DRIVEN: 2019 Nissan X-Trail facelift – Hybrid and 2.5L

Considering its late entry into the game, the ground covered by the sport utility vehicle has been astounding – at the dawn of its arrival, few would have thought the body-type would end up being the runaway success it has been, but it has, with the segment now accounting for more than a third of vehicle sales globally.

The swell of offerings in the category and the rapid pace at which things progress means that it has become increasing difficult for a product to see through a regular lifecycle without being badgered by something newer, flashier and – as is usually the case – far better specified.

Nothing of course can be done about the set timeframe for a product in the ongoing arms race, but speed to market is of the essence once it’s out. It’s something Honda found out with the fourth-gen CR-V, the RM’s late arrival here costing it dearly. With a facelift, there’s arguably a little more leeway, especially if the original didn’t really dally in getting here.

However, introducing a refresh in two years after its reveal sounds like dicing it close. Such is the case with the facelifted Nissan X-Trail, which arrives here a little over four years after the SUV’s local debut. The initial T32 did very well, but does the refresh have enough to make the same headway as before, given the rapidly evolving landscape and increasing competition? We find out.

When it arrived on the scene in 2013, the styling of the third-generation X-Trail was a world away from its predecessors. The first, the T30, was a box on wheels – it looked like one, and it drove like one as well. The second-gen T31, despite attempts to soften the edges in the packaging, still looked and felt like a box, albeit a plushier one.

The current car has certainly not been that, and the refresh looks to have just about enough to keep it going until the next one comes along, even if the changes aren’t obvious upon first glance. The rework is subtle, almost a blink-and-you’ll-miss it affair, as highlighted in the side-by-side comparison we did of both old and new recently.

Thankfully, the changes are quite refined. At the front, a new bumper and a larger V-Motion radiator grille make their way on, along with new headlights, which are – with the exception of the base model in the range – dual-projector LED units. The boomerang LED DRLs on the latter have also been redesigned, as have the foglamps, which are now rectangular units.

The rework for the rear follows a similar formulaic scope – there’s a new bumper with a revised diffuser and a new LED combination tail lamp design, which ditches the chrome outlines and adds in a smoke finish. A new shark fin antenna is the final give-away that it’s the rump of the new one you’re looking at.

No change in the wheel size, which stays at 17-inches, or the five double-spoke layout, but the spoke design now has a more pronounced V-shape styling, and the 2.5L 4WD and 2.0L Hybrid, the subjects of our review, get a dark titanium finish for differentiation.

Inside, the refresh adds on a flat-bottom leather steering wheel, piano black air vent surrounds, a new gear knob design and leatherette trim on the dashboard and knee pad area on the centre console. The leather trim isn’t found on the two 2.0L variants, but can be added on for RM500. The higher-range models also get gloss faux carbon fibre door panel decorative trim.

Elsewhere, an electro-mechanical parking brake – with auto hold assist – makes its way on, and although access to the switch, which is set a bit tightly in the right corner of the gear console, doesn’t feel all that natural in terms of tactility, it’s still a sight better than the mechanical foot brake it replaces.

The instrument cluster, meanwhile, adds on a new five-inch Advanced Drive Assist digital display, which presents info on turn-by-turn navigation, cruise control settings, fuel consumption stats, and in the case of the hybrid, relevant associated data. Despite the smallish surface area, legibility aspects are good.

The infotainment system is now a fully-integrated affair, finally making the transition from the aftermarket route to a dedicated unit. Aside from voice recognition and navigation, the seven-inch Nissan Connect infotainment system also comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, bringing the X-Trail into the present.

We’ve detailed both formats in a video, and from an operational viewpoint a quick sampling of Android Auto (which remains unsupported here) during the drive revealed easy connectivity and a glitch-free performance. As for the audio system, sonic quality is serviceable.

The interior updates add refinement, as does the inclusion of additional sound insulation. Quite a bit of suppression material has gone into the facelift, specifically on the floor, dashboard, rear body panels and wheel housing sections of the car. The effort at improving NVH levels results in noticeable gains – it’s more silent than before, and way quieter than something like the Honda CR-V, especially from a tyre noise perspective.

As they were previously, the front seats remain a standout where comfort is concerned – the Nissan Zero Gravity units continue their great work, being supportive and plush without being mushy. Moving on to the next row, having three to a car meant that there was sufficient time to sample the second-row, and there was a perceptible difference in that between the two variants.

As observed by quite a number on the drive, the rear units on the hybrid felt more comfortable, both from a seat and seatback perspective. This could be likely due to their composition, brought about by the seat layout configuration – the non-hybrids are seven-seaters, while the hybrid is a five-seater, the omission of the rear most units necessary because of the hybrid battery pack’s placement in the boot.

A word about the rear most row in the regular X-Trail. The space provided by the +2 units remains as pinched as before, and is really workable only for short hauls or for tiny people. Nonetheless, the absence of any real competition within the segment gives the Nissan a definite edge when it comes to absolute passenger load.

On the whole, the X-Trail’s cabin presentation remains conventional but very workable, but competitors such as the Mazda CX-5 and Volkswagen Tiguan have upped the bar, and it’s clear to see that both have far better composed interiors, build- and material-wise. It’s not just the Nissan that’s feeling it – the Honda CR-V is too, and that’s a far newer car.

The facelift also bumps up the safety kit. As standard, the X-Trail come with six airbags (the baseline 2.0L 2WD has four), Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), Traction Control System (TCS), ABS with EBD, brake assist, Hill Start Assist (HSA) and two Isofix child seat anchors with top tether.

All models feature Nissan Intelligent Mobility, which groups Around View Monitor with Intelligent Moving Object Detection, Intelligent Ride Control, Intelligent Engine Brake and Intelligent Trace Control under its umbrella.

From the 2.0L Mid on, you’ll find Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Blind Spot Warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), and the 2.5L 4WD and 2.0L Hybrid bundle in Intelligent Cruise Control, High Beam Assist and Intelligent Forward Collision Warning with Intelligent Forward Emergency Braking (AEB), items we’ve also taken a closer look at in our video about them.

The engines are familiar entities, as are their outputs – the two 2.0 litre 2WD variants are powered by the MR20DD, which offers 144 PS at 6,000 rpm and 200 Nm at 4,400 rpm, while the 2.5L 4WD’s QR25DE continues on with 171 PS at 6,000 rpm and 233 Nm at 4,400 rpm. Both engines are paired with an Xtronic CVT.

The same mill is found on the 2.0L Hybrid, which – although reoptimised for the hybrid application through some mechanical revisions – has the same output. It works with an electric motor offering 41 PS and 160 Nm, which is juiced by the aforementioned lithium-ion battery, a 0.9 kWh unit, located under the boot floor.

The partnering ‘box is also a CVT, but comes with an Intelligent Dual Clutch Control one-motor, two-clutch parallel hybrid system. The “dual clutch” here refers to a clutch between the engine and the electric motor, and a clutch between the electric motor and the CVT. As such, engine and motor energy can be channeled mechanically to the transmission without a torque converter.

Nissan hasn’t offered a combined output for the hybrid setup, but suffice to say that what’s on easily makes it the fastest X-Trail variant of the lot, as shown in our drag test involving all three powertrains. Away from straight up sprints, the hybrid also felt pacier and eager – especially into the midband – during the course of the drive, which saw both the 2.5L 4WD and 2.0L Hybrid being evaluated over a long-ish run from KL to Belum Rainforest Resort in Gerik, Perak.

The 2.5 litre’s behaviour and characteristics remain the known quantity – it needs some prodding before it delivers the goods, but is an eager worker, and though it continues to have a zingy quality to it when pushed, the added sound insulation tempers much of that aspect in the facelift. The hybrid powertrain felt the more cohesive of the duo, both in delivery and response.

Less so was the brake feel of the hybrid, which demands specific mention. It’s not so much to do with the ability to haul up when demanded, which it does, but more from the response from the pedal itself, or rather the lack of it. Aside from being spongy, there’s also a lot of travel, with a fair amount of effort in input needed to get feedback, which feels unnerving, though it gets easier to manage with extended use. Still, it’s hardly the most reassuring thing, the whole sensation.

The route gave plenty of opportunity for the X-Trail to stretch its legs, and the twistier sections revealed that little has changed dynamically in its character from the pre-facelift. The X-Trail wasn’t the leading edge in handling when it came out, and it still isn’t.

While most of the coursework was on straight, level terrain, the last sections of the drive into Belum was accomplished at speed on twisty roads, and the X-Trail, while competent, never felt totally at ease. The underlying softness, fair amount of roll as well as the lack of chassis feel and steering communication means that best progress at speed is in a straight line, and it’s here, cruising on the highway, that the X-Trail feels right at home.

Switch to a more relaxed approach and you’ll find that the high compliance of the primary ride and improved NVH levels make this quite the performer for long distance jaunts – the CR-V may be peppier and faster, and the CX-5 a far more involving drive, but chances are you’ll get there fresher in this one. In this regard, its closest competitor is the Proton X70.

Predictability dictates that the 2.0L variants will do the best in terms of numbers, because of their pricing (RM133,888 for the 2.0L 2WD, RM145,888 for the 2.0L 2WD Mid), but there’s a lot of appeal in the 2.5L 4WD if you’re eyeing the Mid. From a dynamic engagement perspective, the 2.0L Hybrid (RM159,888) is the pick of the bunch, but buyers will no doubt weigh in the omission of the extra seats and potential long-term cost of the hybrid battery replacement.

The T32 X-Trail has made gains with its facelift, refining a competent, clean package further, and its overall approach remains neutral, essentially a safe and tried route. However, that lack of apparent colour may bother some buyers, especially given how the competition has gathered pace and glitz. There’s the CR-V, CX-5, X70, and if you look a bit more left-field, the Tiguan, all strong propositions.

Still, as with many things, excitement doesn’t generally make for livability, and vice versa, and the X-Trail is a very livable offering – it’s the sort that will get the job done tirelessly without fuss (or fanfare), and the ability to seat seven, which its competitors cannot, gives it an added dimension. Will it be enough for it to gain traction as it did before? Time will tell how that pans out.

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