I have always had a soft spot for the X-Trail. For me it has always been an SUV that reminded me of the Xterra, the X-Trail's more hardcore, off-road loving big brother. They even looked similar. The boxy dimensions and the front end with the square-ish headlight cluster, all bore a strong resemblance to the Xterra. But as good looking as the X-Trail was, it somehow didn't sell that well in India. Now, though, there is a new X-Trail in town, and it is a hybrid.. I got to drive it around the BIC (on the roads AROUND the circuit, not on the circuit) and from the short spin that we had in the car, I can honestly tell you that it really is quite nice.
The car looks nothing like the older car. The boxy looks have been disposed of in favour of a more flowing shape. There are styling cues that remind you a lot of the Juke and the Qashqai that are really evident. Up front is the updated family grille which is surrounded by boomerang style DRLs in the headlamps and at the rear is a tail that is more Mitsubishi Outlander than Tata Indica now. The SUV now looks a lot more muscular and bulkier than the last car. In fact, at 4640mm (length) and 1820mm (width), it is longer than and just as wide as the CR-V, which is its main competitor internationally.
The large size also translates into a large cabin which has a lot of space to accommodate five people in comfort. The interiors are very smartly designed and look quite good. The seats and steering wheel are wrapped in leather. The car gets all the bells and whistles like cooled cup holders, climate control, cruise control, heated ORVMs, a 360 degree reversing camera and an electrically adjustable driver's seat. The infotainment system though, seems a generation older. It is not a touch-screen unit and while the screen is a full colour unit, you still have to use knobs and buttons to get around the system.
The new car is built on the CMF platform which is also used in the Nissan Qashqai and Renault Megane. It is a monocoque unit that uses independent struts up front with an independent, multi-link unit at the rear. The ride is really refined and the SUV manages to absorb whatever little bumps I could find during my short drive without feeling unnecessarily bouncy. There is some body roll, but again, a complete breakdown of the dynamics will have to wait till we test the car extensively.
The highlight of the new X-Trail, for me, has to be the motor. When the car arrives in India in the next financial year, it will only be available with Nissan's FF Hybrid System (that also means there will be no 4WD option). The FF Hybrid System is what Nissan calls its petrol hybrid drivetrain for front engine, front wheel drive cars. The system uses a 1997cc, inline four petrol motor that makes 144PS and 200Nm of torque that is assisted by the RM31 electric motor. The electric motor alone makes 41PS and 160Nm, which adds up to a total output of 185PS and 360Nm.
The FF Hybrid System is different from other hybrid motors in that it uses Nissan's Dual Clutch Control. And no, that has nothing to do with the gearbox. It simply means that the engine is connected to the electric motor with one clutch and the electric motor is connected to the CVT gearbox with another clutch. The advantages of this layout are that it saves a lot of space and it allows the same electric motor to deliver drive and recharge the battery by connecting and disconnecting from the engine.
The SUV itself is pretty strange when you drive it at first. The hybrid system takes a little getting used to because the first time you crank the engine, it powers up in full electric mode. It stays in this mode till around 20-30kmph after which the ICE takes over seamlessly.
That is not all, in case you are in the need for extra power, just depress the throttle aggressively and power from both the motors are delivered to the wheels. In this situation, progress is very quick and the SUV gathers momentum enthusiastically. The transmission does a great job in delivering uninterrupted acceleration and, as is the nature of the X-Tronic unit, is super refined without being too rubberbandy. The switchover from electric to petrol powertrain is super smooth and you almost cannot tell. Almost. What does feel is the braking energy recovery system. Thanks to the system, the brake has no feel and the pedal travel is really long.
Nissan says the powertrain delivers great performance, refinement and efficiency with minimal environmental impact. Add this to great road presence, well designed interiors, good space and reasonable amount of kit and you have a great SUV that is ready to battle it out with the likes of the CR-V and Santa Fe. There is one problem though. As I mentioned before, the hybrid powertrain will be the only option available in the X-Trail when it arrives. In the Indian market where the favour lies very strongly with diesel SUVs, this will be a great challenge that the X-Train will have to overcome. But what really impresses me is that, personally, the X-Trail is no longer an SUV that I like because if reminds me of something else. To me, this new X-Trail has enough character to be its own man. And that deserves applause.
Photography: Suresh Narayanan