Lizzie Pope
Digital Editor

See other tow car reviews written by Lizzie Pope

Practical Caravan reviews the Nissan X-Trail 2.2 dCi Columbia and finds that its four-wheel drive and 2.2-litre diesel engine make for a very fine tow car

Overview

Not all 4x4s are big enough to warrant their own postcode or thirsty enough to need their own oil wells. Take the Nissan X-Trail. It occupies no more road space than a family estate car, and it returns a healthy 37.2mpg.

The trouble is, the things that make 4x4s so unpopular with some people are just what endear them to caravanners. Heavy off-roaders make superb tugs. So can the X-Trail, which weighs almost half a tonne less than a Kia Sorento, still tow well enough to make a smart buy? To find out, we've put the 2.2 dCi Columbia to the test. 

Towing

Nissan quotes a range of kerbweights for the X-Trail, from 1525kg to 1650kg. Confusingly, it doesn't give specific figures for individual models, although the more kit, the heavier the car. It's an irritating anomaly if you're trying to find a perfect match for your caravan, and one that we've drawn to Nissan's attention.

We paired the X-Trail with the Lunar Quasar 524. Even assuming the lowest kerbweight, this made for a comfortable 85% match. The X-Trail had a mere few hundred miles on the clock, but the 2.2 diesel pulled strongly. Only when accelerating away from an uphill junction did it feel a little hesitant.

Our test took place on a blustery day, but the outfit remained stable. Some steering correction was needed at motorway speeds but this was due to gusts of wind.

Everyday driving

Without a caravan, the X-Trail is good fun. It's impressively nimble for a 4x4, with precise steering and plenty of grip. The ride is rather firm, so large potholes and speed bumps are felt. But the trade-off is good stability at higher speeds.

There's more wind and road noise than you'd hear in a Hyundai Santa Fe, but neither is so loud that long journeys become a chore. Once in top gear and settled into a cruise, the Nissan keeps engine noise well in the background. 

The six-speed gearbox on our test car was stiff, but this will loosen up with use.

Space

When you climb into the driver's seat you'll notice the unusual position of the dials. Instead of sitting directly behind the steering wheel, they're in the centre of the dash angled towards the driver. It takes getting used to, but this does make room for an extra driver's-side glovebox.

Tall drivers will find it difficult to adjust to their position behind the wheel, because their seat doesn't slide back very far. However, all-round visibility is very good.

Adults should be comfortable enough in the rear seats. If you don't need to carry passengers in the back, the seats fold forward to expand the boot space from 410 litres to 1841 litres. The boot is lined with a tough, wipe-clean surface – far more practical than carpet if you want to sling in muddy boots or a dirty mountain bike.

Running costs

Prices for the diesel X-Trail start from £19,995, while the version tested costs £21,395. That's hardly cheap, but when you consider that the new Land Rover Freelander diesel starts from £20,935 for the most basic model, the Nissan begins to look like better value.

Choose the Columbia tested here and you won't go short of kit either. A CD player, climate control and satellite navigation are all fitted as standard.

Fuel bills will be reasonable, thanks to its squeezing 37.2 miles from every gallon on the combined cycle. That's an improvement over the 35.8mpg offered by the Kia Sorento diesel, but it can't match the 37.7mpg of the new Freelander diesel.

After three years and 36,000 miles, the X-Trail should be worth 48% of the original price.

Technical specs

Engine size2184 cc
Maximum towing limit2000 kg
Power134.0 bhp
Torque232.0 lb ft
Official MPG37.2 mpg
CO2203 g/km

Verdict

The X-Trail shows that 4x4s don't have to be big and thirsty to make good tow cars. With a sensible match, the low-down pull of the 2.2-litre diesel, four-wheel-drive traction and impressive stability combine to make a fine tug.

The benefits of choosing a smaller 4x4 really show once you've unhitched the van. The X-Trail is more fuel efficient and better to drive than a Kia Sorento yet, with its huge boot, is every bit as practical.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Reasonable fuel economy
  • A big boot with a practical, wipe-clean surface
  • It's a good drive when solo

Cons

  • The ride is pretty firm
  • The driver's seat doesn't slide back very far
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