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James Batchelor puts a restyled, petrol-electric version of a caravanner’s favourite to the test
In the past if you wanted a family SUV that wasn't afraid to get its feet muddy, the Nissan X-Trail was a solid option, and it has also long been a favourite among caravan owners. In recent years, however, the X-Trail has often felt like an upscaled version of the smaller Qashqai – plusher, yes, but having lost some of its individuality.
Now, Nissan has launched a new iteration of the X-Trail, updating it with the latest technology and fuel-sipping powertrains, but also taking the car closer towards its rugged roots. I got behind the wheel to try it out…
Plenty of knee and headroom at the back
Interior look and feel echoes Nissan’s Qashqai
Roomy, comfortable cabin
The X-Trail was launched in 2001 as a fairly rough, no-nonsense 4×4, and it quickly acquired a league of fans who loved its unassuming styling and rugged mechanicals – the latter being just as good at everyday chores as traversing a ploughed field. Over the years, though, the X-Trail seemingly got caught up in the craze for road-biased crossovers and lost some of its hard-edged character.
The new, fourth-generation car aims to recapture a slice of the first model’s rugged persona, but still appeal to fashion-conscious buyers and reflect Nissan’s current focus on building greener, more electrified cars. The new car has a far more aggressive look than the sleeker, more unassuming Qashqai, with a large grille, boxy wheel arches and powertrains that come with four-wheel drive options.
We’ll come back to those powertrains in a moment, though, and finish looking at the X-Trail in the round. The exterior design excels in marking the car out as the more serious of Nissan’s SUVs, but the mood changes once you climb inside. Instead of continuing its more distinctive look, the X-Trail instead pinches the Qashqai’s dashboard and interior look and feel. That’s no bad thing; while rivals such as the Peugeot 5008 have a more interestingly designed dashboard, this one is logically laid out and put together rather well. In particular, the air-conditioning and radio/media controls rely on traditional knobs and buttons, which makes adjusting them while driving immeasurably easier.
The entry-level Visia model doesn’t even have a touchscreen – instead it relies on a traditional radio unit that looks a little awkward in a modern car. Step up a level into Acenta Premium and there is a touchscreen measuring 8in, but most buyers will be looking at the N-Connecta, Tekna and Tekna+ trims that feature screens up to 12.3in.
The previous X-Trail relied on a laggy and dated infotainment system, but the new car has a far slicker and easier-to-use set-up with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto coming as standard (wireless on N-Connecta and above). Higher trim levels also get a digital screen for the dials, while the range-topper gets a head-up display. All models bar the entry-level are well equipped with features such as LED headlights, front parking sensors and a reversing camera.
A high-up driving position provides a great view of the road, while taller passengers can stretch out in the back thanks to plenty of knee and headroom. The back bench can slide backwards and forwards and, depending on trim, can adopt a 40/20/40 configuration for greater flexibility.
While some of the X-Trail’s rivals are purely five-seat SUVs, this car can be optioned with two additional small seats in the boot. Unlike a Land Rover Discovery, though, seven-seat X-Trails are pretty tight on room, and those two rear-most seats are really only suitable for children.
At 575 litres, the boot is of average size and unremarkable, but it has a good shape and comes with moveable boards that allow the area to be partitioned. The handles to fold the seats down are mounted on the seats themselves – there are no releases inside the boot, which could prove annoying.
As for towbars, there are no electrically deployable options available with the X-Trail; instead, there is a fixed hook for £465 or a removable one for £645. Installing and removing the towbar when not needed was a straightforward process.
Slick infotainment system
The X-Trail instead pinches the Qashqai’s dashboard and interior look and feel
There was a time when the obvious choice of engine to suit the X-Trail’s rugged persona was a diesel. Times change, though, and you’ll find no diesels available in the new line-up.
A 1.5-litre three-cylinder mild-hybrid petrol kicks off the range. With 161bhp, it’s a fine option for normal driving, but I imagine it would easily run out of puff carrying a full load and a caravan.
With the mild-hybrid petrol put to one side, the alternative is one of two petrol-electrics. Nissan calls the set-up ‘e-Power’ – essentially it consists of the same 1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine plus a battery pack and an electric motor. It’s unusual because the engine never directly powers the front wheels, but sends its power to the battery, which in turn powers the electric motor. The benefit of this is that the car is always driving on electric power, with the petrol engine firing up occasionally to boost the battery. There are two versions – e-Power 204 and e-Power 213 (as tested here) – the latter coming with Nissan’s new ‘e-4orce’ four-wheel drive system, which features a second electric motor on the back axle.
In normal driving mode the e-Power system is very relaxing – you can sometimes hear the engine fire up, but it’s not intrusive – and the car gets up to speed quickly thanks to the instant torque from the electric motors. The X-Trail offers good ride comfort while light steering provides an easy-going feel. Prod the ‘e-pedal’ button on the centre console and you get ‘one-pedal’ driving (lift your foot off the throttle and the car comes to a near stop), which is handy when driving in the city.
New, ‘aggressive’ look
Hitch up to a caravan and the X-Trail e-Power e-4orce starts to falter a little. On our test, we towed a 2016 Bailey Unicorn III Cordoba with an MRO of 1,590kg and found the car to be slightly out of its comfort zone, the e-Power system working hard to perform effectively.
When solo driving the engine often shuts down, leaving the car in pure electric mode. While the e-Power system’s strength is that electric drive is always sent to the wheels, when towing, the engine was running and charging the battery all the time. Under hard acceleration on a dual-carriageway slip road, for example, the one-speed gearbox sent the revs to the redline – not in a coarse way, but nevertheless the system had to work hard to keep momentum going. The result was fairly high fuel consumption – we achieved 23mpg on our test, which is disappointing for such a cleverly designed hybrid.
The ride is a little bouncy when hitched and the car also felt a bit too rear-biased, but we were very impressed at the grip levels. The e-4orce system smartly controls torque and braking for each wheel individually, so driving in poor conditions or on a boggy caravan site shouldn’t be a problem. A rotary dial on the centre console allows you to switch between a number of driving modes, including an off-road mode for maximum traction.
The latest X-Trail is not a complete return to the original car’s rugged character, but it does feel pleasingly different from its Qashqai sibling. While it disappointed a little in our towing test, the e-Power e-4orce could be a good option for those who only tow occasionally, but primarily want an efficient, comfortable and enjoyable everyday car.