The Nissan X-Trail was, if you’ll excuse the pun, a bit of a trail-blazer.
Before everyone from Peugeot and Skoda to Mitusbishi and VW got in on the act, the current generation was one of the first SUVs to offer a seven-seat option as an alternative to an MPV or a full-size off-roader such as the Land Rover Discovery.
That was five years ago, though, and time has marched on bringing a slew of rivals, meaning the X-Trail has it far tougher now than when it was launched.
A facelift in 2017 gave the X-Trail a bolder front end and has kept the exterior looking fresh enough amid newer rivals. But inside the X-Trail is starting to show its age. Our Tekna-spec car featured full leather upholstery, extending to a swathe of the material across the dash but around that are some pretty dubious plastics. Materials that were hardly top-drawer when the car was launched now feel distinctly sub-par, especially compared with more up-to-date rivals such as the Peugeot 5008 and Skoda Kodiaq.
Nissan X-Trail Tekna
- Price: £33,595 (£34,830 as tested)
- Engine: 17-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
- Power: 148bhp
- Torque: 251lb ft
- Transmission: Six-speed manual
- Top speed: 121mph
- 0-62mph: 10.7 seconds
- Economy: 39.8-41.5mpg
- CO2 emissions: 154g/km
The ergonomics are also problematic. Here, as in other cars, Nissan’s designers have taken the same approach to button layout as my four-year-old applies to sticker books. Switches seem scattered at random, dropped in wherever they will fit. Worst offenders are the single switch for the heated rear seats - just behind the gear lever - and the heated steering wheel - in front of the driver’s shin - but there’s an overall lack of thought you won’t find in rivals.
The X-Trail also now lags behind on interior space and usability. Every seven-seat SUV is a compromise in terms of space and access to the rear row. Like rivals, the X-Trail’s middle row tilts and slides to allow passengers in. However, the gap here is so small that my very skinny, very flexible nine-year-old found it a struggle and wasn’t impressed with the legroom once he was in. You can slide the 60/40 split middle row forward to create more space but travelling with passengers in front, middle and rear seats means no-one has much room.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Our £35,000 Tekna came loaded with plenty of toys, including heated leather seats front and rear, heated steering wheel, a 360-degree camera system, dual-zone climate control, auto-dipping headlights, opening panoramic sunroof and a suite of safety tech. Just don’t expect a big touchscreen or smartphone mirroring.
On the road, as well, the X-Trail still performs well. The 148bhp 1.7-litre diesel is a bit gruff under acceleration but pulls well and settles into a quiet cruise. On the move it feels stable and secure with just enough weight and feel to the steering, and the ride is soft enough to be comfortable without wobbling all over the place.
Official figures put the four-wheel-drive X-Trail’s economy at 41.5mpg but that seems conservative. On some difficult country roads I still saw 40mpg and a 60-mile commute taking in rural and urban roads returned an easy 51mpg.
An all-new X-Trail is expected to be revealed later this year ahead of going on sale in 2021. Like the recent Juke, that’s likely to bring a significant leap forward but until then the current generation soldiers on. It’s a pleasant car to drive, with decent economy, and it’s well-equipped for the money. If you can find a good deal it’s still worth considering but be aware that rivals have moved the game on.