2023 Nissan X-Trail long-term review

The first report in our long-term drive of Nissan's mid-size SUV

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Hot on its trail

Megatest winner arrives to prove its talents in the real world

Nissan’s X-Trail is a bit like Madonna. Every few years it pops up out of nowhere looking and sounding completely different.

The first car was a boxy homage to the off-roader in soft-ish roader form and looked quite distinctive if a bit like it was teetering on very high heels. The second-gen resolved a lot of the styling ideas and looked pretty good.

The third was even more conservative, acting as twin to the equally buttoned-up Renault Koleos.

What distinguished the X-Trail from early on was a variety of engines and transmissions to keep everyone happy.

That third-gen car soldiered on for a little longer than we were perhaps expecting, longer still when you consider its now-twin, the Mitsubishi Outlander, arrived last year. Both cars have grown in every direction and they look it, although the Nissan less so.

What this new car brings is a lot of new tech that we’ll explore over the next few months.

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To give you an idea of what your money gets you, there’s the larger 12.3-inch touchscreen, and cameras all over the place to help guide the larger machine through car parks and narrow driveways.

The digital dash with very familiar graphics (familiar if you’ve driven an Outlander) is present, too. You also get a generous 10.8-inch head-up display that I’ve immediately taken to, partly because I find the dash itself a bit busy-looking.

Nissan’s Pro-Pilot provides a pretty clever set of features that make both city and freeway driving less tiresome, with a cruise control that will slow the car to a stop and with a flick of the Resume switch get it going again when the car in front moves. I know that’s not new, but it does a lot more besides as we’ll explore.

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You also get matrix LED headlights, which is pretty good going for a car under $50K , with the rest of the external lighting also being LED.

The big screen hosts Android Auto via USB and Apple CarPlay wirelessly and you get a wireless charging pad into the bargain. You’ll survey the new interior – light-filled if you’ve opened the sunroof – from part-leather seats and grip a leather-clad steering that feels remarkably like Nappa although Nissan doesn’t say it is.

While it’s all change inside and out – and in a lot of areas underneath – the engine and transmission could best be described as improved rather than new. Nissan’s 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four drives all four wheels (in the Ti and Ti-L) through a slightly better calibrated continuously variable transmission (CVT), a transmission type I used to despise with all of my heart.

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Either I’ve gone soft (possible) or they’ve got better (also possible) or both (again…), it’s not as objectionable as I remember but I have noticed some light droning.

Power and torque are both up, by 9kW and 18Nm respectively. The car itself – rolling on a new, stiffer CMF-C platform with lots of aluminium panels to save weight – is nearly 100kg heavier but it is packed with a lot more gear.

My first impression of the new X-Trail is that it’s a much more accomplished design than any of its predecessors. There’s nothing awkward about it but nor is it boring. No, it won’t go down as a design classic, but it’s sleek and classy for such a big unit.

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And it is big. Insisting it fits in the mid-size SUV segment alongside the CX-5 is a big ask, but here we are at nearly 4.7 metres long, straying very close to the next size up.

That means lots of interior space, which I hope to test with people and things. In fact, I’m sure it will be tested given my proximity to the airport and my wife’s penchant for furniture and hardware purchases.

Also top of my list is the way it drives and rides. Again, first impressions are promising. I recently rode in a third-generation X-Trail as a rear passenger and it was not a lot of fun, so with the new platform and a thoroughly reworked suspension set-up, I’m expecting a big improvement.

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Driving around the suburbs so far has been a very comfortable experience.

Fuel economy so far is reasonable, too, given it hasn’t stretched its legs yet. At 9.9L/100km, it squeaks under the double-digit mark and isn’t too far off the official 7.1L/100km figure on the sticker.

Next month it will have had its legs stretched a bit and the dog will have had her say.

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  • Variant: Nissan X-Trail Ti petrol
  • Price as tested: $49,990 drive-away
  • This month: 478km @ 7.8L/100km
  • Total: 890km @ 8.7/100km

One of the things that really surprised me about the first month with the X-Trail was its unflappability.

It’s not as though past versions have been particularly flappable; that would be perhaps be a little unfair. But this one is a heftier machine with a road presence you feel from the driver’s seat.

It’s larger and heavier than the previous model, an SUV I drove many times over its years on sale. But this new one feels even more composed and somehow grippier, which feels vaguely odd to note given that an all-wheel-drive X-Trail has usually been very good both on- and off-road.

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The gains for the X-Trail are significant but not as wildly improved as the three-diamond equivalent

I think the real change is the weight of the controls. The feel through the steering wheel is more substantial than past versions, and it’s quite interesting how my memory keeps blurting out how much better the new car feels as a whole.

It steers well, rides much better and generally gives a greater impression of solidity.

We got a preview of this in the X-Trail’s twin, the Mitsubishi Outlander, a car so much better than the one it replaces it’s scarcely believable it came from the same manufacturer. The gains for the X-Trail are significant but not as wildly improved as the three-diamond equivalent.

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Another reason it feels so much better is the technology deployed in the car.

The screen is big and welcoming, the wireless Apple CarPlay has rarely faltered. Most CarPlay systems are completely flummoxed by just one phone let alone two that sometimes turn up at the same time.

Doesn’t sound like a big deal but what’s really annoying is when one person is in the house on the phone and the other person goes and gets in the car, the person on the phone loses audio and it ends up in the car. The X-Trail doesn’t do that.

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The safety systems are well calibrated too. We’ve had a few run-ins with safety systems the past few months but the X-Trail’s have been fairly reliable.

Nissan’s attention to the various systems has meant very few expletive-laden rants about inaccurate speed limits or a lane-centring system that would really rather you were over there rather than going where you want to go.

Although one day in heavy rain it did shut down the forward AEB but unlike some older Subarus, made enough of a point of it so you knew it had happened. Not much you can do about it, of course.

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One feature that has us both unconvinced is the camera rear-vision mirror.

Pioneered in Jaguar Land Rover products, it still hasn’t won over either my wife or me. There’s something oddly unsettling about looking at the rear-vision mirror and expecting a couple of headrests and the outline of the rear window but seeing none of those things.

Obviously 25 years of driving has formed expectations that I can’t quite shake. It’s genuinely unsettling which is a great shame because it’s otherwise very useful. It just feels a bit weird.

One of our regular test routes with a car is the long highway run from our place in the Sydney suburbs up the Blue Mountains to Katoomba and Medlow Bath.

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I wasn’t expecting fireworks on the run up the mountains and the X-Trail didn’t deliver them. I was, however, pleased at how well the CVT handled the gradient.

Some CVTs I’ve driven aren’t very good up hills, spinning the engine up to peak power as though at any moment you’re going to need to overtake a road train somewhere around Wentworth Falls but it’s going to rev that engine from Penrith onwards.

My view is that CVTs work best in torque-limited applications and the 2.5-litre four, while hardly anaemic, is not exactly rippling with muscle either.

It cheerfully hauled us up the hills without histrionics, although there were just two of us on board.

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I don’t think a fully loaded X-Trail would be quite so calm, but if my observations of general traffic are correct, few cars are fully loaded outside of school holidays anyway.

That long run also saw the fuel consumption dip to 6.0L/100km, bringing our overall average down to 8.7L/100km where it has stayed despite most of our driving being short suburban trips.

The dog has also taken to the X-Trail, appreciating the well-designed armrest that allows her plenty of paw space while sticking her head out the window. We appreciate it too because the ridiculous animal gets car-sick if she’s not most of the way out of the car for the majority of the trip.

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