First Drive: Nissan X-Trail
Sector: SUV Price: £22,295 Fuel: 53.3–57.6mpg CO2: 129–139g/km
With retail-heavy annual sales of less than 2,500 cars, Nissan’s X-Trail has traditionally been a small player in the fleet sector. But this third generation car stands to have a much more important role in the range.
The seven-seat Qashqai +2 was dropped from the new model last year, said to be in line with customer demands. That’s not to say it was a niche car – it accounted for 20% of the crossover’s UK sales, or around 10,000 units per year – but it was popular for the extra load space offered by its larger cabin, rather than its third row of seats.
So the X-Trail has two roles to fill. On the one hand, it has to cater for buyers of the old car who rated its towing ability and utilitarian qualities. At the other end of the spectrum, it now features two-wheel drive with an aim to attract migrating Qashqai customers, which explains why its trademark slab-sided styling has made way for a much curvier design.
The effects on its fleet presence are significant. Although the swing towards fleet sales doesn’t sound like much, at 40% compared to its predecessor’s 25%, it’s worth noting that this is a share of 11,000 units and represents almost a seven-fold increase in volumes being sold to corporate customers.
So whole-life costs have come under scrutiny here. The old car’s 2.0-litre, 173bhp engine has gone, and in its place is the same 1.6-litre dCi 130 engine used in the Qashqai since 2012. It’s a very quiet engine which doesn’t feel underpowered in the larger X-Trail, despite the drop in power. Most importantly it slashes CO2 emissions to 129g/km and lifts fuel economy to 57.6mpg for the predicted fleet-favourite two-wheel drive manual version.
Nissan has kept the range simple, too. Most fleet drivers are expected to size up for luggage space and stick with five seats, but the third row seating adds £700 across the range. Excluding the entry-level Visia, four-wheel drive adds £1,700 and Nissan’s stepped CVT gearbox costs £1,350, but is only available with two-wheel drive.
Similarities with its stablemate go much further than the body. Its cabin design and materials feel familiar from the Qashqai, and all five-seat versions feature the same luggage board system as the smaller crossover, allowing the huge boot to be separated into useful smaller spaces using sections of the load floor.
For cars with seven seats, the third row isn’t significantly more spacious than in most MPVs. There’s enough room for adults on short journeys, if the middle row is pushed forward, but it’s better suited to children. Five and seven seat versions can be equipped with a folding passenger seat, giving a 2.6-metre load length – which is enough to carry a packaged Ikea bookcase, with room to spare.
The biggest differences are felt from behind the wheel. Although the X-Trail shares its modular platform with the Qashqai, there’s been a marked attempt to make it feel more like a D-Segment estate car than its agile smaller sibling. Motorway manners are excellent, the engine delivering strong performance despite its small size and ride quality is respectable even on large wheels, but the raised ride height for off-roading means there's noticeably more body roll on tighter roads.
Broader appeal is guaranteed, though. Sales of the first Qashqai have shown that customers like rugged but car-like crossovers with low running costs, more than utilitarian off-roaders, and the versatility on offer here makes it a worthy step up in the range.
Looking more like a crossover than its slab-sided predecessors, the softer styling and improved running costs bode well for the X-Trail as it aims to fill the gap left by the absent Qashqai +2. The once niche SUV stands up well as a viable alternative to a D-Segment estate car for fleet customers, while continuing to satisfy the towing needs of its loyal retail customer base.