Nissan has ditched the boxy SUV styling it's been known for since 2001 and come up with a much rounder, softer and generic design for the third-generation X-Trial.
But there needn't be any fear amongst fans of the previous X-Trail, which had an upright shape that suited the stuffing of bulky objects and adventure gear. The new one might be styled to fit in more with the softroading crossover segment, but it's actually more spacious than its predecessors and also comes with an optional third seating row.
Launched in South Africa this week, the new X-Trail rides on a platform which is wider and longer between the wheels, resulting in 20 percent more rear legroom, while a new flip, slide and tilt seating setup at the back offers all sorts of cargo loading arrangements.
The two previous X-Trails, when specced in all-wheel drive trim, also made names for themselves as weekend warriors capable of trekking a little further into the outback than most small SUV/crossover rivals, and the new one is just as comfortable in the bush. The slightly longer wheelbase is compensated for with 6mm more ground clearance (now 209mm), and a long travel multi-link suspension sees the wheels stay in contact with the ground for good traction over obstacles.
All-wheel drive derivatives also get a rotary "All-Mode" selector dial to choose between three drive options. Everyday 2WD mode means front-wheel drive only, Auto sends power between the front and rear axles as needed, and Lock will send drive between front and rear in a 50/50 split. Hill descent control, hill start assist, and an electronic limited slip diff are also included to help with those steep slopes and axle twisters.
The new Nissan X-Trail has shed 90kg over its predecessor, but not at the expense of a quality feel. The interior looks classy with shiny black and chrome plastics, and most surfaces are covered in high-end materials. The instrument cluster also gets a new full-colour multi-function display, and Techno Pack-equipped models come with a 7-inch touchscreen display with navigation.
It may be lighter now, but out on the road it feels like a more substantial and solidly built vehicle. The X-Trail's ride has always been one of its best qualities, and it still is, but improvements in wind and road noise insulation now also make this one of the quietest cabins in the small SUV segment.
The X-Trail's suspension is extremely soft - almost bordering on wallowy - but it does offer one of the most comfortable rides this side of an air-sprung luxury sedan. A new active ride control feature, which is standard on all models, senses road undulations and adjusts electronic dampers to keep the body level.
It almost hovers. An ideal long trip car, this, and extras such as blind-spot monitors, lane departure warnings, and moving object detection (to keep an eye around the car while parking), make it a safe one too.
Petrol engine choices include an entry-level 106kW/200Nm, two-litre and a 126kW/233Nm 2.5 carried over from the last model, and a new 96kW/320Nm 1.6 dCi turbodiesel; the latter's torque advantage makes for the most pleasurable drive.
The 2.5 comes only with a CVT automatic transmission, where the other two have six-speed manuals. All X-Trails come with a six-year or 150 000km warranty and a five-year or 90 000km service plan. - Star MotoringPRICES:
2.0 XE five-seater - R327 700
2.0 XE seven-seater - 334 100
1.6dCi XE five-seater - 351 000
1.6dCi XE seven-seater - 357 400
1.6dCi SE AWD five-seater - 388 300
1.6dCi LE AWD five-seater - 473 600
2.5 SE Xtronic AWD five-seater - 364 200
2.5 SE Xtronic AWD seven-seater - 370 600