People return to the Nissan X-Trail
On the road

Road test: Nissan X-Trail

We take a new medium SUV, the Nissan X-Trail e-POWER with e-4ORCE, for a spin to Ben Lomond National Park.

It’s a crisp, clear early-winter morning when I front up to Motors Nissan Launceston to collect one of the latest cars to hit Australian roads. I’m liking the sound of the heated seats and steering wheel that sales rep Michael is pointing out on the new Nissan X-Trail when he shifts up a gear technically and begins explaining the medium-size SUV’s unique drivetrain.

It’s a bit early for my brain, so I pay close attention. Michael explains that the new Nissan is neither a plug-in EV nor a hybrid. Under the bonnet, it retains a 1.5-litre internal combustion engine but it’s not there to drive the wheels. Instead, the turbo-petrol three-cylinder engine acts as a generator and inverter to charge the car’s 2.1kWh lithium battery, negating the need for it to be plugged into a power source. The battery and petrol engine work in tandem to power the electric motor – or two, in this ‘e-4ORCE’ model – which drives the wheels.

The turbo-petrol three-cylinder engine acts as a generator and inverter to charge the car’s 2.1kWh lithium battery, negating the need for it to be plugged into a power source.

I’ve chosen Ben Lomond National Park as a testing ground for this top-of-the-range Ti-L e-POWER e-4ORCE X-Trail. That’s a mouthful, but basically e-POWER refers to Nissan’s chargeas-you-go EV system and e-4ORCE to the dual electric-motor drivetrain and braking system.

A stop at Ben Lomond Village

Credit: Chris Crerar

Nissan claims e-4ORCE is a gamechanger in terms of stability, cornering and braking performance, on top of the benefits of a 4WD system driven by two independent front and rear electric motors.

I’m looking forward to leaving the sealed highways and experiencing how this SUV performs on gravel back roads and up Tasmania’s second-highest mountain to the Ben Lomond ski village which, at an elevation of 1460m, is the highest place you can drive to on the island.

Heading south out of Launceston, my first impressions are of an X-Trail that’s highly evolved from the boxy, budget original versions first released in Australia 22 years ago. It feels refined and well-designed. I feel hugged in place by the firm, comfortable leather seats and love the clean minimalistic design of the dash, instrument cluster and infotainment screen. There are only four dials on the dash and centre console – one each for the passenger and driver’s climate control, one for the driving mode selector and an actual volume-control dial (so welcome!). Not bad at all for a vehicle laden with technology.

With a panoramic glass roof, three-zone climate control, Apple CarPlay, an ‘intelligent’ rearview mirror and even a little faux woodgrain, the X-Trail Ti-L feels more like a mid-range luxury vehicle than a family-focused SUV.

Following Michael’s encouragement, I select the e-Pedal drive mode as we head towards the historic village of Evandale for a caffeine break. At its simplest, the e-Pedal combines acceleration and braking in one. Step on the accelerator to move and lift off to brake. There are some real benefits here as braking, or decelerating, comes through the electric motors going into reverse and charging the battery, and also in terms of sustainability as it reduces reliance on the traditional braking system. I can see it would be great to use once you’re comfortable with it, but on this first drive I find my foot reaching for the brake pedal.

The minimalist dash design
The interiors are sleek and modern

With its 20-inch alloy wheels and cobalt metallic paint, the X-Trail stands out amid the muted tones of Evandale’s colonial buildings. We pull up at the Clarendon Arms and throw off the morning chill with hot coffee and carrot cake.

Back in the car, we’re soon on classic country roads heading directly for Ben Lomond’s imposing dolerite ramparts. The X-Trail accelerates powerfully and more like a dedicated EV than a hybrid, helped by the one-speed automatic transmission. It’s a confidence-inspiring SUV to drive, making easy work of corners and braking smoothly. I often joke to interstate friends that Tasmania’s early road builders were paid per corner, as our roads are so windy – so having a car that corners well is a real bonus

Nissan’s slick promotional videos claim the e-4ORCE powertrain and braking system will deliver power to the wheels with the most grip, ensuring confidence and stability through corners. It certainly feels like reality matches the hype in the X-Trail’s case.

Before long, we’ve turned onto the gravel road into Ben Lomond National Park, climbing rapidly through tall eucalypt forests. The instrument cluster tells me when the car is purely EV and when the petrol engine is assisting to run the electric motors. Heading up the mountain is a combined effort, but it takes the incline in its stride. The X-trail feels safe and capable on this relatively rough dirt road. It’s solid over bumps and potholes, and tracks well over the more corrugated sections. More of an SUV for weekend getaways than an off-roader, it does what it’s been designed for very well.

A smooth drive through the dolerite ramparts of Ben Lomond National Park
Taking shelter from the cool conditions

Those wanting to really get off the beaten path will love the no-plug-in charging, while others will be turned off by still needing to stop at a petrol pump and not being able to fully tap into Tasmania’s 100 percent renewable energy network. At 6.1L/100km, the e-POWER X-Trail enjoys 20 percent better fuel economy than its conventionally powered stablemate but is considerably higher than the rival hybrid RAV4’s 4.8L/100km.

We emerge from the forest at the base of what some say is Australia’s most dangerous road. Jacob’s Ladder does feel distinctly biblical as the road zigzags skyward through its six hairpin bends. Hemmed in by menacing dark stone cliffs and towers, with few roadside barriers to prevent a vehicle falling over the precipice, Parks Tasmania signs instruct motorists to proceed slowly with caution and not to stop.

My companion turns the drive mode dial onto off-road and we nervously inch forward onto Jacob’s Ladder. While the X-Trail feels safe and reassuring, we continue slowly up through each of the bends, mostly because our hearts are firmly in our mouths but also because the views are so incredible that it’s worth driving slowly just to absorb them.

We let off cheers as we round the final bend and drive out onto the plateau towards the ski village. We’re a little disappointed that there’s not a patch of snow to be seen but agree that the new Nissan would look right at home up here in deep winter parked next to a snow-covered lodge.

The specs

Pricing: Starting from $61,617 drive away depending on colour

Body style: Medium SUV

Seating: 5 seats

Fuel consumption: X-Trail Ti-L (4WD) e-POWER (HYBRID) uses 6.1L/100km of ELECTRIC/PULP Combined highway/city

Safety: 5 Star ANCAP Rating

Engine type: 1.5L turbo three-cylinder engine with variable compression technology

Battery: 2.1kWh lithium battery (1.8kWh usable)

Charging/plug: The car’s battery is charged via the engine. The engine is connected to a motor-generator and inverter which is connected to the battery

Range: 900km per tank

Transmission: One speed automatic (CVT) DRIVE TYPE • Electronic 4x4 system (e-4ORCE)

Max. power: Power, kW @ rpm (front/rear) 150 / 100 ³

Max. torque: Torque, Nm @ rpm (front/rear) 330 / 195 ⁴

0-100km/h: 7.0 seconds