International First Drive: Nissan X-Trail
In a world of increasingly ostentatious luxury SUVs, stepping inside the all-new Nissan X-trail is rather welcomed. We're in the cool and colourful outskirts of Ljubljana, Slovenia, where Nissan has chosen the unbeaten paths to launch its fourth generation X-Trail. It's very fitting.
The new Nissan X-Trail is very straightforward; it does not pretend to be something it's not. Instead, it shows a renewed commitment to adventure with a helping of electrification.
The 2023 X-Trail design is more like a crossover than an SUV, with sleeker lines and sculpted style. It is reminiscent of its all-electric Ariya crossover cousin. Don't get us wrong, the redesign is good on all fronts with body cladding that serves a purpose, bold rear badging that wants to be seen and some actual shape and calculation to the metal. Then there are those complementing blacked-out rear pillars. There's also a striking update to the front fascia with a more rugged-meets-urban design and underbody trimmings.
Uprated interior – for the most part
Step inside, and you'll notice the cabin carries the same exterior theme with premium finishes draped over Nissan's comfortable and supportive seats with diamond-like stitching to finish the heated front seats. Nissan says the upholstery combines technical fabrics and synthetic leather, chosen because it is easy to clean and has hard-wearing properties. Think adventure. Unfortunately, when you stand back, it's easy to notice that only the essential surfaces – steering wheel, seats and switchgear – have a quality look and feel. The rest of the cabin is lathered in plastic.
The second-row seats tilt up perfectly, and the third row – which can comfortably accommodate two average-height adults – folds flat with a 60/40 split, making it easy to move around and access the numerous storage cubbies, USB ports and cup holders.
If you were waiting for the part where we mentioned the tech inside the X-Trail, you're in luck. An extended trip along the Slovenian highways allowed us to test the upgraded ProPILOT Assist system. The system lets the vehicle monitor the traffic in front of you and adjusts the cruise control speed, even stopping as necessary, while keeping the car centred in the lane – all thanks to its adaptive cruise control and steering assist. Be warned the system is not fully automated, and an angry red warning light will be deployed in the instrument panel if your hands have been off the steering wheel for too long.
Take power back in your hands, and the new X-Trail's ride quality is a pleasant surprise. The cabin is unbelievably quiet, and the road feels smooth underneath it. For this International Drive, we had an e-POWER model to sample. The ‘e’ in e-POWER designates a unique approach to electrification, offering the EV-drive feeling without the need to recharge. The new X-Trail's e-POWER system consists of a high-output battery and powertrain integrated with a variable compression ratio petrol engine, power generator, inverter and a front electric motor. This unique powertrain means that power to the wheels comes only from an electric motor, which results in an instant, linear response to the accelerator. The system is mated to a 1.5-litre Variable Compression Ratio turbo petrol engine, with a final system power output of 150 kW.
The experience itself is neither impressively potent nor annoyingly sluggish on its own. But it's so much smoother and more responsive, to such an extent that the entire vehicle really feels reinvigorated. Will the average consumer make the distinction? Probably not, but we applaud Nissan for taking the initiative. The X-Trail feels confident on the road and light on the wheel, but body roll comes standard with its squishy, bump-absorbing suspension.
A dedicated knob in the centre console activates the driving modes, with accompanying illustrations to touch on the 12.3" NissanConnect display. While the graphics on this new infotainment setup aren't our favourite, it makes a massive difference in how usable the car is on the road. Fortunately, it is compatible with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, with wireless Apple CarPlay also introduced.
Unfortunately, Nissan won't confirm pricing on the new X-Trail until early in the new year when it finally goes on sale, but we're expecting a huge difference from this year's Qashqai model, which kicks off at R568 200. Pricing should be competitive with the Hyundai Santa Fe or Kia Sorento. Nissan says there will be a 1.5-litre VCR turbo ICE model at launch.