Nissan X-Trail UK road test review: base model blues

It’s pretty hard not to like Nissan’s new X-Trail. The staunchest fans of the old car might be a bit dismayed that it’s more soft and rounded compared to the LEGO-like original, but it’s a handsome enough car.

Or so you might think. Road testers are spoiled, let’s face it, by high specification models and, when we got to drive a top trim “Tekna” around the streets of Buckinghamshire in November 2014, we couldn’t find a thing wrong with it. Fast-forward to March and we have an entry-level “Visia” to try.

If you’ve never considered that a trim level can make or break a car, read on…

Good: It looks just the same as any other X-Trail

The good news is no-one will know if you’ve spent £23k or £32k on your X-Trail – good for cheapskates, bad for the more ostentatious amongst us. There’s no real visual difference between the base-spec Visia and top-spec Tekna.

To our eyes, it’s a cracking looking car. Nissan’s familiar front end might not appeal to all and you’ll have to be picky with your colours so the tail light clusters – covered in a sort of white-rimmed clear plastic – don’t stand out too much, but at least there is a decent palette of paints to pick from even for entry-level buyers.

Bad: It doesn’t drive the same though

Visia grade is only available with front-wheel drive – you can specify it on some other grades if you wish, but you’re lumbered with it on base-spec models. We can’t think of a single reason why – on an off-road-inspired SUV – you’d want two-wheel drive.

The front-driven X-Trail feels like a completely different car to its four-wheel-drive sibling. The rest of the range feels sure-footed but the 2WD drags itself along, scrabbling for grip on loose and damp surfaces. The front axle can jump up an down on particularly vigorous launches from traffic lights.

Far from pulling off a decent showing off the road, the Visia was foxed by a slightly damp grassy knoll – one we conquered easily in a Fiat Panda Cross – and that’s not a good look among off-roaders.

Good: It has the same engine

It’s a little unusual, but the entire X-Trail range is powered by the same engine, a 1.6-litre dCi diesel used across the Nissan and Renault ranges. It makes 130hp and around 235lb ft of torque.

This is good news for entry-level buyers again because it brings further savings. Without having to divert power to an extra set of wheels, the 2WD car is more efficient and returns 57.6mpg compared to the 4WD’s 53.3mpg. This not only drops it into a lower road tax band but nets you a first-year tax saving of £105. We were actually pretty close to beating this figure on a motorway-biased run too.

In fact, thanks to being lighter, the 2WD cars are half a second faster to 60mph, despite the traction deficit.

Bad: The kit is underwhelming

The X-Trail can come with lots of great technology like DAB radio, LED headlamps, a powered tailgate, large touchscreen, and that fabulous Nissan 360º AroundView Monitor camera system. The problem? Absolutely none of this is available on the Visia, not even as an option.

In fact, it’s easier to list what you do get – and it’s a list of things that are considered bare essential kit these days. There’s a CD player with aux and USB inputs, cruise control and an electronic parking brake, Bluetooth is also available as an option. The safety bases are well covered – ABS, ESP and brake force distribution, with the added bonus of Nissan’s active trace control – so there’s some peace of mind even if there’s not much else to play with.

There are still some nice options to be had – our car had the full length sunroof, something we’re always fans of – but your choices are somewhat limited. Nissan might well have placed a nice colour multifunction display between the dials, but whenever we look at the centre stack and see a hive of buttons, our collective hearts sink a bit.

Worse: It feels far cheaper than it is as a result

Look on the bright side, this is a massive car with a 2,000 litre boot – so big you can fit an optional third row of seats or a whole family of labradors – for £24,000. This undercuts some of the other SUVs you see hovering around the school run by an absolutely whopping margin – you could buy two entry-level X-Trails for the price of one Volvo XC90.

On this grade, however, the interior of the car feels like a middling example of a model one generation old – the cheapest 4WD Acenta model is just £2,500 further up the pricelist but the difference is huge. Although the Tekna is noticeably pricier, it might as well be a completely different car for the marked improvements to equipment.

We can see the appeal of a very basic trim if you were looking to replace the previous X-Trail – a dependable workhorse to beat up and subject to dogs, kids and a horsebox. But the new X-Trail only makes sense if it’s 4WD and that’s one vital option the Visia is missing.

We still love the X-Trail of course but, for us, the cheapest option is one to avoid – we’d either head up to another trim or downsize to a 4WD Qashqai instead.

What next?

Check out our full aggregated review of the Nissan X-Trail and the cars it needs to beat – the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Kia Sorento. Then head over to our car configurator to see how much you could save on an X-Trail, or check out our car deals page for our latest discounts.

Nissan X-Trail

Seven-seater SUV is easy to drive both on and off road
£22,800 - £36,730
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