups would manage a short journey back there. Given that the X-Trail's all-new platform is longer than before, it makes even more sense to stick an extra row in the boot. And the newfound length and wheelbase means it gets away with its new curves, which don't eat too much into interior space. The bootfloor flips and folds into nine different positions and underneath it there's a bonus storage area. All seats fold flat. The middle row reclines, splits and slides. And should you need to transport an eight-foot plank, you're in luck.
Like so many crossovers, it's really a road car with a little rough-road talent. The optional All Mode 4x4-i system costs £1,700, but still works mostly in two-wheel drive until the rear axle is called for. But unless the road is particularly greasy, icy, sandy or muddy, that won't happen too often. At big, brave speeds, it might engage 4WD to help you around a corner, but who's going that fast in an X-Trail? Not us. That's why 2WD versions will account for most sales, and that seems about right. Sure, if you live in an area with particularly snowy winters, the 4WD could come in handy. For most, 2WD is fine.
The 1.6-litre diesel - the only engine available until a petrol arrives in 2015 - is adequate and inoffensive. The steering is accurate and light, but otherwise it's pleasingly unsporty. There's multi-link rear suspension and new electronic chassis control systems, one of which dabs the brakes to stop it bobbling around over high-speed bumps. It soaks up the road rather well. It's composed and comfortable and seems more interested in a calm journey than silly cornering speeds, although it doesn't entirely embarrass itself if you're in a brisk mood.
On the inside, it's out with the tacky plastics and uninspired dash of the old X-Trail. In come many new textures and piano-blacks and other things you'll have to polish to keep shiny. There's nothing overly special or inventive in here, but it's a decent place to be. Climb up the spec ladder, and you'll even find a touchscreen with proper Google connectivity that links with the nav and other systems. All models - even the £22,995, entry-level Visia - have aircon, alloys, LEDs, a five-inch screen between the dials, Bluetooth, cruise control and hill-start assist (which seems a touch reluctant to hold you in place for more than a second or so). The marketing department must have been in a fairly generous mood when compiling the spec sheets...
But perhaps the most appealing thing about the X-Trail is its honesty. Alright, maybe the name is a slight misnomer nowadays... but otherwise it's a straight-up effort that looks pretty good, drives well and serves up much practicality. If you don't want the 4WD, it doesn't foist it upon you. If you do, simply tick that box. It's decent value, and - except for dull MPVs - there really isn't much else for this money, or of this size, with that third row of seats. Now all you need is some people to fill 'em.
Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter. Look out for your regular round-up of news, reviews and offers in your inbox.
Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.