The Nissan X-Trail will be officially launched on the first week of August, but Edaran Tan Chong Motor (ETCM) organised a media preview of sorts to Port Dickson, where we brought you the new SUV’s selling price – RM149,500 OTR including insurance. As a recap, our X-Trail is imported CBU from Indonesia and is powered by a 137 bhp/198 Nm 2.0-litre engine paired to Nissan’s Xtronic CVT gearbox with six virtual ratios in its manual mode.

Yours truly got to sample the X-Trail both from the driver’s seat and as a passenger, and it’s mostly a pleasant experience. Let’s start from the back. One sits high up, and the bench is set at the perfect height and length for my legs. Although legroom isn’t as good as the Honda CR-V’s, it’s adequate if the person in front isn’t particularly long legged. In any case, there’s room under the front seats for feet to tuck in.

Continue reading the report after the jump.

The X-Trail comes with rear air vents, which is good, but I also like the storage ideas in this car. Fold down the centre rear armrest and you’ll find two mini “shelves”, good for mobile phones or music players. You can also access bags in the boot from this opening. The dash top has a big storage bin (should be big enough for a tissue box) and the glove box is very deep. Meanwhile, all cupholders located near air vents (2 in front, 2 behind) have cooling functions which can be shut off.

A flexible boot is one of the X-Trail’s highlights. A “false floor” sits on top of two drawers. The one on the right comes with separators that let you configure your own space. As my boot doubles up as a shoe rack, I can imagine fully utilising this space. The surface of the floor is easy to wipe clean and is washable. Take off the drawers and the well shaped boot has a max capacity of 603 litres, impressive when considering there’s a full-sized spare stored under it. Rear seats fold flat, 40:60. All these are not gimmicks and I can imagine owners making good use of them.

Similarly, there are also no gimmicks up front, but the dashboard looks a little too spartan to this writer and could do with a bit more flair and flash. Fit and finish is good, and the plastics (dash and doors) are impressively soft to the touch, but unfortunately they won’t be as apparent in the showroom as the manual air-con and the lack of leather/buttons on the steering wheel. The collection of blank buttons don’t help the cause. The instrument cluster is simply styled and easy to read, although at times glare gets in the way. Ergonomics and outward visibility are good.

A fellow media member asked me if I’d rather have climate control and a better steering wheel OR the X-Trail’s star features over the CR-V (keyless entry and start, electric front seats, bi-xenons with washer). Personally, I’ll take the latter, as I don’t use the AUTO function of climate control anyway. How about you?

On the move, the drivetrain’s refinement stands out immediately. Just like in the Sylphy, engine noise is kept away nicely, and the CVT is great for quiet, seamless urban progress. Nissan champions CVT as an auto ‘box replacement, and their Xtronic CVT is the best of its kind. If you have a smooth driving style, you’ll have no trouble in adapting to it from a normal auto ‘box. The manual mode with six ratios is a welcome bonus over the Sylphy, providing rather quick changes and immediate response when you need it (like when overtaking on trunk roads).

The MR20DE makes 137 bhp and 198 Nm of torque here, slightly more than the Sylphy’s 131 bhp/191 Nm but still unspectacular. With three on board, there were times where I wished there was more grunt, but there also wasn’t a situation where I thought of the X-Trail as badly underpowered. It’s just about adequate, although stronger acceleration from low revs would be welcome. At a highway cruise, the lack of drivetrain and rolling noise was very impressive, so much so that it made the wind buffeting more apparent. Can’t have it all!

ETCM says that the X-Trail’s suspension (front struts/rear multi link) had input from Sachs Germany and there’s a firmness to how it flows along that’s a little bit European. The light steering is precise, if not the most feelsome, and although there’s slightly more body roll than “big hatchbacks” like the Peugeot 3008, it’s never off putting or nausea inducing. In fact, the chassis copes with uneven back roads pretty well and isn’t easily unruffled. Understeer sets in at a stage where most owners would have long backed off.

Although we get the 2WD version, the X-Trail was build with off roading in mind, and I was pleasantly surprised at how it handled itself when driven briskly on twisty roads. It’s no hot hatch of course, but quite good for what it is. However, I reckon that Nissan could also have dialled in more compliance over bigger bumps and potholes – we should have heard and felt less of it.

Well, as for the looks, it’s either you like it or you don’t. Nissan says that the same-same design is deliberate; the old X-Trail exceeded sales expectations and was well loved by owners, so they wanted to maintain the “authentic SUV” looks to contrast today’s crossover styled rivals. They took the evolutionary theme to the extreme, and as a result, it takes a keen observer to spot old from new – drivers of the many old X-Trails we passed didn’t even bat an eyelid!

The new X-Trail is quite unique in the marketplace and not easy to peg. It offers the rugged looks of a true 4X4, but not the off road ability of one. It looks no-nonsense and uncompromising in and out, but is actually a refined, and practical family vehicle that’s perfectly at home in the city.

PS: Some might be wondering why we’re getting the pre-facelift second-gen T31 X-Trail instead of the latest one recently launched in Japan. That’s because Japan was the first market to get this generation of X-Trail and the facelift follows the product’s natural life cycle there. Indonesia (the production hub for ASEAN) got the T31 later than Japan, and will only start assembling the facelifted car in 1 1/2 to 2 years from now. So we’ll have to wait till then for it to be brought in.

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