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NISSAN X-TRAIL T31
Published Date: 29 May 2007
The new Nissan X-Trail will be serious competition for the Land Rover Freelander and will cost about £6,000 less, writes LES OLIVER.
Like the very popular Sunderland-made Qashqai, it's built on the all-new C platform and offers real passenger car comfort but with significantly better off-road credentials.
Nissan have kept all the best of the old X-Trail, retained its identity and looks, because that's what customers liked, then improved on them.
They've built in new features, such as a new intelligent 4x4 system so it can tackle demanding off-road terrain and also give safe and sure high-speed performance on the roads.
At the same time, improvements to the suspension have made this off-roader more like a passenger car in its ride comfort characteristics.
When it goes on sale on September 1, it will have an edge over some manufacturers of compact SUVs in that it will be available for the first time with a diesel automatic option.
The old 2.2-litre diesel is replaced by two fuel-efficient common-rail two-litre engines so drivers will have a choice of torque and power outputs.
Ninety per cent of all models sold will be diesels, said Chris Lee, Nissan Europe's general manager of 4x4 and sports cars.
"Two-litre and 2.5-petrol versions are also being produced, but they are mainly for markets like Russia," said Mr Lee.
Prices, though yet to be announced, will range from £19,000 to £25,000. Freelander prices start where X-Trail's leave off, ranging from £26,000 to £31,000.
Motoring journalists from all over Europe were taken to the Pindhos mountains in north west Greece, close to the Albanian border to put the new X-Trail through its paces.
With the amazing Vikos Canyon as a backdrop, they were demanding conditions that few owners would dream of subjecting their vehicles to.
Driving over miles of forest tracks strewn with boulders and fallen logs; rivers and mud troughs several feet deep, the vehicles were given no easy ride.
And a specially-designed course tested the vehicle's new downhill drive support system demonstrating that it can compete with Land Rover's hill descent control - even with feet off the pedals the vehicle is restricted to 5mph on a steep downhill slope.
And a new uphill start system holds the car on a slope of 10 per cent or more for five seconds after you release the foot brake. It stops it rolling forwards or backwards so it works in reverse too, and automatically disengages when you accelerate away.
Another test challenged vehicle body rigidity - said to be 30 per cent better than the old X-Trail's. I stopped the car on hilly ground with two wheels in the air, and opened the door for tell-tale squeaks that would indicate stress and strained metal. There were none.
And driving a section at angles well over 30 degrees the X-Trail never felt in danger of losing its footing or tipping over.
Jerry Hardcastle, Nissan Europe's director of technical development said if, as a driver you saw terrain like that you would probably not even tackle it, but each section had a purpose to demonstrate what the vehicle is capable of.
As to its practicality, carrying capacity is very good. The boot is 127mm longer, 174mm wider and 88mm deeper. That's signifificantly bigger than the old one - and there's a double floor with separate storage partitions and a slide-out drawer.
The luggage area is easy cleanable but the plastic surface also means that loose items can slide about easily. Removing the top boot floor level and gives a class-leading 603litres of luggage space.
Perhaps this extra luggage space compromises passenger space, however. I felt that the back seat could have done with more head room; and rear knee room was just adequate. The wheelbase could perhaps have been a bit longer, but this would have hampered the turning circle if it meant a longer rear overhang. It's a compromise of manoeuvrability and passenger comfort.as the cabin size is more or less fixed once the wheelbase is set.
Suspension changes have made it more comfortable and enabled greater stability at speed with more precise handling.
A new all-mode four-wheel drive controller "talks" to various sensors, monitoring steering response and torque at each wheel so that oversteer and understeer are neutralised when cornering quickly.
The system thus anticipates risk of wheelspin and automatically delivers more drive to whichever wheel needs more grip at the time.
Not only does this make the car safer, it's more responsive and more fun to drive.
The rear seats now fold 40/20/40 for more carrying versatility and there is a flat floor when seats are folded.
The interior has been redesigned to improve comfort and convenience, with a new soft feel trim, bigger glove box, upper storage box and eight cup holders, four of which are cooled by the air conditioning.
Depending on specification, options available to buyers include MP3 audio, Bluetooth hands-free phone and satnav with voice recognition, reversing camera, drive computer and intelligent key entry.
The panoramic glass roof is retained, but it is 8cm longer and now has one-touch operation.
WHY WASN'T IT BUILT IN SUNDERLND?
WHY wasn't the X-Trail built in Sunderland as it is assembled on the same C-platform as the Qashqai?
The answer is that today, the Sunderland plant wouldn't have the capacity.
When the car was in its planning stage, Nissan already had Micra, Almera and Primera, and production at the factory was scheduled to include Note and latterly, Qashqai.
As it's turned out, it's been fortunate for Nissan because with the current exchange rate they are making more money.
Meanwhile, Qashqai is selling so well that the company can't make them fast enough.
Like the Micra C+C, it is shipped to Japan, but this "coals to Newcastle" operation has necessitated some rethinking for Nissan.
As they can easily sell every Qashqai that comes off the Sunderland production line, the company has already taken 4,000 off the volume originally intended to leave Sunderland for Japan and they are still trying to take more out of the total Japanese allocation.
But Nissan executives in Japan are complaining that they need more new models to launch as the market is suffering, and the van market in particular is quite depressed.
So their dilemma is they need to boost Nissan sales in Japan, but at the same time, such is the high demand for Qashqai in Europe that they must ,meet demand for the cars here too.
THE car will be available with two petrol and two diesel engines.
By far the biggest sellers will be diesel with the latest common rail engine developed with Alliance partner Renault.
Two two-litre units will be available. One is a 148bhp engine with six-speed manual or automatic transmission and 236lb/ft of torque from a low 2000rpm. It will give about 40mpg and produce 190g/kg CO2.
The higher powered 171bhp diesel will be available only with the six-speed manual gearbox. As expected, it's quicker both in terms of acceleration and top speed. Fuel economy, though, is about the same with slightly higher CO2 emissions at 198g/kg.
Of the two, I preferred the lower powered auto which felt smoother and more relaxed than the manual car.
With 90 per cent of buyers going for diesel, 60 per cent are expected to opt for the 148bhp car, split evenly between manual and auto, and the remaining 30 percent will take the higher powered two-litre manual.
Of the two petrol engines, one is the 2-litre unit recently introduced in the Qashqai. The 2.5 petrol is an improved version of the old X-Trail powerplant. Though the engine has slightly less power at 160bhp, the new car is quicker and more economical.
These will come with a choice of six-speed manual or CVT auto transmissions and give lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
Thefirst X-Trail was a great success for Nissan. It was sold in170 countries and five continents. More than 800,000 were sold since its global launch in 2000.
In Europe they sold 300,000 cars in the past five years, the biggest sales region, averaging about 55,000 cars a year.
Sales of 4x4s across Europe are forecast to increase by 90 per cent in the next five years, reaching 1.8millions - about 10 per cent of the total industry volume.
The compact SUV and premium SUV are driving the trends so the new X-Trail will face a lot stiffer competition than the outgoing one. Nissan expects to sell 4,300 by the end of the year and 10,500 in 2008.
There's also a growing tendency towards diesel and automatics, so the new X-Trail is well placed to face the challenge.