Nissan seems to have got it dead right with the newly-released diesel versions of the X-Trail compact SUV. The Renault-engined 4x4s performed impressively during an extended on-road and off-road drive near Gisborne last week.
The Renault motor adds weight over the front wheels and the suspension has been beefed up.
The Europe-oriented diesel X-Trail also gets tauter suspension tuning and steering and has reduced bodyroll and greater steering accuracy than the already-good petrol versions.
Gone is the slight vagueness with the steering wheel at the straight-ahead position, and on the move the steering has a beefier, more positive feel.
One or two journalists felt the steering was a little heavy, but we’d rather have that for the greater feel. In fact, the diesel X-Trail can be punted along very nicely at open road speeds using minimal steering inputs.
Just a slight finessing of the steering wheel will suffice for most corners.
The vehicle turns-in crisply and tracks accurately, the absence of bodyroll ensuring that understeer is well-controlled.
Comfort levels in the driver’s and front passenger’s seats are very good and the X-Trail is a refined cruiser.
There’s some diesel clatter at start-up and at higher revs but generally the engine is nicely muted.
Loose-surfaced road handling is excellent, the chassis remaing stable and predictable even in quite heavy gravel.
Even more impressive was the grip in slushy going; roads that were cutting up and turning to melted chocolate consistency on corners were taken with confidence.
Off-road, on tracks across a publicly-owned back country station, the X-Trail never put a foot wrong.
Which was just as well, because on one particularly narrow passage of travel with substantial drops on the driver’s side of the vehicle, the surface had turned completely to muddy slush, becoming wetter and more treacherous with each car.
We were running mid-convoy and by the time we hit some of the wetter sections, the ruts were deep and the slush afforded no grip whatsoever.
In going like this you lose track of how much lock you’ve wound on, and several times the X-Trail slid in a different direction to the one I intended.
There was nothing for it but to let go of the steering wheel as we inched forward and let it self-centre to get the front wheels straight – and then start again.
Even though the car was on road tyres and had come to a complete stop in ankle deep slush, the 4×4 system picked up the momentum again and we moved forward.
There were some anxious moments when the mud pulled the car closer to the edge of the drop and my body temperature started to increase, but each time the X-Trail pulled itself out of the quagmire safely.
There was some anxiety when our group reached the regroup point and the next bunch hadn’t turned up – with thoughts of them being stuck in places that had become nigh-impassable given the slippery surface and the narrowness of the tracks with no room to manoeuvre – but they all came through.
It was impressive, and though most X-Trails will probably spend their lives on the urban school run, it’s reassuring to know that when the going gets tough, this Nissan can really keep going.
Out of the station and on to faster gravel roads, the x-Trail was pure delight – predictable, stable and very forgiving.
We’ve spent quite a bit of time in petrol X-Trails and really liked them. The diesel is a very different beast, tauter, more driver-oriented and definitely our choice.
– Mike Stock.