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Click for pictures“Nissan X-Trail —
  X-rated fun for
  all the family!”

WITH X-TRAIL SALES CLIMBING faster than those of any other compact 4x4, Nissan has recently enhanced this popular SUV. Along with a new interior and higher equipment levels, Nissan now offers the 165bhp 2.5-litre engine on the most popular version of the X-Trail — the Sport. We've tested it here, fitted with the standard five-speed manual 'box, although a four-speed automatic is also available.

Since its launch in 2001 the X-Trail has become the third best-selling 4x4 in Europe in a market segment that is growing quicker than any other. As well suited for families as it is for leisure users — it copes with baby paraphernalia as easily as mountain bikes, and towing a boat is almost second nature — the X-Trail will also appeal to drivers who want something higher-ridin' than a standard estate, but that doesn't compromise on comfort or performance.

As any used car dealer would say, F-L-F-F — Funky Looks Fade Fastest. Bearing that in mind, Nissan has opted for a stylishly clean-cut look that's strong without being in-your-face while still managing
to give the impression that its driver spends weekends indulging in extreme sports. The reality, of course, is that the average X-Trail is more likely to transport a couple of Ikea flat-packs than a brace of snowboards.

Whatever; it looks good. Prominent styling cues include noticeably large headlights with blue-tinted lenses for the sidelights. Squared 'bubbles' on top of the light clusters provide a useful aid to parking, which is even easier now thanks to a new front bumper design
that shaves 55mm off the overall length. Along with the new bumper comes a new mesh grille and white side indicators.

Other key exterior design highlights are the purposeful Patrol GR-mimicking wheel arches. These are primarily practical touches because the deformable front wings are actually made of plastic and in
addition to being 5kg lighter than steel, they can withstand an impact from a 6kg object moving at 4.3mph.

Adding extra visual zing are streamlined roof-rails, a fully colour-
coded exterior, front fog lamps, a roof-mounted rear spoiler and a fresh design for the smart five-spoke 16-inch alloys that not only look good but can be cleaned quickly. Vertically stacked rear lamp clusters — now finished with a light smoked red effect — and a tailgate uncluttered by a spare wheel complete the well-groomed look.

Get behind the wheel of an X-Trail and you'll quickly catch yourself thinking that here's a SUV that really is easy to live with day in and day out. The 165bhp 2.5 unit features twin overhead camshafts
and continuous valve timing control and revs cleanly and smoothly.
There's ample torque on tap — 170lb ft @ 4,000rpm — for lazy gear changers. Top speed is 116mph and the benchmark 0-62mph now cracks the ten-second barrier, at 9.9 seconds.

The X-Trail turns out to be surprisingly manoeuvrable, helped by a tight, car park friendly turning circle of just 10.6 metres and light, direct steering with predictable handling. Together with a driving position that affords excellent all-round visibility, the X-Trail is an enjoyable and easy 4x4 to drive.

Inside, the X-Trail is not dissimilar to a conventional and practical family wagon — the biggest difference being that the X-Trail comes equipped with Nissan's 'All Mode' 4x4 system. Electronically-controlled, the All Mode 4x4 system allows secure and relaxed driving under
all conditions, both on- and off-road, with advanced electronics taking care of all traction needs. It is the first electronic four-wheel drive system to be seen in a compact SUV and has been developed along the same principles to be found in Nissan's legendary Skyline GT-R.

In a nutshell, the ALL MODE 4x4 system ensures that, no matter how severe the conditions, the X-Trail has grip at all times. But unlike some other automatic four-wheel drive systems, ALL MODE uses advanced electronics to ensure drive is transferred between wheels and axles
the instant a problem arises. The system is also able to anticipate low traction situations and engage four-wheel drive before traction is lost.

Under normal conditions, the X-Trail operates in front-wheel drive which reduces energy losses and saves on fuel. However, the instant wheel slip is detected the centre clutch in the rear final drive is electronically activated so that drive can be best apportioned between front and rear axles.

The more technically-minded will be impressed to learn that, thanks
to the electronic sensors, torque can be directed as much as 100 per cent to the front (with zero per cent to the rear) or up to 43 per
cent rear (57 per cent front) instantaneously. Other systems, usually employing a dual pump set-up, simply don't react as quickly, taking a number of rotations before engaging.

ALL MODE has three settings: 2WD, Lock and Auto. In 2WD the system is permanently set in front-wheel drive, which is ideal for fine weather on-road use. Twisting the rotary switch on the dashboard to
lock however, switches the system to permanent four-wheel drive with drive split to the optimum 57:43 front to rear. This is designed for serious off-road work, and brings peace of mind when the going gets seriously tricky in deep mud or when starting off on a snow-covered incline.

Most drivers will, quite sensibly, leave the system in Auto, where it will automatically compensate for unexpected slippery conditions on-road, such as wet leaves in autumn, early morning winter ice or loose gravel any time of the year.

Should you happen to venture off the tarmac you'll find that the X-Trail has sufficient ability to clamber over quite difficult terrain,
helped by its substantial 195mm ground clearance and short front and rear overhangs with approach and departure angles of 29 and 26 degrees respectively. Chunky 215/65 Dunlop all-season tyres grip well both on- and off-road.

Buying decisions are simplified by there being just one body style: five-door. This is very good news, firstly because a long wheelbase means superior ride comfort and secondly, much more interior space. And despite having the longest wheelbase (2625mm) in its class, the X-Trail is easy to park. It occupies no more road space than a Primera. And if you opt for the Nissan Rear Park — a worthwhile extra at £325 — it's child's play.

Inside the X-Trail there are obvious changes — all for the better — including a completely new dashboard with more ergonomically designed controls. Switches for the climate control are now grouped into three circular knobs shared with the 350Z and positioned higher on the centre console. As mentioned earlier, selection of the X-Trail's
All Mode 4x4 system is now done by twisting a knob rather than pushing buttons. Incidentally, all of these improvements were driven by X-Trail customer feedback: apparently customers find turning a knob more satisfying. We'll go along with that!

X-Trail owners also wanted more fresh air to the face, so there's a
new air vent mounted behind the steering column. During the hot, sultry week of our test it proved a real boon, along with the standard-fit climate control air-conditioning with pollen filter. Also new are longer front seat cushions, providing that extra bit of under-thigh support that's important for long-distance comfort. Immediately obvious is better quality materials with improved storage space throughout.

There really is a lot of room inside the X-Trail and it feels far bigger than its rivals. Comfortable seating for five in the wide cabin, with generous headroom and elbow room, can be taken for granted.
Cloth seats get a new look, with a revised square dimple pattern on the fabric that's as comfortable as it is practical. The plastics used
on the doors and throughout the interior are suitably modish in appearance. The front seats are a good size and the seat squabs adjust for tilt and have side bolsters for extra grip.

Today's X-Trail driver gets a leather-rimmed steering wheel with audio controls. One benefit of the centrally-mounted instrument binnacle is that it allows the driver to adjust the steering wheel to the best position without obscuring the instruments. Placing the instruments in the centre of the dash also frees up space for a decent-sized, lidded storage box — big enough to take 12 CDs. The box also incorporates
a 12V power socket and there are three of these located throughout the car. Neat, lidded can holders at each end of the fascia, mounted vertically by the windscreen pillars, can keep drinks cool — or warm! — though they'll just as easily hold a pair of sunglasses or a mobile. There's also a chillable front centre console box that can easily gobble up a packed lunch!

Large windows and slim pillars reinforce the feeling of space and airiness, which is not reserved just for those sitting up front, so rear passengers won't feel short-changed. The comfortably bolstered
rear seat backrests split 60:40, recline through 34 degrees via a lever, and maximum adjustment is quick. There's ample foot room, too, and rear passengers also benefit from electric windows.

The high-mounted driving position, accompanying increased visibility and enhanced feelings of safety offered by 4x4s is one of the principal reasons people buy them. Not, as urban legend would have it, to aggressively run other drivers off the road!

Another well-considered detail is the X-Trail's doors: they take the sill with them as they open. This means clean legs on exiting the car during the UK's many wet days or even after a spot of off-roading. Other nice touches include the chromed pull-type exterior door handles, which feel so good because this is the natural way to open
a door. Tall, electric door mirrors provide lots of visual information where it's most needed.

There's room for bags of luggage too, thanks to the X-Trail's near vertical tailgate, which now opens even higher. For longer loads the seat bases can be totally removed and there's also a ski hatch, plus
a range of extremely functional roof bars and externally mountable boxes for bikes, boards and excess baggage. New too is a cargo net. Not just any old net, but one which Spiderman would be proud of.
As well as containing loose bags of shopping, it can be clipped any which way round you desire. There are no less than 13 latching points for the net's easy-to-use and highly effective carabinier hooks — the type favoured by mountain climbers. In fact, it can even turn into a dog guard.

In-car entertainment comes courtesy of a decent in-dash 6-CD autochanger and radio/cassette with six speakers, finished in silver
to match the rest of the console. It's mounted directly below the instruments where it's easily reached, along with another lidded storage locker — ideal for the fitment of Nissan's Birdview™ navigation system, a £1,600 option.

The X-Trail's composed ride makes riding around a pleasure, and journeys are made all the more enjoyable by the light provided from its enormous electric glass Skyroof — when open, the 'hole' measures 0.56m². That's bigger than any other conventionally opening glass roof.

And when the sun does shine, the X-Trail's glass will reduce radiation and lower the temperature of the interior, and therefore will also reduce the power required by the air-conditioning system to cool it. The windscreen has heat reducing elements that lower the temperature of the steering wheel rim by as much as 6 degrees C. Nice.

Refreshingly, you don't need to grapple with half a ton of scaffolding and spare wheel before you can load your shopping. The X-Trail has a roof-hinged tailgate rather than a side-opening barn-type door, so neither do you need loads of space behind to access the boot with ease in the car park.

The boot is designed to cope with everything from tip-fodder to muddy Timberlands, which is why the luggage area is finished in a new
wipe-clean, dimpled silver-coloured resin similar to that used on trendy personal flight luggage. Beneath the boot lives a full-size spare wheel with space around it for stowing assorted oddments discreetly out
of site. Alongside it there's also a dedicated secret compartment. Just don't forget to remember where it is you've stashed your Precious!

Naturally, any 4x4 this size will never drive like a sports car. That said, the X-Trail is well-behaved and capable, holds the road confidently (especially in 'Auto' 4WD mode) and can happily be hustled along. It rides smoothly, corners roll-free and tackles bumpy surfaces without shaking its passengers about.

Safety kit is likewise comprehensive, with seatbelts with pre-tensioners and load limiters, ISOFIX child-seat mounting points, driver and
front passenger airbags, and 3-point seat belts for all five seats. Remote central locking with anti-hijack provides additional peace of mind. Furthermore, it has a four-star NCAP safety rating.

Active front seat head restraints and side airbags are also standard,
as are ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist. In fact, according to Nissan's tests, the X-Trail has the shortest stopping distances of any car in its class, not least because
it has disc brakes all-round (front: ventilated, 280 x 28mm/rear: 292
x 16mm).

Fuel consumption is a key consideration for most motorists. Even if the cost isn't coming out of their own pocket, there is the convenience factor of miles between fill-ups. The 30mpg overall our test car returned on our usual jaunts will keep most owners happy, as should the X-Trail's 37.2mpg touring consumption. The 13.2-gallon tank should be good for a touring range not far short of 500 miles.

Nissans enjoy a well-earned standing for delivering first class reliability and sturdiness. In fact, according to the latest reliability survey from the Consumers' Association, the X-Trail is the most reliable 4x4 in the UK. It comes with a three-year/60,000-mile manufacturer's warranty and 12-year anti-perforation cover. Why not hit the trail and see for yourself?

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Nissan X-Trail 2.5 Sport | £18,995
Maximum speed: 116mph | 0-62mph: 9.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 30mpg | Power: 165bhp | Torque: 170lb ft
Visit Nissan's website Click to go there now

---------------------------------------------------------------------- Nissan X-Trail