Nissan X-Trail 2,5 LE Automatic (2008) Driving Impression

Nissan X Trail 2008

There are broadly speaking two ways that success can be channelled. Firstly, success breeds success, as the saying goes. But perhaps more often than not, success leads to complacency – just ask the Springboks. Or, perhaps, Nissan…

The first-generation Nissan X-Trail was a smash-hit sales success for the Japanese brand, and deservedly so. It had a crisp, unique design, which made it stand out in the car park. The interior was undeniably quirky – what with centrally mounted instrumentation etc – but at the same time also very practical. And while it was easy to peg the Nissan X-Trail as a softie because of its family friendly features, the reality was that it was among the more capable vehicles in its segment when the going got rough.  Its joie de vivre even seemed to inspire such adventures. Overall then, it was a tough act to follow.

Which is perhaps why Nissan has seemingly tried very hard not to change anything. The Nissan X-Trail version 2.0 looks very much like the original, but just a little bit, er, fatter. Longer and wider than before, but with a wheelbase stretched by only 5 mm, it looks somewhat bloated. And while it is easy to understand Nissan’s logic in not messing with a winning recipe, it has to be said that the freshness of the original look has long since worn off. So now the Nissan X-Trail looks familiar. But fat. Which is not so good…

Upmarket cabin f0r Nissan X-Trail

The bigger changes have been made inside. Gone is the playful quirkiness (and hard plastics) of its predecessor. Instead, the Nissan X-Trail comes across as a more upmarket product, with near premium-segment levels of fit and finish. The facia is finished in a lovely soft-touch plastic and the instrumentation and some minor controls appear similar to what you’d find in a Murano or 350Z.

LE specification means a very long standard features list that includes leather upholstery, radio/6-disc CD sound system, cruise control, electrically adjustable front seats (with heating), six airbags, climate control and even a sunroof. Overall, it is a cabin that exudes quality and promises much in the way of comfort. Unfortunately, the reality does not quite live up to the lofty promises made by these first impressions.

Compromised packaging

The Nissan X-Trail has a massive boot, possibly the largest in its segment. The floor is conveniently flat, too. But the first problem is a fairly high floor (to make space for a usable plastic storage tray system underneath) which leads to much “hoisting” of heavy suitcases. Oh, and the spare wheel is located underneath that storage tray system, and accessing it is therefore not a quick process.

The bigger boot also appears to have come at the expense of some rear legroom. As mentioned before, the wheelbase has only increased by 5 mm, so Nissan did not have much space to begin with. Add to this the fact that headroom is limited due to the fitment of that sunroof, and rear seat accommodation is certainly not among the best in this segment.

Finally, up front, the driver’s seat may offer height-adjustment, but is perhaps a bit too high, even in its lowest setting. Coupled with a steering wheel that is not reach-adjustable, and you have a driving position that may be compromised for some. That said, the driver’s seat is superbly comfortable and also boasts adjustable lumbar support.

On the road

From the moment you take station behind that soft-touch facia the focus on comfort and refinement is palpable. It would appear that the X-Trail’s move upmarket was a conscious decision by Nissan, and not merely the end result of a natural “evolution”. It feels like a far more grown-up vehicle than before. The levels of NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) are kept to a minimum and the primary ride is really beautifully supple.

This Nissan X-Trail is powered by the marque’s 2,5-litre petrol engine that delivers 125 kW and 226 Nm of torque. The figures are certainly competitive with what else is available in this market segment and succeeds in giving the X-Trail an admirable balance of performance and fuel economy. The six-step CVT (continuously variable transmission) plays an important role here but, as always with this type of drivetrain, some prospective customers will be put off by the general driving characteristics of any CVT. It’s a transmission that remains an acquired taste. That said, the X-Trail’s is among the best of its type, aiding the “softly-softly” character of the car and doing its business in relative silence in the background.

Should you want to head off-road, the Nissan X-Trail still features selectable all-wheel drive and even a “Lock” mode, which splits the power delivery 57/43 to the front and rear. Ground clearance is a reasonable 203 mm. But, in general, as capable as this second-generation X-Trail theoretically is off the beaten track, it just isn’t a vehicle that inspires that kind of behaviour, unlike its playful predecessor which seemed to motivate exploration of the road less travelled. The new Nissan X-Trail seems more at home in the city, climbing the odd kerb, and ferrying little ones to school and back in safety.

Nissan X-Trail - Verdict

It would be harsh to label the second-generation Nissan X-Trail a disappointment, but there is a sense that Nissan has not quite succeeded in enhancing an already strong product in the right ways. The vastly improved perceived quality in the cabin is appreciated, but the packaging is compromised. The engine and transmission do their jobs, but at the same time there are also no fireworks. Somehow the first-generation X-Trail’s “zest” has disappeared, and in its place we have a more mature, more serious, but somehow blander, product. It’s a good vehicle, this, but could easily have been lovable as well.

We like:

  • Refinement
  • Quality
  • Standard features
  • Big boot
  • Ride quality
We don’t like:
  • Rear seat accommodation compromised (head- and legoom)
  • Lack of reach adjustment for steering wheel
  • Bland
Fast facts

Engine: 2,5-litre, four-cylinder, petrol

Power: 125 kW @ 6 000 rpm

Torque: 226 N.m @ 4 400 rpm

Transmission: CVT

Wheels: 17-inch alloy

Top speed: 183 km/h

0-100 km/h: n/a seconds

Fuel economy: 9,0 litres/100 km


Also consider:

  • Honda CR-V 2,4 RVSI Auto: A very popular choice and not without reason. The cabin is near MPV-like in its spaciousness and flexibility. The engine delivers a strong balance of power and economy. And the quality is unbeatable.
  • Subaru Forester 2,5 XT Premium Auto: Goes like a rocket, but drinks like a fish. The turbocharged Forester is a quirky choice, but not without merit. Build quality is excellent, as is the ride quality.
  • Land Rover Freelander 3,2S Auto: Like the Forester, a heavy drinker, but packs a powerful punch. It is the “status” vehicle among these competitors and also the most capable off-road. Cabin neither as spacious nor as flexible as the others.