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Nissan X-Trail 2.2DI 115PS 2002 Road Test

Tue, 02 Apr 2002

Now and again a car surprises me. I should have had an inkling from the delivery driver who said he’d really enjoyed his job that morning. All I’d been anticipating up until then was that the Nissan X-Trail would be a biggish mid-size SUV with a smallish 2.2-litre diesel engine, so I wasn’t expecting it to set my pants on fire.

But the X-Trail is one of those vehicles that impresses with its basic honesty and grows on you.

For a start, it doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t. Big plastic lights. Bluff front. Rubber mats. Plastic wings. Chunky 215/65 x 16 tyres. It’s a solid, sensible, practical vehicle, not an in-your-face status symbol.

Climb aboard and you immediately appreciate the large, comfortable, height-adjustable seats with their practical-looking dimpled nylon trim. The steering wheel is adjustable, too, and all the main controls are chunky, logical and easy to use. Putting the dials in the middle leaves space for a handy cubby in front of the driver. The front cup-holders open out over phone-size hollows in the dash. The electric sunroof is gigantic, giving the back seat passengers a tan as well as those in the front. There are even can-cooling compartments either side of the radio. The only fly in the ointment is the radio itself: a gaudy Clarion affair that combines radio, cassette player and single CD player and looks like something off a market stall. (Thankfully, this has now been replaced by a single DIN stereo radio cassette and a 6-disc CD autochanger.)

Start the engine and a bloke under the bonnet gets going with his pneumatic drill, so you’re under no illusions about what sort of fuel it uses. But snick it into gear and the pleasure starts. The six-speed box feels both beefy and precise, a bit like an older Ferrari, and the ratios are exactly right to make the most of 112bhp and 199lb ft torque pulling a fairly hefty 1,541 kg vehicle. It never feels sluggish and, though the speedo was probably a tad optimistic, it shifts a bit too. 3,000 rpm corresponds to 85 on the speedo, with another 20mph where that came from. Biggest surprise of all: it handles well. Far better than a Freelander. Heavier than a CRV, but none the worse for it. It takes fast corners flat and doesn’t turn into a barge if you fling it round the tighter ones. And, unlike the Sport-spec BMW X5, those fat 215/65 tyres absorb potholes rather than crash through them.

Okay, you have to get used to the turbo coming in, and to judging the width at the nearside. Remember, though, this is a big, chunky 4x4, not a sportscar, not even a family hatchback.

For £18,995, the Sport diesel spec comes with six-speed gearbox, push-button four-wheel drive. Push-button lockable centre clutch, aircon, huge electric sunroof, reclining rear seats, five three-point belts, a combined CD and cassette player and radio, two drinks coolers, alloy wheels and 215/65 x 16 tyres. There’s bags of space for five people to cover continents in comfort, and enough room in the back for their luggage, even with the rear seats reclined. Another big advantage is a totally flat floor with the rear seats folded, ideal for dogs or for carrying cargo or tools.

The diesel isn’t available with Nissan’s unusual torque converter CVT automatic transmission. The petrol model doesn’t get the diesel’s excellent six-speed box. So it really boils down to whether you spend an extra £1,000 on the diesel or the petrol automatic. Since I got at least 35 mpg over a week’s varied use of the diesel, it would have to be that one. I’d go for the better-value Sport spec rather than the S or the SE. And I actually preferred it to the all-singing, all-dancing BMW X5 Sport diesel, which costs more than twice as much.

[PS I can now confirm that the very same X-Trail I had on test (OY51 LNV) is as good off-road as it is on-road. Spent three hours splodging along forest tracks, up and down steep inclines, through black two-foot-deep gloop and hustling it on dry loose surfaces at up to 65mph. Rarely needed the push-button 4x4 and centre diff-lock. It handled everything with aplomb and was a pleasure to drive throughout. Much better than a Freelander and not too far behind its big brother, the Navara, in the real rough stuff. The X-Trail 6-speed diesel is by far my favourite mid-size 4x4 and if I had the money I'd buy one as my everyday car.]

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