Nissan's X-Trail SUV may be 10 years old, but it's showing no signs of ageing, in recent months it has had a bit of makeover which has freshened it a little, especially at the rear where new light clusters brighten the look (no pun intended).
There's also a new 2WD, 2-litre model, while some of the four-wheel-drive models have received some comprehensive new kit.
This evaluation focuses on the range-topping 2.5-litre petrol-fuelled, four-wheel-drive variant simply badged Ti. It lists at $49,990 and is bristling with specification, much of it carried over from the previous generation, but there are also some new items such as satellite navigation and a clever parking assist system which works through a split screen on the facia. A camera provides normal front to rear views, while a bird's-eye view is displayed showing how the car is positioned as if you were looking down on the car, and the ground. It's all very helpful, as a system it works well.
Ti badging will also give you full leather trim with heated front seats, electric front seat adjustment, electric sunroof, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, keyless entry and ignition, heat and cool cup holders, comprehensive trip computer and tilt and reach-adjustable steering column.
Major items fitted for safety include no fewer than six air bags, three child restraint anchor points, traction and stability control which works amidst the ABS sensing system. The latter also has a part in the downhill descent control mechanism which can be selected alongside four-wheel-drive. On that subject, it works through a console-mounted dial at the driver's command. There is an automatic mode which prompts four-wheel-drive if slippage at the front wheels is detected, and there's also a four-wheel-drive mode proper.
I took the test car on a short off-the-seal excursion near Burnham. The dirt track was deeply rutted and filled with water in places, but the X-Trail is in its element on the rough stuff with compliant suspension and generous ground clearance at 212mm. The latter promotes confidence in the rough stuff, while grip is hardly challenged even though the Dunlop tyres are designated sport specification (225/55 x 18in).
While the X-Trail has above average off-road appeal, that doesn't compromise its on-road feel and performance. The suspension is a promising mix of what is required for cross-country work, but it is also supple for the majority of our driving and is capable when the high country corners arrive.
Steerage is informative and accuracy into a corner is positive. The spring and damper rates are set so that they contain body movement, any gravitational change is ushered in without a lurch. I like the way the X-Trail feels through the steering and the way it reacts in a corner is almost car-like. And not all SUVs can claim to have that kind of handling feel, certainly during the time since the X-Trail has been produced the engineers have fine-tuned the suspension so that it adapts to all terrain challenges.
Under the bonnet sits a 2488cc, twin-camshaft, 16-valve engine which Nissan rate at 125kW and 226Nm. It is a well-proven unit which provides solid performance and respectable economy - according to Nissan 9.1-litres per 100km (31mpg) on a combined cycle average.
The engine drives through a continuously variable automatic transmission. Nissan have long persevered with CVT, and they have developed it to a point where it feels like a natural transmission process. The seamless way gearing is developed is quickly accepted by the driver, there are six pre-set steps which can lock the gearing depending on the desired speed, but under a normal acceleration and drive process CVT works naturally when left to its own devices.
The engine is strong under request. The X-Trail will launch to an under 10sec time to make 100km/h from a standstill and will make a quick highway overtake in 6.7sec.
Nissan, like all motor vehicle manufacturers these days, are engineering their models with a constant search for fuel efficiency, my time with the test car equated to around 10l/100km (28mpg) which wasn't that far from Nissan's claim, and the X-Trail is capable of a 9l/100km legal limit usage with the engine turning over relaxed at just 1850rpm.
At that speed there is strong throttle response, the torque pattern developed so that mid-range power request is met strongly.
The X-Trail's greatest claim to fame and part of the reason why it has been so popular with buyers and the manufacturer, is its versatility as a wagon. It isn't large but at over 4.6m it does sit towards the large wagon category and it has space and comfort as a manufacturing priority.
One of my daughter's friends is 2m and he had leg and head room to spare when seated in the rear. And, take into account the X-Trail boasts a 603-litre cargo carrying capacity extending to 1773-litres with the rear seats folded. That is quite impressive, and I particularly like the way the cargo section is compartmentalised, there are pull-out trays to bundle in that wet swim gear after a day at the beach.
It's those kind of family-friendly features that appeal to me with X-Trail, along with its driveability, it is a car that you immediately feel at ease in and you quickly forget that it is a model that has been around for such a long time.
Maybe Nissan know they have a huge challenge with the next generation X-Trail, making it better than this model yet incorporating the ideals that X-Trail buyers relate to will be a design headache. Maybe we should just hang on to it the way it is for another 10 years, I'm sure it would age well.