SOURCE: Canadian Driver
First Drive: 2005 Nissan X-Trail
Tofino, British Columbia - Perhaps the most significant difference between the Canadian vehicle market and the U.S. vehicle market is that Canadian consumers tend to buy more smaller vehicles. In Canada, the Honda Civic is the best-selling automobile; in the U.S. it's the Toyota Camry. The same goes for SUVs. According to Nissan Canada's Marketing Director, Ian Forsythe, small SUVs make up 44% of the overall SUV market in Canada, while in the United States, it's only 26%. That might help to explain why Nissan will soon introduce the compact new X-Trail in Canada but not in the United States.
You might be wondering why Nissan will introduce a new compact SUV when it already has one: the Xterra. The answer is simple, says Forsythe: the two vehicles are different and appeal to different buyers. While the Xterra has a truck-based body-on-frame platform, part-time 4WD with Low Range, and truck-like driving manners, the X-Trail has a car-like unit body platform, a fully independent suspension, and all-wheel-drive.
The Xterra is designed to appeal to parents with young children who want a roomy, easy-to-drive vehicle with the security of all-wheel-drive and a high ground clearance for traversing unploughed side-streets and the occasional cottage country back-road.
The X-Trail is very late to the SUV party. The small SUV market has exploded in recent years and there are now more than a dozen competitors, including the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, Jeep Liberty, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mitsubishi Outlander, Saturn VUE, Suzuki Vitara/Grand Vitara, Chevrolet Tracker and the upcoming Chevrolet Equinox.
The X-Trail is not all-new though, and it does have some history. It was first introduced in Japan in 2000, and is currently sold in Asia, Europe, Australia and Mexico. It has won a number of awards over the years, and according to Forsythe, "..outsells its competitors in every other market that it's sold in."
Announced prices are competitive, starting at $25,900 for the base front-wheel-drive XE model rising to $33,800 for the top-of-the-line LE all-wheel-drive model. The most popular model is likely to be the mid-range XE AWD with automatic transmission for $28,200.
Like the CR-V and RAV4, the X-Trail is offered with a four cylinder engine only - a V6 is not available. The X-Trail's 2.5 litre four cylinder engine, similar to the one in the Sentra SE-R and Altima, offers more horsepower (165) than the CR-V and recently upgraded RAV4, and includes continuously variable valve timing. This engine has plenty of pep for daily use, and is reasonably smooth and quiet around town and on the freeway. However, it growls loudly under hard acceleration. I was told my X-Trail was a pre-production model that's not quite up to production standards, which might explain the engine noise. However, it's been on sale elsewhere in the world since 2000, so I'm quite sure why it would be "pre-production".
A smooth-shifting four-speed automatic transmission is standard on front-wheel-drive X-Trails while a five-speed manual is standard on base all-wheel-drive models - an automatic is optional.
The X-Trail's all-wheel-drive system allows the driver to select 2WD (front-wheel-drive) or Auto (all-wheel-drive) simply by turning a dial on the dash. Nissan's AWD system uses an electromagnetic clutch to send power from front to rear, or vice-versa, in just 0.1 seconds. In slippery road conditions, there is almost no front wheel slippage before the rear tires grip. And from a standing start, the AWD system always starts off in a 50/50 front/rear torque split, reverting to 100/0 front/rear split on dry pavement.
The X-Trail doesn't have a Low Range gear, but it does have an AWD Lock that fixes the front/rear torque split at 50/50 at speeds up to 30 km/h. As well, top-of-the-line LE AWD models come with electronic stability control that helps correct understeer and oversteer in slippery corners. Front-wheel-drive X-Trails include a pushbutton "Snow Mode" which automatically adjusts engine torque to help prevent wheelspin.
The X-Trail's suspension is fully independent, and in the twisty mountain curves of Vancouver Island where I drove the X-Trail, the ride was firm but not harsh while the handling was crisp even though the X-Trail is a little top-heavy. The turning circle seemed a bit wide to me.
All X-Trails come with four-wheel vented disc brakes with ABS, Brake Assist and electronic brake differential as standard equipment - that's certainly extra value.
Though it's classified as a small SUV, the X-Trail is a fairly tall, boxy vehicle with a rather imposing presence. The good news is that the X-Trail has more interior volume than most other SUVs in its class. While the step-in height is quite low, the seating position is high, and the front seats are well-padded and supportive. The front seats include lumbar support, seat heaters, and active head restraints in to help prevent whiplash in a collision. The rear seats are also very comfortable and recline too.
From the driver's seat, outward visibility is excellent and the driver has a great view of the road ahead. When parking, the driver can use special protrusions on top of the headlamp covers to judge where the front edges of the vehicle are - a really good idea. Another feature I really liked: the doors wrap over the sills to prevent dirt from accumulating on the door sills so you won't get dirt on your pants when climbing in and out. And to help prevent parking lot dings, the front fenders are made of composite (plastic).
The interior of the X-Trail is nicely finished with a centrally-position tachometer, speedometer and fuel gauge which I found easy to read from the driver's seat. A handy covered storage bin with a power point is situated where the instruments would normally be. A couple of unique features: a heated/cooled console bin for drinks that will hold two pop cans or two water bottles; and heated/cooled cupholders near the A-pillars that will hold cups or bottles, and have slots for bottle screwcaps.
All five passengers in the X-Trail have generous headroom and legroom. The front seats are raised allowing generous footroom for rear passengers. The rear seat features a removeable armrest through which a standard-size snowboard will slide through. With the 60/40 rear seats folded flat, the long cargo floor has a hard, fibreglass backing which is scratch resistant - however I found that loose bags in the cargo area will slide around the smooth floor. A heavy-duty net that attaches to anchor points in the cargo area will secure loads weighing up to 200 pounds. And the rear cargo floor can be removed from the vehicle to wash off with a hose.
The X-Trail is expected to go on sale May 17th across the country. MSRPs for the 2005 Nissan X-Trial are as follows: XE FWD 4 auto $25,900; SE FWD 4 auto $28,300; XE AWD 5 man $27,200; XE AWD 4 auto $28,200; SE AWD 5 man $29,600; SE AWD 4 auto $30,600; LE AWD 4 auto $33,000; LE AWD 4 auto VDC/TCS $33,800.
The X-Trail is built in Kyushu, Japan.