Here, however, is a vehicle that falls some way behind the Freelander in sales, but I would argue it makes far more sense for most buyers.
This is because buyers of the Freelander pay for the prestige of the Land Rover badge (the Freelander is generally about £1,000 more expensive model-for-model compared to its main rivals), when true off-road ability in this sector of the market is limited. All these 'soft roaders' are designed more for on-road driving and off-road performance is not important to the driver.
The Nissan X-trail has been revised just two years after going on sale and offers a modern-feeling four-wheel drive car with a sporty image.
Despite exceeding Nissan's sales forecasts (65,000 have been sold in Europe over the past two years), the X-trail is fifth in the list of best-selling SUVs in the UK, behind the Freelander, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V (which currently offers no diesel) and the larger Land Rover Discovery.
Fleet sales are expected to account for more than a quarter of X-trail registrations this year, with a more powerful diesel engine broadening its appeal for business users when the revised model is launched in December.
The X-trail was hailed on its launch as having distinctly car-like driving qualities and sales in the UK this year are expected to reach 8,500 – 63% higher than in 2002.
Earlier this year, Nissan introduced a 2.5-litre petrol version of the X-trail which addressed criticisms that the existing 2.0-litre unit felt underpowered, but now the diesel version has been replaced with the more powerful 2.2 dCi that is available in Primera and Almera models. Boasting 134bhp and 232lb-ft of torque it promises to give the diesel X-trail the performance it always deserved.
A high proportion of customers have been choosing higher-specification models, hence the introduction of a T-spec version with DVD satellite navigation, and people choosing X-trails are often coming from upper-medium and premium upper-medium cars with high levels of equipment.
The S model has been dropped from the line-up and customers will now be able to choose from SE, SVE, T-spec and Sport.
Nissan expects the changes to the X-trail to lead to higher sales next year with about 10,000 units in the UK, and while it is still behind the Freelander and RAV4 it would not be through lack of ability while the diesel is still one of the best in its sector for fuel economy and emissions.
Behind the wheel
THE front end of the latest X-trail is a little neater than before and the rear light clusters are now integrated into the bodywork.
But there was never much complaint about the exterior – it has always combined the right degree of ruggedness with trendiness.
Inside, the wipe-clean fabrics and hard plastic dashboard were not to everyone's taste. These have been upgraded to improve the perceived quality of the X-trail and extra work has been done to reduce noise intrusion from the engine.
Nissan wowed customers with integrated can chillers when the X-trail was launched.
These have now been moved to either side of the dashboard where the cup holders were, so the can chillers perform both functions and allow open cans to be left while driving.
The new 134bhp diesel packs a punch where the previous 112bhp unit was merely adequate. It feels far keener than any of its compact SUV rivals, while its excellent low fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions remain intact.
I also drove the four-cylinder 2.5-litre petrol model fitted with the optional automatic transmission which, if you don't care that much about your benefit-in-kind tax bill, was remarkably refined and smooth.
For a modest price premium over the 2.0-litre (which has also been made more drivable) and a small sacrifice in carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption, the extra 25bhp makes all the difference.
The X-trail has always driven more like an estate car than a vehicle with 4x4 levels of ground clearance and it still is one of the best SUVs to drive.
However, the launch event came with the obligatory off-road course, where X-trails fitted with standard road tyres were expected to perform death-defying feats.
The X-trail was fine for most of the time, but after some rain and without a low-ratio transfer 'box things became a bit too tricky and the X-trail struggled to climb small hills.
However, this will not matter to just about everyone choosing an X-trail.
REMARKABLY good on the road and more than adequate off road, the X-trail diesel has received a welcome power boost, while the smarter interior should make it a stronger proposition in the compact SUV segment.
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||138/6,000||163/6,000||134/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||142/4,000||170/4,000||232/2,000|
|Top speed (mph):||110||116 (auto: 109)||112|
|0-62mph (secs):||10.6||9.9 (11.1)||11.5|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||222||226 (231)||190|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||30.4||30.0 (29.4)||39.2|
|Transmission:||5-sp man or||4-sp auto (2.5)||6-sp man (2.2 dCI)|
|Service intervals (miles):||9,000|
|Prices (OTR):||£17,000 - 23,000|