Nissan's new X-TRAIL challenger in the compact lifestyle vehicle segment is the same but different. The two-wheel-drive version boasts all the space, comfort and presence of its popular all-wheel-drive stablemates but is aimed squarely at the MPV market, and is designed to please families who want a funky holdall that will complement their active lifestyle. In short, it's a wagon with a bit of attitude.
Powered by a proven 2,0 four cylinder multivalve petrol engine with 103 kW and 192 Nm driving the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox, the X-TRAIL promises lively performance that busy families will need during the working week. Come the weekend, and the X-TRAIL's generously-proportioned cabin and high comfort levels come into their own, reducing virtually any journey to an unstressed ramble. With a safety specification that includes dual airbags and ABS brakes, luxury that encompasses air conditioning and four-speaker sound system, and with a high level of security assured by keyless entry and the NATS anti-theft system. The latest addition to Nissan South Africa's extensive recreational and lifestyle vehicles isn't short of emotional or logical appeal. The two-wheel-drive X-TRAIL retails at R216 950 and is expected to find 50 to 60 homes per month.
The X-TRAIL range has been one of Nissan's success stories around the world, and last year Germany's Auto Motor und Sport magazine, arguably the most highly respected motoring journal in the world, chose the Nissan X-TRAIL 2,0 litre petrol (introduced here in April 2002) as the winner of a four-way "soft-roader" shootout. In the United Kingdom, Auto Express magazine gave the X-TRAIL their Best Recreational Vehicle award, describing it as being "Superbly packaged, great to look at and to drive, and as a result a car which really is a SUV for the 21st century."
The German test saw the Nissan pitched against all its closest rivals, and the evaluators had high praise for the X-TRAIL's off-road ability, ride comfort, cabin ambience, quality, and safety. In addition, the low running costs both in terms of purchase price as well as warranty and servicing costs stood it in good stead. It is this model on which the 4x2 version is closely based
Under the bonnet of the newest X-TRAIL is the acclaimed TR20DE all-aluminium powerplant, a big bore/short stroke engine that is responsible for the car's eager acceleration and effortless overtaking ability. Peak power of 103 kW is achieved at 6 000 revs/min, with maximum torque of 192 Nm at 4 000 revs/min. A large percentage of the twist effort is available from less than half that engine speed.
Nissan has gone to great lengths to give the powerplant low levels of noise, vibration and harshness: it features a cylinder block with ladder-frame construction for improved strength and reduced resonance, while a pair of counter-balance shafts all but eliminate secondary vibrations. The twin cam head has a chain-driven valvetrain that also allows for automatic valve timing adjustment to optimise the width of the powerband, with the low mass of the valves and springs contributing to its overall smoothness and response. Finally, a fly-by-wire throttle and state-of-the-art engine management ensure maximum refinement and minimal fuel consumption.
Bodywork and styling
The front view of the 4x2 X-TRAIL makes it immediately recognisable as a member of Nissan's recreational and sports utility range. The inverted trapezium, body-coloured grille with the prominent Nissan logo is flanked by large, clear-lensed headlights which flow up and around the front extremities to give it a modern and determined countenance. The bumper has a smooth, well-integrated look, aided further on this model by the deletion of front foglamps. The side view is dominated by the long, expansive roofline, while the generous glass area alludes to the airiness of the interior. In the flared wheelarches, attractive plastic trims shroud 15-inch steel wheels, which are shod with 215/70 tyres. The rear view is practical yet appealing: the tailgate is almost upright, and is flanked by vertically-stacked light clusters, with its opening cutting into the centre section of the bumper to ensure easy loading of heavy or bulky objects.
The elevated driving position provides an exceptional view of the road, with the chunky styling and big windows making it exceptionally easy to park, or manoeuvre through dense traffic. This driver-friendliness sets the tone for a cabin that has comfort and convenience as dominant themes. It remains avantegarde in a number of areas. For example, the instrument binnacle is positioned in the centre of the facia, thus providing the driver with a second "glovebox" storage area where you find the gauges on more ordinary vehicles. The upholstery has been chosen with serviceability foremost in mind, and there are a pair of "refrigerators" chilled by the air conditioning – one either side of the tuner/tape – each of which accommodates a standard cooldrink can. If the myriad storage spaces and quarter of cupholders make the point that practicality is the keyword, then the rear seat design drives it home still further. It seats three with generous headroom and legroom as well as enough floorspace to sit with your feet comfortably under the seat in front, but there's also the option of turning the cabin into a minivan.
The 60/40 split rear seats fold flat once the rear cushion is tilted forward against the front sets, providing a massive surface area for the likes of mountain bikes, dogs, or diving gear. In addition, the floor of the load area is finished in a rugged plastic material – as is the rear seatback – which allows dirt to be swept away or washed off. This floor panel can be removed completely if necessary, revealing a bucket-shaped plastic recess within the spare wheel that can be used for dirty or wet items. A retractable tonneau cover that keeps belongings hidden from view when the rear seats are in the normal position covers the luggage area, and one of five increasingly reclined settings can be chosen. As an encore, the X-TRAIL can carry a full-sized surfboard, by removing the rear seat cushions completely and reclining the front passenger seat as far back as possible.
Safety and convenience
In addition to the dual airbags and anti-lock brakes, the X-TRAIL also comes fitted with rear foglamps, intermittent wipers, and one-touch up/down functions for the driver's electric window. The rear glass has a wash/wipe function, exterior mirrors are electrically operated, and there are auxiliary 12 Volt power points both in the driver side cubby and in the hatch area.
With monocoque construction, independent suspension all round, and rack and pinion steering, the X-TRAIL is thoroughly car-like in its road behaviour. The power-assisted steering requires just 3,1 turns lock to lock and the turning circle is a modest 10,6 metres, harmonizing with the great view offered from the driver's seat. Front suspension is by MacPherson struts while the rear is a combination of coil struts and parallel links, providing enough travel to soak up the worst bumps. Anti-roll bars keep things tautly under control when cornering or taking evasive action. The ABS braking system works off ventilated front discs, and solid rear ones.
South African motorists looking for a practical compact SUV have already voted with their wallets for the X-TRAIL, and in two-wheel-drive guise it looks set for the same success, thanks to its ability to cross over into the territory normally occupied by mini-MPVs and station wagons.
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