It's rare we would ever call an SUV sexy, and while the 2014 Nissan X-Trail doesn't quite acquire that label it's a darn sight prettier than its predecessors. In many respects the X-Trail looks like the plumper sibling of the Nissan Qashqai, a car that it takes many of its design cues from.
We spent a couple of days driving the X-Trail on tarmac and dirt tracks around the hills of Lisbon, Portugal, to see whether when it comes to comfort and affordability the X-Trail has got the formula right.
Dressed in metallic burnt orange, our review X-Trail couldn't be accused of being inconspicuous. Available in five or seven seat configurations - we only saw the five, the seven adds a £700 premium and eats into boot space - there's a fair amount of space up front and in the back, as is to be expected from any SUV.
The 2014 model's 2.71m wheelbase adds an additional 76mm compared to the previous model, while the 4.64m length adds a mere 8mm. It's 90kgs lighter than before, but still couldn't be accused of being a small or light car. That's part of the point really and when sat on the (optional) 19-inch wheels its a high-up ride that makes you feel king of the world. Or maybe more a prince.
As a five-seater we see the sense of space, as its increased by 20 per cent compared to the second-gen model, but as a seven seater option we don't really see how the distribution of space makes sense. Just stick with the VW Sharan or another MPV if that's your goal. We thought there was sufficient legroom for rear passengers that will certainly add to the comfort if you need to cart around the growing family unit.
Nissan's goal with the X-Trail, at least to our eyes, is to surf the success of the Qashqai. The 2014 X-Trail design takes so much reference from its sister model that boundaries between classes are somewhat blurred. Look at the new lights, including daylight LEDs as standard, and the shape and curves. It's like a "Qashqai plus" - but if that's what you're after then here you are, job done. And like we say it's a lot better looking than its boxy predecessor.
After climbing aboard and slotting ourselves into the X-Trail's driver seat our immediate sensation was the unusual ride position. Access to the pedals felt twisted and, despite getting more used to this over the course of time, it's not something we ever came to like about the car.
We split our time between driving the 1.6L diesel engine in its 2WD 6-speed and 4WD auto gearbox configurations. The engine is a smaller capacity that its 2.0L predecessor, bringing it more in line with European tax emissions regulations thanks to an 18 per cent drop in emissions.
Fire up the motor with the one-touch start button and it was off we went. Well, almost, as we immediately messed up our satnav - we had a few issues with the one in the Juke 2014 too - and had to spend an age while someone from the Nissan team reprogrammed waypoints.
READ: Nissan Juke 2014 review
The X-Trail rides fine down motorways and through gentle roadways, but the big and tall nature of the body doesn't deliver the most precise of manoeuvrability elsewhere. Thrown at a dirt track road with loose corners and some deep puddles saw us dutifully get the X-Trail filthy dirty - as can be seen in our pics - but it's more family people carrier than rally car at the end of the day. A front-wheel drive SUV was always going to be along those lines.
From within the cabin it's clear that there's been extra attention placed on the X-Trail's feature set. A giant sunroof lets plenty of light in, illuminating the functional rather than exciting grey panelling of the interior.
There's some faux carbon fibre panelling to the front door panels too, while the radio and satnav is all housed in glossy plasticky fare - but with a £22,995 start price (that can accelerate to almost £32,000 for the fully kitted 4WD model) it's a numbers game that adds up. We think Nissan had the potential to go more premium here, but then that's not quite where the X-Trail fits into the market. It's not a Range Rover Sport.
Riding as a passenger the X-Trail is accommodating and pretty comfortable as a place to sit. Assuming, that is, you don't hit too many of those rough spots on the road because it's not the softest of rides on those big wheels and, as a side note, we also found the giant rearview mirror to be big to the point of distracting.
Step outside and the softened looks of the latest design are met with some fun flourishes such as the powered tailgate which sees the boot open without the need to yank a handle. Inside the boot there are pull-out shelving configurations which are rather cool and a great way to secure luggage and compartmentalise space.
Things get even more exciting when exploring the tech in more detail. As standard there's a 5-inch LCD display positioned between rev counter and speedometer to display navigation, journey, time and road signage, among various other settings and warnings. You'll need to be positioned well at the correct seat height to get a good line of sight to it, but we were particularly fond of the exterior cameras reading surrounding road signs so we always knew the maximum speed (useful in foreign lands).
There's also a centre 7-inch touchscreen - not available in the entry-level Visia or step-up Acenta trim - if you pick the higher-spec n-Tec and Tekna trim options. It's a big display for a big car and we enjoyed thumbing, quite literally, through the satnav and media settings.
The latest version of Nissan Connect is on board, meaning you can wire up a connected device such as your smartphone and data can be delivered to applications such as the included satnav. There's a "send to car" option in Google that we used to locate a beach cafe, for example.
Also shown on the 7-inch screen are images from the car's surrounding cameras. The X-Trail offers a full 360-degree view thanks to this, which is of significant use when it comes to parking this beast. It's a wide vehicle so that additional assurance when reversing and parking is certainly handy.
Opt for the Safety Shield package and you will gain moving object detection, lane departure and blind spot warnings - although the ongoing "beep" when clipping white lines due to the broad cornering can be fatiguing. Or perhaps we should probably just sharpen up our driving (tricky to do in this wagon).
It's just a shame all this snazzy glass-fronted and touchscreen tech is housed in such a plasticky finish. It doesn't set things off as well as could be expected.
If you're in the market for an SUV then Nissan has remodelled the third-generation X-Trail - or Qashqai Plus as we can't help but see it - into something altogether more attractive than its predecessors and much of the competition too.
But step inside and the odd driving position, giant rearview mirror and slightly bumpy ride from this front-wheel-drive SUV fails to strike every positive note. On the plus side is Nissan's affordable starting price of £22,995 which will keep the competition in check - although you'll need to spend more to get the worthwhile premium trim and tech on board.
Nissan has succeeded in mixing some quality features with some average points and, overall, the X-Trail is a mixed result. We like the 5-inch LCD and 7-inch touchscreen combo and exterior styling, but in many ways the X-Trail might succeed in refocusing people towards the Qashqai. If SUV is a must then there's enough to like here, and even though it's not revolutionary by any standards, this is a big car that will keep plenty happy.