“Hooses on wheels” was how Billy Connolly used to describe caravans in his stand-up shows. They were a great source of humour for the hairy one, but they’re less of a laughing matter for anyone stuck behind them on the A9. When they park up for the night, at least they’re off the road, even if they are still seen by some as a blot on the landscape. But I’ve discovered that caravan sites can be a useful source of motoring research.
Look around any one of them at the height of the touring season and they’ll give you a fair indication of what is a good 4x4 workhorse. I can guarantee that in among the Land Rovers, Kias and Volvos, you’ll spot several Nissans and, in particular, at least a couple of X-Trails. And it’s not because they’re the most stylish, desirable or even cheapest of the breed. Quite simply, they’re one of the best all-rounders for towing ability and overall flexibility for those who want to pull their home behind them as they explore the great outdoors.
The X-Trail has been around since 2001 and took Nissan into crossover territory for the first time, having built up a great reputation for tough machinery with the likes of the massive Patrol. I’m told the idea was to aim at the growing winter sports market of skiers and snowboarders, which explains their innovative plastic-floored boot cover. But the word spread, and soon others were attracted not by the car’s low-key looks but its impressive capability, and until the arrival of the softer-looking and maximum Scrabble-point scoring Qashqai – and the more stylish Juke – it went through several updates over the years and proved to be one of Nissan’s best sellers in the UK.
Its two-litre diesel has great low-down pulling power and can tow more than two tonnes with ease, making no demands on the driver, switching automatically into its all-wheel drive set-up. Interior space is ample if not expansive, and fully-grown adults might find headroom a touch tight in the rear seats. The boot space is large but complicated by underfloor storage areas which are handy for keeping valuables out of sight yet tend to soak up what would otherwise be a very usable cargo hold.
Folding the rear seats opens up more carrying capacity. It all feels a bit dated now, and that also applies to the interior layout which is the epitome of Japanese efficiency and utility. Hard plastic abounds and there’s little concession to soft touchy-feely fabrics and fittings.
On the road, the ride is unremarkable. Yes there’s a bit of body roll but this is not the sort of car to be driven over-enthusiastically. It’s in its element with a load hitched up behind or carving its way over a muddy field, grassy slope or snowy hillside track.
Reliability is first class, and the car regularly features high in customer satisfaction surveys. But its latest edition, on sale next year, is much-needed and eagerly-awaited. It’ll be easier on the eye, more efficient and better all round. It could even come in a two-wheel drive version and is likely to be dearer.
CAR Nissan X-Trail 2.0dCI 173 Acenta
PERFORMANCE Max speed 124mph; 0-62 mph 10 secs
MPG combined 44mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS 168g/km