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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Nissan shows perfect
  timing by launching
  its 2008 model year
  X-Trail at a time when
  sales of multi-purpose
  vehicles in the UK
  are showing continued
  growth. David Miles
  gets to grips with one
  — on road and off...”

IN THE INTERESTS OF LOWERING CO2 EMISSIONS and responsible motoring you might think that UK motorists are moving away from buying SUVs or 'soft' off-roaders and multi-purpose/4x4 vehicles. Actually, rather than moving away from them, British motorists are buying more, as confirmed by official sales figures just issued by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders: in October 2007 sales of these vehicles were ten per cent up on October 2006.

And it's no flash in the pan. These figures mark the fourth consecutive month of increased sales for multi-purpose vehicles in the UK. And, despite the anti-4x4 propaganda, higher fuel costs and the threat of even higher road taxation for some larger models, this remains the fourth largest segment in the UK's new car market.

While continuing customer demand and the launch of new models is keeping this sector buoyant, some manufacturers — fearful that the boom might end — have marketed new models of this type by sug-gesting they are no larger, use no more fuel nor emit any more CO2 than conventional estate cars

However Nissan is not afraid to call a spade a spade and makes no attempt to mask its off-roaders or multi-purpose vehicles as being anything other than 4x4s suitable for work, leisure or business use.

Nissan has a huge range of models with four-wheel drive: everything from the new X-Trail — a well respected compact SUV — to the spacious V6-powered Murano 4x4 on-roader (with some off-road capabilities) and the mid-sized five/seven seat Pathfinder 4x4s as well as the huge, tough heavyweight Patrol off-roader. In addition, they have their best selling King and Double Cab Navara pick-ups — and even their highly rated Qashqai hatchback range has some 4x4 models in it.

Yes, Nissan is big — but not too big — in the 4x4 market. But, impor-tantly, it is not dependent on 4x4s. In fact, Nissan Motor (GB) Limited recently announced that no more 4x4 additions are planned for their model ranges. However, this week Nissan has been launching their
all-new X-Trail and the revised 2008 model year Navara Pick-Up and Pathfinder 4x4 ranges.

The compact X-Trail traditionally accounts for around 10,000 sales in the UK each year; the Pathfinder around 2,700 sales and the Navara Pick-Up range around 12,000 registrations. For the record, there are
no imminent changes for the Nissan Patrol and Murano models.

Labelled a compact SUV although in reality it is more medium-sized,
the five-seater Nissan X-Trail has found favour with country and town dwellers alike; both private and business users. It sells against the Land Rover Freelander, the Honda CR-V, Vauxhall Antara, Peugeot 4007, Citroen C-Crosser, Mitsubishi Outlander, Hyundai Santa Fe and Toyota TAV4, to name but a few.

Next to the Freelander it has probably been the best performer both
on and off-road and it has proved to be very durable, even when given workhorse duties by country folk.

The all-new X-Trail is, in styling terms, an evolution of the previous model. Sporting a fresh but somewhat plain look livened up with glitzy exterior bright-work, under the skin it is all new with a new chassis and body design. The extended model range now has four engine options, three of them new to X-Trail, and there is also a new 4x4 all-mode drivetrain. Prices now kick off at £18,795 and climb to £26,720. These are considerably higher than for the previous generation models, which ranged from £16,995 to £23,395, but the new models remain compet-itive with the opposition in this sector.

The new X-Trail's four engine options include 2.0 and 2.5-litre petrol units and two 2.0-litre dCi turbodiesel engines; one with a 148bhp power output and the other with 171bhp. Automatic transmission options consist of a CVT type for the two petrol engines and a con-ventional torque converter type for the 150PS dCi models. All manual transmission variants have six-speed gearboxes.

All models also have Nissan's 'smart' all-mode 4x4 system that operates in two-wheel or four-wheel drive. Higher grade versions gain the new 4x4-i intelligent two- and four-wheel drive system which incorporates an electronic stability programme, uphill start support and downhill drive support. This is very clever and simple to use, and really does work exceptionally well off-road.
The 'lifestyle' and 'leisure pursuits' focus for the 2008 X-Trail range is evident in the naming of the model line-up: Trek, Sport and Aventura being the core grades, along with model upgrades badged Sport Expedition, Sport Expedition Extreme, Aventura Explorer and Aventura Explorer Extreme…

Most X-Trail customers will choose diesel engines because of the better fuel economy of these units and the superior all-round driving performance. The likely best-selling model is the 2.0 dCi 150 Sport that, fitted with a manual transmission, is priced at £21,495. During
the recent media launch I tried this model, but with the added Sport Expedition package. This bumped the price up to £23,195 — due to
the £1,700 DVD satellite navigation/rear parking camera and intelligent key system. If you wanted metallic paint, it would add a further £450 to the final price.

Trek — the cheapest model in the range — is not short on equipment, coming with Bluetooth 'phone connectivity, alloy wheels, climate control air conditioning, driver, passenger and side airbags and a stereo radio/CD player with four speakers. And the specification gets better the further you go up the range. For instance, my test model had, over and above the items already listed, the all singing and all dancing 4x4-i all-mode all-wheel drive system, larger alloy wheels, front fog lights, cruise control, panoramic glass sunroof, privacy glass, leather steering wheel, ski hatch in the rear seats, upgraded CD player, automatic headlamps and wipers, roof rails, power windows front and rear, split level load area floor and a trip computer.

Not only has the specification increased and the number of models gone up, but the overall length of the X-Trail has increased as well — by 175mm, to 4,630mm — and much of this extra length can be found in the luggage area. With the three-position rear seat in place, the old X-Trail's load capacity was 410 litres; now it is 603 litres, making it much more user-friendly. Fold down the rear seats and the load area expands to 1,649-litres — and this rises still further (to 1,773 litres) if the top deck of the rear floor is removed.

The twin-deck rear floor is a good idea for storing fragile or valuable items out of sight and away from possible damage, but if in place it does mean heavier items have to be lifted higher to get them into
the vehicle. For towing, this particular X-Trail model has a maximum braked towing weight of 2,000kg (the 171bhp diesel model has a maxi-mum towing weight of 2,200kg).

Overall, the new X-Trail is better equipped and looks as though it is finished to a much higher quality inside the vehicle. The instruments and controls are better positioned, although the headroom is a little restricted because of the sunroof.

On and off-road the X-Trail performed really well, and its off-road per-formance was, in particular, very impressive. This is no lightweight performer and, next to the Freelander, the X-Trail has to be the best
in the compact SUV sector when it comes to going seriously off-road.

On the road the ride is a little soft but most users will enjoy the more comfortable and compliant performance. However, the slightly softer set-up for the new suspension does mean bodyroll is evident, and the X-Trail feels nose heavy under braking or during brisk cornering. The seats are comfortable but, again, a little soft.

The four-cylinder 2.0-litre dCi engine with its 148bhp of power is a dili-gent worker. It is also quiet and pretty responsive — maximum torque of 236lb ft being developed from 2,000rpm — but you need to get the engine speed just right when driving in harsh off-road conditions: too little revs and the engine will stall quite easily. It's also fuel-efficient: 39.8mpg is the official average figure but my test car returned a commendable 40.6mpg for motorway, town and country road driving. Its CO2 emissions of 190g/km put it in vehicle excise duty Band F
at £205 a year. Top speed, at 117mph, is more than adequate and
0-62mph takes 11.2 seconds.

Dislikes are few — in fact, just two! Spongy handling and a soft ride. More than countering these are significant improvement in refinement, comfort, interior design, quality and instrument layout, along with a much improved load area space. The X-Trail also delivers strong engine performance, boasts a clever 4x4 system and is economical and good off-road. That's more than enough Brownie points to swing it for most prospective customers. — David Miles

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Nissan X-Trail 2.0 dCi Sport Expedition | £23,195
Maximum speed: 117mph | 0-62mph: 11.2 seconds
Overall test MPG: 40.6mpg | Power: 148bhp | Torque: 236lb ft

CO2 190g/km | VED Band F £205 | Insurance group 13E
Visit Nissan's website Click to go there now

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