Nissan X-Trail Hybrid Japan 14

The Nissan X-Trail is already a stand out in the midsize mass market SUV segment thanks to its extra two seats. The third row may be tight, but kids can be squeezed in at a pinch, avoiding certain “I think we’ll need two cars” situations. Three generations in three rows, a good family car.

Also helping the third-gen X-Trail’s cause is its new styling direction that moves away from the trademark boxy shape of the first two generations. Today’s T32 is handsome and has substantial size and presence to match. It’s a smooth and relaxing car to drive as well, typical of CVT-equipped Nissans. A likeable family SUV, as noted in our review of the Malaysian-spec 2.0 2WD and 2.5 4WD from earlier this year.

There’s a new X-Trail Hybrid variant that’s already on sale in Japan and Thailand, promising superior economy and more grunt. Should it come to Malaysia – which has incentives for locally assembled hybrids – the petrol-hybrid T32 could add superb value to its arsenal as well, making a good product even more convincing. We briefly sample it in Japan.

Nissan X-Trail Hybrid Japan 2

The X-Trail Hybrid’s internal combustion engine is the same 2.0 litre unit found in our 2.0 2WD variant, but the MR20DD has been optimised for the hybrid system – changes include a low-friction oil seal and the deletion of the auxiliary belt. Output is slightly higher compared to our 144 PS/200 Nm MR20DD, at 147 PS at 6,000 rpm and 207 Nm at 4,400 rpm.

Partnering the ICE is an RM31 electric motor (that’s its name, not the price!) with 41 PS and 160 Nm of twist, powered by a lithium-ion battery pack with quick charge/discharge function.

Nissan’s Intelligent Dual Clutch Control is a one-motor, two-clutch parallel hybrid system. Not to be confused with a twin-clutch gearbox (like the non-hybrid X-Trail, this car is CVT-only), “dual clutch” refers to the clutch between the engine and the electric motor, and the clutch between the electric motor and the Xtronic CVT.

Nissan X-Trail Hybrid Japan 12

Engine and motor energy can be channeled mechanically to the transmission without a torque converter. The setup also allows electric-only driving and energy regeneration because the electric motor can power the wheels through the gearbox while leaving the engine disconnected. Coasting without the ICE is possible when your foot is off the gas pedal, at speeds below 120 km/h. There’s no button to force it into EV mode, like in the Toyota Prius.

Nissan says that the lithium-ion battery’s ability to quickly charge and discharge allows for high-speed, precise control of the electric motor and optimum clutch control, which leads to smooth starts and quick shifts. See the video below for a better understanding of how Nissan’s one-motor, two-clutch hybrid system works.

Coupled with a smoothened underbody and low-rolling resistance tyres, the X-Trail Hybrid is capable of a best in class 20.6 km/l in the Japanese JC08 cycle, as well as 75% lower NOx (nitrogen oxide) and NMHC (non-methane hydrocarbon) emissions over 2005 standards and SU-LEV certification.

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Claimed FC figures, especially JC08 ones, are impossible to achieve in real world Malaysian driving, but there should be significant savings over the regular 2.0L, which is rated at 16.4 km/l in the same cycle.

Nissan says that the X-Trail Hybrid generates more torque than the 2.5 throughout the rev range, from low to high rpm, thanks to double propulsion. After sampling the SUV for one small inner lap of the Sodegaura Forest Raceway, we’ll take their word for it.

The Hybrid certainly felt sprightly off the line, even if we didn’t have the benefit of back-to-back comparison with the non-hybrids. The extra punch from electric motor is palpable, too.

Of the two X-Trail variants currently on sale in Malaysia, we prefer the 2.0’s superior manners and adequate grunt over the muscular but gruff 2.5. Pending a more comprehensive drive, the Hybrid could be the best of both worlds.

Combining the grunt of the 2.5, manners of the 2.0 and best in class fuel economy would easily make the Hybrid the pick of the range. Unfortunately, fitting in the batteries that deliver the above-mentioned benefits means that the Hybrid is only available as a five-seater, removing one of the X-Trail’s unique selling points.

Located behind the rear seats, the battery also reduces cargo volume, from our car’s 550 litres to over 400 litres. These two points are not fatal shots to the Hybrid’s case; but if the original car’s two emergency seats appealed to you, sorry, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Unique additions include Hybrid badges on the sides and tailgate, an Energy Flow page on the full-colour multi-info display, and a hybrid power meter that takes the place of the regular car’s temperature gauge (under the rev meter).

Head to head with fellow five-seaters Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5, the X-Trail Hybrid makes a compelling case. If Tan Chong can locally assemble and price it keenly, the T32 Hybrid could be a game changer in the midsize SUV segment.

GALLERY: Thai-spec Nissan X-Trail Hybrid at the 2015 Thai Motor Expo