Updated X-Trail Scores on Dynamic Refinement

By Lee Pang Seng

THERE was once when we didn’t quite look forward to driving SUVs (sport utility vehicles) as being taller vehicles, they tend to roll more into a corner when pushed hard, exaggerating the understeer as the front tyres squealed in protests. That has all changed in recent years with electrical management of suspension and brake function in complement with improved suspension engineering.

A recent two-day drive from Shah Alam to Gerik and back in the Nissan X-Trail facelift reconfirmed that impression. The dynamic qualities of the current SUV are much improved and could match that of the cars, making the drive through winding roads at good speeds with the taller vehicles just as enjoyable.

There is a good explanation for this development trend in the global automotive scenario. The days of the car are numbered as the switch of vehicle purchases to SUVs gathers momentum globally. Thus, this is prompting carmakers to develop SUVs to be as comfortable and great to drive as cars. This has seen to successive SUV models coming into the market being engineered to be dynamically strong along winding roads while being pleasant to drive on the highways and in urban centres.

It is happening in Malaysia too albeit in the mid to higher range SUV segments although Perodua has taken the first step to introduce an affordable option recently. Nissan distributor Edaran Tan Chong Motor (ETCM) is also seeing its sales leaning in that direction and the timely entry of the X-Trail facelift model fits into its fresh sales strategy perfectly.

With the dwindling interest in the Teana executive sedan (thereby leading to it being discontinued), ETCM has to meet the shortfall in demand by giving customers an attractive carrot in the newly launched X-Trail facelift model. This is done by expanding the model range from two to four; the 2.0L 2WD is complemented by the 2.0L 2WD MID that means a mid-spec variant with higher level of standard equipment at a slightly higher price of RM145,888 (on the road without insurance) from RM133,888 (which remains unchanged from the pre-facelift 2.0L 2WD model).

And taking over at the top is the 2.0L 2WD Hybrid that ETCM says is the first locally assembled hybrid vehicle in its segment. It is priced at RM159,888. The previous top honcho X-Trail 2.5L 4WD, like the 2.0L 2WD, also sees no change in price at RM153,888 from the preceding model. That’s an attractive proposal for an updated SUV with 28 improved parts (exterior, interior and safety features). In addition, all the variants are certified as EEVs (energy efficient vehicles).

Coming back to the dynamic drive factor, we couldn’t describe it better than to share our experience of taking to the winding road route from Kuala Kangsar to Gerik with the new X-Trail 2.5L 4WD. The drive was done in the 2WD (two-wheel drive) mode since the route comprised tarred roads, although a bit patchy, bumpy and undulating over some sections.

That might seem like the perfect road conditions to unsettle the poise of the X-Trail but we came away pleasantly surprised. Given the robust road speed that we were driving the X-Trail 2.5L at, this Nissan SUV took every rut, bump and speed stripes in its stride. From the driver’s perspective, we could take to the fast sweepers with confidence at speeds above 140km/h while the sharper bends were covered with equal gusto.

There was hardly any body lean to exaggerate the g-forces acting on the X-Trail charging into the corner. If we had understeered a bit through the tighter turns, leading to some front wheel squeals from the 255/65 R 17 Continental Cross Contact LX Sport tyres, easing off the accelerator to reduce the speed and regaining directional control was very easily done.

Credit would probably come from the gamut of ‘intelligent’ dynamic controls that are engineered into the X-Trail brake and suspension systems. Take for instance the Intelligent Trace Control that applies the brakes at each wheel individually for smoother steering through corners.

And to provide good ride comfort, there is the Intelligent Ride Control that automatically applies the brakes and adjusts engine torque to make the ride smoother. We appreciated that as a driver and front passenger although our experience as a rear passenger was not as good. We felt the contours of the road through a jittery ride although it was not a jolting one but this impression was more clearly felt with the X-Trail 2.5L.

That in the X-Trail 2.0L Hybrid was a more comfortable one. We could compare notes as our drive from Gerik to Kuala Kangsar the following day was done in X-Trail 2.0L Hybrid. This is despite the X-Trail Hybrid being a lighter SUV (1634kg kerb against 1642kg) than the 2.5L. However, the heavy battery pack has to be firmly held in place and it requires greater work on the suspension and stiffer ancillary components to accommodate that function. With a more specific suspension tuning, it could have accounted for the more comfortable ride.

Besides the good dynamic road performance, we were also impressed by the lower intrusion of noise into the passenger cabin. The noise level was so low that the only constant was the varying pitch from the road rumble as the tyres generated different wavelengths over the respective road surfaces. This is generally the scenario with most modern day vehicles, be they cars, SUVs or MPVs (multipurpose vehicles).

The low noise factor also comes from the fact that Nissan has made moves to achieve this by improving NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) insulation in four key areas such as the firewall, floor and even the wheel arches. Our experience here on the vehicle’s refinement levels also varies between the two X-Trail variants.

The X-Trail Hybrid appeared to be the quieter one from our experience all round although the 2.5L only sounded quieter from the driver’s seat. We could hear the engine and CVT (continuously variable transmission) roar at a higher decibel as a front passenger and rear passenger. It’s either the NVH measures are more driver focused or there are more components around the driver to absorb the noise.

The X-Trail Hybrid 2.0-litre engine comes with direct fuel injection and this could have led to a more efficient running engine that revs smoother and quieter. The 2.5L engine still has the older indirect fuel feed system although both are said to have the improved X-Tronic CVT and dual clutch transmission.

These power units are basically undersquarely configured with the 2.0-litre engine having a 90.1mm stroke and 84.0mm bore to displace 1997cc and the 2.5-litre engine has a 100.0mm stroke and 89mm bore to displace 2488cc. Common features are the double overhead camshaft head with Twin CVTC (continuously variable-valve timing control). The 2.0-litre engine delivers 106kW (144PS) at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4400rpm while the bigger displacement 2.5-litre engine has more at 126kW (171PS) at 6000rpm and 233Nm peaking at a lower 4000rpm.

With the electric power kicking in during acceleration, there is almost a turbo-like effect to the power build-up in the X-Trail Hybrid to achieve a very good pace quicker. The 2.5-litre engine, on the other hand, builds up its output in a linear fashion to attain a more progressive gain in road speed.

In that respect, we are more partial to hybrid power as it could hit 190km/h quicker when we had the road for it. The X-Trail also felt firmly planted on the road during our robust highway drives with no hint of vehicle float that was experienced in much older SUVs. Wind noise was also nicely curtailed with good body aerodynamics to add to the overall ride comfort.

The Lane Departure Warning made itself noted with clear beeps when the vehicle tyres ‘strayed’ onto the painted lines on the road above 60km/h. However, if we used the indicator, the system recognised that and would not activate the beeps. Blind Spot warning on both sides were useful when traffic was heavy on the highway.

And in urban traffic situations where speeds are much lower, the Intelligent Forward Collision Warning with Intelligent Forward Emergency Braking should be useful against rear-ending the vehicle in front during traffic crawls. Likewise, when reversing, the Rear Cross Traffic Alert should be just handy.

Lest we forget, the latest X-Trail also gains its updated status through new exterior features that include the V-Motion front grille and fresh front bumper design with signature LED (light emitting diode) boomerang daytime running lights and headlamps. This is matched by the rear new smoked LED boomerang tail-lamps and novel rear bumper design with chrome garnish. There are also new 17-inch alloy wheels in Dark Titanium for the top three models while the 2.0L 2WD has silver alloy wheels.

But if you are in the market for a more compact SUV, ETCM has hinted that such a model would make its entry here in the not too distant future. We believe that this new compact SUV should be just as much fun to drive with an equal dose of refinement and ride comfort. More importantly, it would also come at a more attractive price too.