It looks like a Nissan Qashqai, but its not - Michael Sheridan reviews the Nissan X-Trail.

The 2001, 5-seat, 5-door X-Trail was a mid-sized, reasonably chunky SUV that had its 15 minutes of fame. Ultimately by the 2007, 2nd generation machine, X-Trail was pretty much taxed off the road in Ireland. Also with the birth of the SUV crossover, motorists were able to buy more affordable vehicles, which looked the part but had family hatchback running costs. Qashqai remains Nissan Europe’s shining star, a car that shook up the whole industry and inspired countless ‘wannabes’. With new Qashqai, owners of the larger 7-seat version - ‘Qashqai+2’, were disappointed that Nissan said it was not going to make a new +2. Nissan instead decided to make new X-Trail available in 5 and 7-seat versions.

X-Trail sits on a bigger platform that it shares with Qashqai. On the outside the physical similarity of the two machines is surprising and really Nissan should have just called it Qashqai XL or Grand Qashqai – it simply bears no resemblance to the X-Trail we know! That said Qashqai is a great machine. The only annoying thing that will bug X-Trail buyers is having to bite their lip when people inadvertently compliment their new Qashqai!

X-Trail at its core will have a new 1.6-litre diesel engine - replacing the 2-litre. It is greener and has good performance too. From launch X-Trail will be available in front wheel drive or selectable four-wheel drive versions. We drove all the variants but again our test cars had no badges to show if we were in a more capable 4X4 version (or the 5 or 7-seat variant).

All of the technologies and driving aids available in Qashqai (Safety Shield, internet smart phone connectivity etc.) are also available in X-Trail. There is however a large panoramic roof, that unlike Qashqai’s, opens.

We drove both manual and automatic versions – with the ‘XTronic’ auto (stepped CVT) providing the most stress free, if a little dull, motoring. The auto is perfect for family users, especially on stressful school runs! X-Trail now features rear doors that open up to 80 degrees wide to allow easy access to an impressively big space. The rear seats slide and tilt. The 7-seat version is really a 5+2, as the last two seats are cosy at best and not suited for big people. Visibility is great for occupants thanks to the slightly tiered three seat rows.

We were treated to an off-road section during our test drives and to be honest we could have taken a Micra around the course without effort. The four-wheel drive version drives normally in front-wheel drive unless sensors detect the need for more traction, then up to 50% of power can be sent to the rear wheels. You can also select via a rotary dial - 2WD, Auto or 4WD lock.

X-Trail will be sold in 190 countries and sales of 500,000 per annum are expected globally. Due in Ireland for the 142 registration period, sales will be modest. The 5-seat front-wheel drive version offers the best in family motoring as the boot is fantastic with its clever division shelf system and of course the rear legroom is simply massive too and perfect for all ages.

Michael Sheridan