We had just come from the Kapurpurawan rock formation in Ilocos Norte and the next stop on our itinerary was the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse. I had been here just two weeks ago with another car and knew that there was a short stretch of mountain roads just before the lighthouse. I was looking forward to the mountain roads because I was meaning to try out the all wheel drive system there. Not these relatively smooth gravel roads which it handled with ease and whose bumps we hardly felt, thanks to the supple suspension.
In the briefing earlier, Nissan execs already told me the all-new X-trail was designed more for less than perfect roads rather than the paved concrete I was looking for.
Still, there was something about this all-wheel drive system that allowed the X-trail to handle turns better than leaving it on 2WD. From the off set, it doesn't look like much has changed, despite them repeatedly assuring us that it's an all new vehicle. Much of the old model's angular stylings are there. The square headlights have just been tweaked a bit and the formerly optional hyper rail roof lights are now fitted as standard on the top of the line model.
Inside, the instrument cluster has thankfully been moved back to the driver's side. A multifunction guage incorporates fuel, temp, odometer, fuel economy, fuel range and even elapsed time. The driver's seat is electrically adjusted. The rear bench has a 40/20/40 fold function with a folding armrest. It can also fold flat to accommodate bulky cargo. In the rear, the cargo floor is removable and washable. Under it are two drawers to stow even more items.
They're great improvements to a vehicle I already had few complaints with. Except maybe for that center mounted instrument cluster which had clearly been addressed.
We had finally reached the national highway and I got a chance to stretch the X-trail's legs. Flooring the throttle returned some quick response and the X-trail began to gain speed rapidly yet smoothly. It owes this largely to the Xtronic CVT that simply lets the engine stay in the peak power band while the transmission constantly adjusts the ratio to pick up the speed. There's some firmness to the throttle pedal which eliminates that slipping clutch feeling most CVT's tend to have. Drop it down to manual mode and there's still no shift shock, even though this setting divides the CVT's range into preset "gears". More surprising still is the engine brake the car returns on downhill sections despite being a CVT. It's all designed to indulge sporty passions without putting a penalty on fuel.
As for the turns, they turned out to be a treat. You'd think the soft ride would yield some heavy body roll, yet the X-trail would only give just enough. It returns nothing but confidence and stability, even during a little surprise that caused me to brake during a turn.
I'd toy with the 4WD knob, leaving it on 2WD in one turn and switch to 4WD on the fly, in the next. The result is a clear improvement in handling, favoring the 4WD mode. It brings the nose into the turn more naturally, making you think twice about a handling deficiency bias against SUVs.
Later in the trip, we had a chance to test the 4WD lock on sandy surfaces - a bane for any SUV. Of course, this system only locks the center differential and not the front or rear axles like more dedicated off-roaders. With it armed, and a heavy foot on the throttle, we breezed through the sand without any drama. It's certainly not a hard core off-roader, but there's more than enough lock and clearance to surmount most obstacle that prospective buyers of this car will likely encounter.
Perhaps, the best testament of the vehicle's all around ability is the fact that all the passengers were soundly asleep in the quiet cabin, chilled by Nissan's trademark freezer-cold air conditioning. As for the driver, the only trouble was keeping awake in this balmy vehicle, as even the darkest and roughest roads were little match for the six lights and remarkable all-road flexibility that lit and conquered the path ahead.