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|Nissan X-Trail is fresh but retains a ruggedness in its sharply chiselled design. Photos David Thomson|
The teenage son of a friend calls it "a toaster on wheels", but I've held the Nissan X-Trail in high regard since it first graced the SUV scene back in 2007.
A mild face-lift has provided a new grille and rear light clusters, freshening the vehicle's appearance without detracting from the overall ruggedness of its sharply chiselled design.
Two versions of the revised X-Trail passed through Drivesouth's hands in quick succession: the $38,990 2-litre front-wheel drive wagon and the $49,990 2.4-litre 4WD Ti.
Both feature petrol power and six-speed CVT transmissions, with the wagon mustering peak outputs of 102kW and 198Nm, and the Ti 125kW and 226Nm.
The X-Trail continues to impress inside for the quality of its finish, roominess and clear layout of both cabin and boot. From the pod-like cup holders either side of the dash, to the centre bin on the dash-top and massive glove box up front, the load-through ski flap in the centre rear seat, and storage compartments under the "false" boot floor, practical storage options abound.
On the other hand, the hard shiny boot floor was a constant bugbear on test, to the point it was removed to prevent luggage skating about in the back of the big square 603-litre space.
A user-friendly Bluetooth interface is standard across the range, but overall the Ti delivered the superior haul of standard kit. This included leather trim, heated front seats, a large power sunroof and a central colour touchscreen, which is the display for both satellite navigation and the car's 360-degree view camera system.
The satellite navigation system is refreshingly intuitive in its operation, making a real virtue out of simplicity. The camera system, which is also standard on the flagship TL turbo-diesel variant, overcomes visibility issues for slow-speed manoeuvring by providing a bird's-eye view courtesy of some cleverly located cameras.
Once mastered, it turns all manner of parking challenges into an absolute breeze.
Hopes of dispatching the Ti on a weekend ski run were dashed when high winds closed the southern fields, but the test car acquitted itself well in a less demanding mix of urban, highway and dirt-road motoring.
With its elevated seating position and high centre of gravity, there is no pretence of car-like handling. That said, because it steers precisely and sits on a well-sorted chassis and pliant suspension, the X-Trail is a comfortable and poised round-town and open road prospect, albeit with
an inherent tendency in both wagon and Ti forms to understeer when pushed.
The 4WD Ti laps up dirt roads too, and with a low-ratio mode and hill-descent control as standard, is capable of gentle off-roading within the confines imposed by 212mm of ground clearance, road-oriented tyres, a space-saver spare and CVT transmission.
This makes it the far superior option for Otago, where "lifestyle" - that elusive concept of mild adventuring beloved of SUV marketers - extends well beyond making the right impression in the right urban environment.