Month two of big-family motoring has confirmed many of my first impressions of the X-Trail.
At first glance it’s a spacious, comfortable and capable SUV and a good chunk of time at the wheel hasn’t done anything to dispel those impressions.
Quite a lot of last month was spent slogging up and down motorways to various other manufacturers’ events, giving plenty of scope to assess the X-Trail’s long-distance abilities. In the space of a week it covered two six-hour round trips along long, dull stretches of motorway bookended by some more interesting rural A roads.
I was slightly dubious about the long-range comfort of the seats, given the lack of adjustable lumbar support. Flaws that might not be apparent on a one-hour commute can be suddenly highlight on such longer-haul journeys.
I needn’t have worried. The seat cushions are fairly firm and there isn’t a massive amount of lateral support but I stepped out at the end of my journeys no worse for wear and never felt that a lack of comfort was forcing me to take a break.
The ease with which the X-Trail can eat up the miles is helped by the refinement, with wind and road noise kept well under control even at motorway speeds and most uneven surfaces soaked up with little fuss. At a constant cruise the engine also fades into the background.
The engine, though, isn’t perfect. It’s eminently capable of hauling the X-Trail around and when encouraged can make good progress but feels a touch old-school compared with diesel offerings from rivals. There’s a large patch in the lower rev range where there’s very little throttle response then the turbo spools up and the car surges forward. It’s not quite the “nothing-whoosh-nothing” that used to characterise oil-burners but it’s not as linear as many competitors’ engines and makes me wonder how it will cope with towing at low speeds.
On the positive side though, fuel economy continues to impress. Various short runs and those long motorway slogs have pegged the average in the mid-40s but I’m seeing high-40s to low-50s every day on my commute into Edinburgh city centre.
As well those long-range solo trips, the X-Trail has been pressed into near-constant use as the default family vehicle – the main reason behind this long-term test.
That means it has dropped children of various ages off at nursery, parties and friends’ houses, lugged piles of garden waste to the tip and served as crew vehicle for my eldest’s first forays into mountain biking.
All of these it’s handled admirably. With the rear two rows of seats down it can swallow a pair of bikes or a couple of tonnes of grass cuttings with ease. And three or four-up it’s a spacious way to transport a family, even with a tall driver at the wheel.
With five on board plus all the detritus that accompanies a newborn baby things inevitably feel a bit more cramped.
Thanks to my height and the size of the kids’ car seats there is only one seating arrangement that really works, which sees our eldest in his high-backed booster taking one of the fold-up seats in the boot. Thankfully the middle row slides, giving him just enough legroom, but he’s definitely drawn the short straw in terms of space — especially as he’s usually sharing the boot space with a pushchair, changing bag etc.
Of more concern to him is the lack of ventilation. While second-row passengers have their own air con vents there are none covering the boot, meaning long journeys in hot weather could get pretty uncomfortable, especially if you’re being crowded by luggage as well.
At the opposite end of the car and helping to make sure I don’t get hot and bothered is the in-car technology. After encountering some particularly recalcitrant “infotainment” systems recently it’s nice to have one that simply works.
Each function is well thought out, with the most-used features easiest to access. Whether it’s plotting a route on the sat nav, switching from radio to iPod or making a hands-free phone call the process is simple and obvious.
Things like that make day-to-day life with a vehicle so much easier and exemplify the X-Trail’s strength of getting its job done with the minimum of fuss.