The Nissan X-Trail has ditched its predecessor’s upright styling and mud-plugging focus and followed the lead of the road-biased Qashqai crossover. It looks much more sophisticated, has a far higher-quality cabin that can be crammed with technology, and it’s one of the most spacious cars in its class. 

The latest X-Trail is a much more crowd-pleasing car, and continues Nissan’s fine run of recent form in building family-friendly crossovers. It looks well capable of  challenging rivals like the Ford KugaHonda CR-V and Hyundai ix35 in the mid-sized SUV class. 

There’s only one engine available: a 1.6-litre turbodiesel with 128bhp and 320Nm. As standard, you get front-wheel  drive, but all-wheel  drive can be specified on any of the four trim grades (Visa, Acenta, n-tec or Tekna) for £1,700. A 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol X-Trial will come on stream in 2015.

Our choice: X-Trail 1.6 dCi 2WD manual

Styling

Glimpse at the X-Trail and you might initially mistake it for its little brother, the Qashqai, though the X-Trail stands a full 100mm longer and is wider and taller too. 

The ‘Qashqai XL’ styling creates a clear lineage in the range and is clearly aimed at pulling in buyers easily won over by a sharper new suit. Nissan’s given the car its own Led running light ‘signature’ at the front, while the bold wheelarches are supposed to hint at Nissan’s rugged 4x4 heritage. 

Entry-level X-Trail Visia models come on titchy 17-inch alloys so the car looks much more purposeful and well-proportioned in higher-spec n-tec or Tekna guises. These more generously equipped versions wear 19-inch rims, plus a wealth of toys inside.

Owners of the old X-Trail won’t recognise the new one from inside – Qashqai owners will feel right at home, however. The layout is identical to the Qashqai’s, exhibiting quality soft-touch materials and excellent fit and finish. On X-Trail Teknas, the dashboard is dominated by a seven-inch touchscreen interface, called ‘NissanConnect’.

As well as controlling all the usual navigation and entertainment commands, it allows occupants to access their social media accounts on the move, and makes parking a doddle with the ‘Around View Monitor’ camera system. This uses cameras in the nose, tailgate and both door mirrors to create a birds-eye view of the X-Trail. The display is a little fuzzy, but it’s a handy back-up feature for urban driving.

Driving

The X-Trail is no entertainer, but it’s easy to drive for such a bulky machine, thanks to light steering, an unobtrusive six-peed manual gearbox (the Xtronic CVT auto is an option) and a raft of safety tech. 

Nissan wants to offer a commercially viable, fully autonomous car by 2020, and the X-Trail benefits from some of that burgeoning technology. ‘Active Trace Control’ constantly monitors your speed and steering input, trimming your line through a corner if the car senses you’re going to run wide, rather than cutting in with juddering traction control once the car has lost grip. 

Active Ride Control appears too, using subtle engine braking to reduce oscillations over particularly bumpy roads, or over urban speed humps. However, it’s not enough to disguise a fidgety ride on the 19-inch alloys fitted to n-tec and Tekna X-Trails.

The 1.6 dCi engine develops 320Nm of torque – exactly the same as the old X-Trail’s 2.0-litre diesel. As a result, it’s just as punchy, but thanks to the smaller capacity, stop-start and a 90kg weight saving, the new X-Trial is 20% more efficient. 

On the road, the X-Trail gathers adequate pace, but given this car hints at tough-terrain ability and can be offered as a seven-seater, we’d sacrifice a little of that fuel-sipping attitude for some more load-lugging grunt.

Reliability

This X-Trail is an all-new car, right down to its chassis, so there’s limited reliability data for the time being. Impressively, it’s ageing predecessor still managed a 56th place finish in our 2014 Driver Power Survey, and the top areas owners criticised it for - quality, handling, and running costs – have all been vastly improved for this new X-Trail. Nissan itself finished 22nd in our best manufacturers tally, out of 34 total entrants.

The X-Trail hasn’t had its official Euro NCAP crash test yet, but we’re expecting a strong showing. The new Qashqai has already recorded a five-star rating, and the new X-Trail has plenty of safety tech in its arsenal to follow suit, including liberal usage of high-strength steel in the bodyshell, plus the Nissan ‘Safety Shield’ which incorporates emergency city braking and lane-departure warning systems.

Practicality

On first impressions, the X-Trail makes a great case for itself as a family-mover. Thanks to an all-new platform co-developed with Renault, the X-Trail has the most legroom in its class, and the rear doors open outward by more than 80 degrees. 

The rows of seating are arranged in a tiered theatre-style system, where every row sits a little higher than the one in front, for better visibility. This doesn’t come at the expensive of sufficient headroom, though.

Nissan won’t offer a long-wheelbase ‘+2’ version of the new Qashqai, meaning the X-Trail is the only seven-seater crossover in the current UK Nissan range. However, the two rearmost seats are actually an extra cost option, asking £700 even on the most expensive model. That seems a little stingy and we’d prefer it if the flat-folding chairs were included as standard.

Paying £1,700 for all-wheel drive bags X-Trail buyers an adaptive 4x4 system. This can be switched between fuel-saving front-wheel drive, an automatic 4x4 system, that deals out drive to the rear wheels under hard acceleration or in slippery conditions, or a locked 4x4 mode for the worst weather and off-road situations. Nissan expects all-wheel drive models to be the smaller segment of X-Trail sales and that should tell you all you need to know about this car’s road-biased, crossover metamorphosis.

Running Costs

Downsizing from 2.0-litre to 1.6-litre power pays dividends at the pumps for the X-Trail, which can return a claimed 57.6mpg in its most efficient two-wheel drive manual form. CO2 emissions of 129g/km mean the new X-Trail is also four tax bands cheaper than the version it replaces. It’s dropped 10 insurance groups too, which all adds up to cheaper running costs and an estimated 9% increase in residual values versus the old X-Trail. 

That could be a killer blow against the X-Trail’s rivals from Kia and Hyundai, which traditionally depreciate more rapidly due to their perceived inferior badge credentials.

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