A million and counting

In world terms the South African auto industry is miniscule – so a million means a lot at the bottom end of Africa and good reason for a celebration when the millionth EA111 engine came off line recently at Volkswagen South Africa’s Uitenhage plant.

Production of the EA111 engine started back in January 2010 when the first engines for the then new Polo and Polo Vivo were produced for the local market, which was followed by producing engines for export markets including China, India, Taiwan, Mexico and Malaysia.

Apart from assembling the engine locally, the grey cast iron cylinder block for the engine as well as the bearing cap for the block is also machined in-house.

“This is the most successful line that we have run in the Engine Plant since it was opened in 1981. It is still operating flawlessly and at an output performance level far exceeding the initial target,” says Richard Reid, Unit Head: Engine Plant.

The foundation of the EA111 engine‘s success is its reliability and fuel economy provided by the strong and flexible design concept that underpins it. Some 350 000 local customers have taken delivery of a Polo or Polo Vivo since 2010.

The production line is designed in such a way that the output capacity can be adjusted without affecting the quality or stability.

The Engine Plant is currently producing more than 450 engines and 470 machined engine blocks a day with a two shift pattern run by 192 operators and setters.

“The Engine Plant‘s continued dedication to meeting  the strict quality standards set by the Volkswagen Group and continuous achievement of volume targets is a credit to their great team work. They are a great example of a team that live our Volkswagen Values of Respect, Integrity, OneTeam and Excellence,“ says Thomas Schaefer, Chairman and Managing Director of Volkswagen Group South Africa.

The EA111 engine which started production in 2010 is fitted to the latest generation Polo Vivo built in Uitenhage. The EA111 engine is manufactured in two derivatives, namely a 1,4-litre and 1,6-litre available with both manual and automatic transmissions. The EA111 engine continues to be exported to India.

Volkswagen Group South Africa Management and NUMSA members celebrate VWSA's Engine Plant milestone

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Road Impressions – Mitsubishi ASX 2.0 GLS CVT

Barely a year after doing a full refresh of the local Mitsubishi ASX range, the flagship model – the 2.0 GLS CVT – had its makeup retouched to give it a more upmarket look.

This involved a new front grille design with added chrome garnish, revised bumper design with a sporty honeycomb pattern above the lower spoiler, fitment of LED daylight running lights (DRL), rear diffuser and a LED rear fog lamp.

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Other cosmetic changes included a redesigned centre console with decorative trim in a geometric pattern of brightwork featuring two USB ports and a mobile phone tray with removable padded liner. Changes to the design and materials used in the centre console, the dashboard centre panel and power window switch panels were also made.

Mitsubishi has also redesigned the CVT shift lever, included a new seat design with red stitching, as well as soft-touch knee pads on the outside of the centre console along with 18-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels and a new silver body colour with enhanced brightness.

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The most important single feature of this model is the gearbox – now the newest version of Mitsubishi’s INVECS-III CVT with 6-step Sports Mode.

My feelings about CVT gearboxes remain unchanged and undiluted. They are not my favourite. However, this effort from Mitsubishi is one of the best I have driven in recent years and manages to fairly intelligently find the right gear at the correct time with a minimum of that frantically annoying CVT whine.

Even better is when it is clicked over to Sport mode. The ASX then gets quite lively and it feels as if the gearbox is trying to work in tandem with driver throttle input – enough that I believe it should come with flappy paddles as standard fitment.

The Mitsubishi ASX is powered by a 2.0 MIVEC petrol engine. This engine is equipped with Mitsubishi’s Innovative Valve Timing Electronic Control System (MIVEC) and multi-point injection that produces 110 kW at 6 000 r/min and 197 Nm of torque at 4 200 r/min.

Despite being a ‘revvy’ engine an average fuel consumption of 7,6 l /100 km is achievable. Fitted with a 63 litre tank, this gives the ASX a range of around 800 km.

Sitting just shy of R420 000, the ASX is compeitively priced in a crowded market and it offers a soft-feel leather interior including a leather-covered multi-function steering wheel.

It boasts a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating and, like all, ASX models features Mitsubishi’s proprietary Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution (RISE) body shell, seven air bags, ISOFIX child restraint mountings and a range of dynamic safety systems that include anti-lock braking, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and emergency brake assistance (BAS).

The GLS CVT also comes standard with Active Stability and Traction Control (ASTC) and Hill Start Assist (HSA).

Other standard features include a chromatic rearview mirror, a rearview camera, rear Park Distance Control, heated and fold-away side mirrors with built-in indicator lights, LED daytime running lights and a keyless Operating System.

It is fitted with a full-length panoramic glass roof with a UV protective coating and one-touch cover, as well as adjustable LED mood-lighting for every occasion.

Luxury features  on offer are Bluetooth with voice control, cruise control, a multi-function steering wheel, power windows, air-conditioning, rain-sensing wipers and a Rockford Fosgate sound system.

Not too shabby at all.

The ASX is a pleasant space in which to be. Seating is comfortable – firm enough to constrain when press on mode is engaged and supportive enough to minimise fatigue on the long-haul runs. Steering on our test unit was precise with enough feedback at speed to allow confident entry to tight corners.

With a wheelbase still short enough to respond quickly to steering commands, it fits the desciption of ‘nippy’ rather well, yet does not compromise on front or rear seat space to achieve this.

As with the rest of the ASX range, the GLS CVT is covered by a 3-year / 100 000 km manufacturer’s warranty and a 5-year /90 000 km service plan with 15 000 km service intervals.

Isuzu joins the fray

The ‘new look’ Isuzu Motors South Africa (IMSA) has launched its first product since being forced to go it alone with the departure of General Motors from South Africa – and has done so with the 7-seater mu-X, adding its hat into a very busy ring.

This is not the first foray Isuzu has made into the SUV market locally, having previously marketed the Trooper way back in 1992.

“The launch of the mu-X is an important milestone for Isuzu Motors South Africa, as it expands our current product portfolio into the sport utility vehicle category, which is one of the fastest growing sectors in the automotive industry, both globally and in the domestic market,” says Dominic Rimmer, Executive Technical Services.

“Building on Isuzu’s long-standing heritage, along with the proven reliability and trusted capabilities of the KB, the mu-X introduces an entirely new level of practicality, comfort and convenience that is ideally suited to the adventurous and lifestyle-oriented nature of South African customers.”

Although the trendy mu-X is new to South Africa, it is already a well-established contender in several international markets, having been launched in Thailand in 2013. It is also currently sold in Australia as well as the Philippines, where it is the market leader.

The mu-X is powered by Isuzu’s 3,0-litre four-cylinder intercooled turbo-diesel diesel engine that produces 130 kW of power and 380 Nm of torque. It is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, which has a sequential sport mode. A three-tonne towing capacity makes it a great choice for towing trailers or caravans.

Two models are available with the choice of 4×2 or 4×4 derivatives. The four-wheel drive version relies on Isuzu’s Terrain Command 4×4 system with electronically selected two and four-wheel drive high-range modes, or 4×4 low-range for more challenging off-road driving.

The mu-X is equipped with a fully independent suspension all round, encompassing a five-link set-up at the rear.

LED daytime running lights and Bi-LED projector headlamps with auto-levelling functionality is standard on both models.

The interior includes an electronic climate control system for front and rear occupants – the latter having access to their own cooling vents for added comfort.

A multi-function infotainment unit with a nine-inch colour touchscreen display provides access to the imbedded satellite navigation, audio and communication systems that includes a DVD and MP3-compatible CD player, Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. Front and rear USB slots are provided, in conjunction with an auxiliary iPod input and HDMI port.

Leather trim is standard for the seats, with the driver’s seat offering six-way electric adjustment. The leather-trimmed steering wheel has convenient fingertip controls for the audio and phone functions, as well as the cruise control.

Safety features include anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Emergency Brake Assist (EBA). This is complemented by Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Traction Control System (TCS), Hill Start Assist (HSA) and Hill Descent Control (HDC) which can be engaged in low-range 4×4 mode.

Passive safety equipment includes dual front, side and full-length curtain air bags, linked to front seat pre-tensioner seatbelts, plus a high-tensile steel passenger safety cell that offers outstanding strength and rigidity.

A rear-facing camera aids reversing and parking via the nine-inch full colour display, while a factory-fitted immobiliser and alarm system is standard fitment.

Customers have access to a wide range of accessories to personalise their mu-X. This includes functional items such as audible parking sensors, a storage box located beneath the luggage compartment, a tow bar, bonnet guard, weather guard kit for the windows, front spoiler set and rear bumper scuff plate as well as side steps.

Cosmetic enhancements are also available, comprising chrome trim adornments for the tailgate and front fog lamps.

The Isuzu mu-X comes standard with Isuzu Complete Care, comprising a 5-year/120 000km bumper-to-bumper warranty and Isuzu Roadside Assistance, a 5-year/unlimited km anti-corrosion warranty and a 5-year/90 000 km Service Plan. Service intervals are every 15 000 km/12 months.

Pricing

Isuzu mu-X 3.0 4X2 AT6 R568 000

Isuzu mu-X 3.0 4×4 AT6  R629 100

XC40 launches locally

With diesel or petrol engine options, the new Volvo XC40 expands the design trend started with the XC90 to take on other players in the premium compact SUV arena.

A new evolution of Volvo’s latest design language has resulted in an expressive and unique exterior, while a bespoke interior inherits all of Volvo’s latest design elements, including the 9-inch Sensus Connect touch screen and digital instrument cluster.

New design elements such as the optional contrasting black or white roof, white mirror caps and wheels, Oxide Red leather and ‘Lava’ carpets, which are made from 100% recycled materials, will allow XC40 customers to express a more individualistic style.

Functional practicality has also been a major focus on the inside of the XC40, where smart features such as a removable rubbish bin, a cubby hole hook, a dedicated smartphone storage area with wireless (inductive) charging, and a multi-adaptable boot floor, transform a typically cluttered and sometimes messy car interior into a place of serenity and organised efficiency.

The Volvo XC40 launches in SA with a choice of two trim levels (the sporty R-Design and elegant Momentum), two engines (D4 diesel or T5 petrol), and all-wheel drive on all models. Top-of-the-range Inscription derivatives arrive later in 2018, as well as the T3 front-wheel drive version.

The XC40 also introduces the new Care by Volvo subscription model, whereby customers are able to subscribe to a car rather than buy it, for a fixed monthly fee which includes service, maintenance, insurance and other added value benefits. Care by Volvo is under consideration for introduction in South Africa with a planned date of mid-2019.

Says Greg Maruszewski, MD Volvo Car South Africa, “This car is perfectly suited to the South African market. It’s luxurious, capable and compact, and pricing is extremely competitive. The new Volvo XC40 is equipped with a higher level of standard specification than any of its competitors.”

City Safety is included as standard in the new XC40. This system senses potential collisions, even when it is dark, and can activate the brakes automatically should you not react in time. City Safety provides three levels of intervention; warning, brake support and full autonomous braking, and uses a combination of instruments and sensors to constantly monitor surrounding conditions.

The Pedestrian, Cyclist and Large Animal Detection technology detects and automatically brakes the vehicle in the event of a pedestrian, cyclist or large animal (such as cattle) stepping/swerving/jumping out in front of the car. The advanced sensor system scans the area ahead and will prompt you to act with a flashing warning light, along with an audible alarm. If you do not react to the warning, and a collision is imminent, the car immediately brakes with full braking force.

Rearward facing radar detects if a rear impact is imminent, and safety belts are tightened in advance in order to protect the occupants. Lights also start flashing to warn the driver behind and brakes are activated to help reduce the impact movement.

Lane Keeping Aid is a standard-fitted system that helps the driver keep the car in its lane by gently steering the car back if it is about to cross a lane marking, and if the car senses that the driver is not driving actively, or for example, not using their indicators. If the supplied steering intervention is insufficient the driver is alerted by vibrations in the steering wheel. The system is active between 65-200 km/h.

The new XC40 can also help you stay informed by displaying real-world road sign information within your instrument display. This function also has the ability to warn the driver should the vehicle exceed the current road speed limit. At Volvo we understand that you have a lot on your mind sometimes.

Optionally available, is Volvo’s next generation of semi-autonomous technology. The Adaptive Cruise Control feature maintains the desired set vehicle speed but utilises radar to monitor the vehicle in front and automatically slows down or speeds up as necessary.

In an evolution of this, Pilot Assist also takes care of the steering (up to 130 km/h and when lane markings are clearly visible) by continually monitoring the area in front of the vehicle, making the necessary steering, accelerator and brake inputs as required to keep to the desired speed, distance and within the lane markings.

The Blind Spot Information System uses sensors to alert the driver to vehicles within the mirror blind spots, on either side of the vehicle. Cross Traffic Alert uses radar to provide information to the driver about vehicles approaching from the side – for example when reversing out of a parking space. New in the XC40, Cross

Traffic Alert now also includes braking support, which allows the car to brake on its own if an impact from either side is imminent.

This function allows the car to take over steering control in difficult parallel or perpendicular parking spots. The driver is prompted to control the throttle, braking and gear inputs. The “park out” function also assists in exiting tighter spots.

During low speed manoeuvres, the Visual Park Assist 360º Cameras provide the driver with additional information relating to the car’s surroundings. A birds-eye view of the car is provided via four hidden cameras, digitally stitched together to create a seamless image on the centre screen.

Run-off road accidents are amongst the largest cause of single vehicle accidents. To combat this, Volvo Cars has developed two support systems aimed at helping to avoid a run-off road accident from taking place, or protecting the car’s occupants in the case of an unavoidable road departure.

The Run-off Road Mitigation function is designed to help prevent unintentional road departures at vehicle speeds between 65-140 km/h. Run-off Road Protection focuses on accidental road departure. Using input from the car’s advanced sensor system, the technology is able to detect a run off road scenario.

Distraction, lack of concentration, and falling asleep are major reasons for accidents. In 2007 Volvo Cars introduced a world-first technology to combat this danger. Driver Alert Control keeps track of the car’s path in relation to lane markings on either side, by means of the camera in the windscreen.

If the system detects that the car is being driven in an erratic manner the driver gets an alert in the form of an audible signal as well as a text message and a coffee cup symbol in the driver display, that indicate it is time to take a break. With Sensus Navigation, the driver also gets guidance to the next available place to take the break.

 

Efforts rewarded

Nissan South Africa managing director, Mike Whitfield, has warned that although the company will continue to invest, industrial action could lead to decreased international support making other countries better manufacturing propositions.

He was speaking at a function at which Nissan was rewarded for its efforts with regard to economic growth and job creation by the Capital City Business Chamber (CCBC) in the form of the 2017 CCBC Award for Manufacturing.

The CCBC, which was established in 2008, aims to encourage business development in the greater Tshwane region.

Nissan Group of Africa MD, Mike Whitfield, accepted the award and participated in a panel discussion about smart cities being a driver for economic growth.

“Nissan South Africa has been committed to skills development and job creation for decades with our Rosslyn, Pretoria plant and we are proud of this award that recognises our much-needed contribution to economic development,” he says.

The automotive industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the local economy and contributed 7,5% of South Africa’s GDP of R3,99-trillion in 2015. Vehicle and component production represents about 30% of SA’s manufacturing output.

“While we will continue to invest in the country, it must be said there are potential stumbling blocks in our future as frequent industrial action combined with a decrease in domestic and international support could make other countries a more lucrative option for vehicle manufacturer.”

He went on to highlight that South Africa remains a strong manufacturing destination for a variety of reasons that include access to Africa, a sophisticated financial services and business sector, relatively low production costs, well-developed logistics, government support, skills development programmes and excellent quality of locally produced vehicles.

In recent years, the Rosslyn plant, which employs 2 000 people, has been running an engineering training programme after Nissan realised there was a shortage of core skills in the motoring sector. Roughly 50% of the students selected to participate in the training programme are black women.

“There is great potential for growth locally and throughout Africa. We are optimistic about the long-term future of the automotive and manufacturing sectors, and Nissan will continue to do its part to stimulate economic growth and job creation well into the future,” says Whitfield.

Road Impressions – Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 3.0D VX-L

Change, they say, is as good as a holiday. While it is often unwise to question the wisdom of those wiser than ourselves, change often comes at a price.

Stepping back in time a little there once was the Toyota Land Cruiser presented in a range spanning several models, specifications and engines with the behemoth VX at the top of the pile. Although technically a Land Cruiser, the original Prado stood to one side, different enough for most people not to even realise it was family and to identify it simply as the Prado.

Now, there is the Land Cruiser 200, two models from many and the Prado with five variations. Land Cruiser is the most widely available model in the global Toyota product range – being sold in more than 190 countries worldwide.

That is not the major change. This comes in the fact the Prado is now bulked up and loses its niche slot along with the cuteness of the previously much smaller – and often – more practical offering especially for those only intending the thrill of parking lot kerb crawling.

Indeed, I parked my test Prado at the airport, deliberately choosing a spot between two other large size SUVs and really battled to open the door to get out! (Admittedly, the designers of most parking lots appear to have to share a single brain cell between them).

Parking lots aside, the new Prado is truly a formidable beast and would probably climb a vertical wall if pressed to do so.

I just think Toyota could have kept the status quo with Prado a smaller, high-end version of the Land Cruiser family.

The overall length is now 5 010 mm, width 1 885 mm, wheelbase 2 790 and height 1 880 mm and it has a GVM of 2,9 ton – so, certainly no midget.

The Prado range traditionally consisted of two grades, the mid-level TX and high-grade VX. For the first time, a new third grade, called VX-L has been added to the model line-up that combines all the features of the VX whilst adding a power-operated tilt-and-slide moon roof and comprehensive active safety assistance package to the mix.

The exterior design of the new Prado is unmistakeably Land Cruiser and maintains the core strengths of that brand in providing practicality, with headlamps and cooling openings positioned to maximise protection and wading depth, durability, with the powertrain and all functional parts well protected and capability, with a tight turning circle and generous ground clearance, essential for the most demanding off-road driving conditions.

The bonnet has been shaped to improve downward visibility at the centre and it is sandwiched by the sides of the bumper to help protect the engine bay. The corners of the lower part of the bumper have integral fog lamps and kick upwards, while the centre section is shaped like a skid plate for easier manoeuvring off-road.

The top section of the wings has been raised so that it is easier for the driver to pinpoint the vehicle’s extremities.

The front grille apertures have been made as large as possible for optimum engine cooling, while the headlamp main beams are positioned inboard to avoid damage when driving off-road.

In keeping with Land Cruiser Prado heritage, the grille itself features broad vertical bars with slit-shaped cooling openings, finished in chrome. The headlamp clusters comprise high and low beams, front turn indicators and daytime running lights, contained in a distinctive housing. VX-L models feature high brightness LED units. All models have LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) and fog lamps, in addition to automatic light control system, as standard.

Ground clearance is 215 mm, with 31-degree approach, 25-degree departure and 22-degree ramp break-over angles.

VX and VX-L derivatives ride on 18-inch wheels and tyres and it comes with an 87-litre fuel tank.

New elements at the rear include a redesigned lamp cluster (featuring two stacked C-shapes) with an LED stop light, a smaller rear garnish plate and a restyled bumper.

I was unable to join colleagues on the official launch activation where the new Prado took on Sani Pass, the mightiest of all South African mountain roads but based on Instagram and Twitter activity coming from the event, it appeared Prado turned this into a ‘doddle’.

My own off-road test route is far less scenic, but has a few good really technical sections and the advantage of repeatability in terms of comparing like vehicles against each other.

At a few Rand short of R1-million for the VX-L, this route is significantly more strenuous than the average owner is likely to choose for such a luxury vehicle – a sad reality for most SUV sales with massive ability unrealised by equally massive under use.

How good is the new Prado? Well, if the ‘Crawl’ function is activated, the clever systems in the car will analyse and assess the obstacle, deciding how much power is needed at each wheel and move the car along with a perfect combination of throttle and brake.

All that is left for the driver is to steer – and, possibly, to die of boredom.

I cannot fault the technology but it does take all the fun out of off-road driving.

Inside, he top of the centre console tower has been set lower (by 25 mm) for a sleeker appearance and better front-on visibility when driving off-road. It is fitted with a new 8-inch, full-colour multimedia screen, a flush-fitting air-conditioning control panel and the drivetrain-related instrument cluster.

The controls for driving and comfort functions are located in separate panels for ease of use, positioned behind a new, leather-trimmed gear lever. They include switches to operate new integrated heating and ventilation for the front seats.

The redesigned instrument binnacle has a four-gauge layout with precision Optitron (high-definition backlit) meters with a metallic base panel and polished dials with raised scale markings. The meters flank a 4,2-inch TFT colour multi-information display (VX and VX-L) which presents comprehensive vehicle and infotainment data, controlled using switches on the steering wheel.

The top-tier VX and VX-L models are outfitted with Satellite Navigation and an enhanced surround-view Multi Terrain Monitor camera system, which also includes Panoramic and overhead view modes.

The standard convenience specification list includes automatic dual-zone climate control, audio system, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, illuminated entry, cruise control, park distance control, keyless entry, three power outlets, Bluetooth connectivity, USB, 3rd row seating and reverse camera.

High-grade models add memory function for the driver’s seat, a 14-speaker Premium audio system with woofer, multi-information display, power tilt-and-telescopic steering adjustment, rain-sensing wipers and power-fold-down 3rd row seats.

 The VX-L retains the 3.0 D-4D engine, offering 120 kW and 400 Nm available between 1 600 r/min and 2 800 r/min. This is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission with gear ratios optimised for low-speed tractability and off-road use.

All Prado models feature Toyota’s Active Traction Control system (A-TRAC), which actively regulates wheel-slip, by directing torque to the wheel with the most traction. The system is capable of applying braking pressure to wheels individually to maximise traction. A low-range transmission with user-selectable rear and centre diff-locks and Hill Assist Control (HAC), naturally forms part of the standard ensemble.

The Multi-Terrain Select (MTS) system (VX and VX-L only), operated by a centrally mounted rotary knob, allows the driver to select the correct mode depending on the ‘road’ ahead. The system has five pre-configured modes (mud & sand, loose rock, mogul, rock & dirt and rock), to tailor the vehicle’s traction control, transmission characteristics, power delivery and suspension settings to the terrain at hand. Downhill Assist Control (DAC) is included on VX and VX-L models.

VX-L grade versions of the new 2017 Prado are equipped with Toyota Safety Sense active technologies to help prevent accidents from happening, or mitigating the consequences if an impact does occur.

The package includes a Pre-Collision System (PCS) with pedestrian detection function, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Lane Departure Alert (LDA) and Automatic High Beam (AHB).

Further driver support is provided in the form of a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (both VX and VX-L) and an upgraded tyre pressure warning system – with digital read out in the multi-information display.

These active safety systems complement the standard seven air bags and comprehensive brake and stability control systems  and all Land Cruiser Prado models include a 5-year/90 000 kilometre service plan and 3-year/100 000 kilometre warranty.

Not particularly significant in terms of its market positioning but the VX-L will amble off from rest to reach 100 km/h in 12,1 seconds and reach a terminal velocity of 171 km/h. CO2 emissions are 224 g/km and Toyota claims an overall fuel consumption of 8,5 l/100 km.

My own experience – highway, rural and urban – came closer to 9,2 l/100 km, still an acceptable figure considering the overall mass of the vehicle.

On the road, it is hugely comfortable and, despite the size, easy to drive with the changes to the front improving vital visibility – augmented by the wide choice of exterior camera options. It is not a great fan of sudden directional changes at speed but has no really bad habits and, as mentioned, will probably scale a vertical wall if correctly cajoled.

Road Impressions – Nissan X-Trail 2.5 Acenta CVT 4WD

Initial impressions of a motor vehicle can be quite a powerful emotion and long lasting, almost like a young duckling imprinting on its mother for the first time.

And so it was with the first iteration of the Nissan X-Trail. What I liked most of all was the fact the actual front corners of the vehicle were visible, whatever the seating position, a like emphasised as we put it through its paces on the launch activation by driving off-road in situations most owner would never contemplate.

The latest version, launched in South Africa in October this year, stays true to that, even though the overall shape has modernised and rounded out somewhat from the original ‘brick’ design to become what designers would probably refer to as svelte.

X-Trail is a medium size SUV competing in a rather busy and cutthroat market segment. X-Trail garnered significant support and many thought Nissan had shot itself in its own foot when it introduced the more luxurious Murano and followed this by the smaller Qashqai, both of which seemed pretty direct competition for the X-Trail.

At that time, the X-Trail itself had ‘softened’ slightly in terms of looks to be rather a morphed cousin to the other two. Locally, Murano did not last all that long, giving back to the X-Trail in terms of size, while Qashqai continues happily in its smaller sibling role.

The latest iteration of X-Trail brings in a raft of new technology under the Nissan Intelligent Mobility (NIM) banner as well as offering the option of a seven-seat configuration.

Including the USA, where the car is badged Rogue, some 3,7-million have been sold since the first Nissan X-Trail was launched in 2000. It is also a record-breaker. Including Rogue sales, in FY16 the X-Trail was the world’s most popular SUV, with 766 000 vehicles sold – more than any other rival model.

The Nissan X-Trail has always been known for its sculpted and muscular styling, with chiselled lines, high wheel arches and elegant curves on the bonnet. All of those characteristics remain, and are now showcased through a distinctive and robust redesign of the front end, adding a new dynamism and more premium styling cues.

At its heart is Nissan’s latest ‘V-motion’ grille, wider than before and echoed in the design of the bumper beneath. The redesign makes much greater use of the X-Trail’s body colour, with the visible black plastic benefiting from a smart new gloss black finish.

On either side of the grille are new headlamp clusters, with much clearer design differentiation between the halogen units on Visia and Acenta and feature the latest version of the X-Trail’s ‘boomerang’ Daytime Running Light signature.

At the rear of the new X-Trail, the bumper has been redesigned and the rear lamp signature has been upgraded to become full LED, while the parking sensors are improved, as at the front of the car.

The upgrades have resulted in a slight change to the overall length of the car – an increase of 50 mm means it is now 4 690 mm from bumper to bumper. There is no change to the new X-Trail’s width (1 830 mm), height (1 710 mm) or wheelbase (2 705mm).

Inside, the new steering wheel is the first thing drivers will notice. It echoes the design of Nissan’s newest models globally and is standard across the X-Trail range. Now D-shaped, the horizontal base means easier entry and exit for the driver, as well as providing a sportier look and feel.

The new X-Trail has a redesigned central armrest storage area and models with the XTronic automatic transmission, the gear selector has been restyled and features a new leather-style gaiter.

The boot on the new X-Trail is larger than before. Thanks to improved packaging, VDA capacity is up from 550 litres to 565 litres on the five-seat version with all seats in place. Total space with all seats folded flat increases to 1 996 litres.

Nissan Intelligent Mobility (NIM) highlights include Intelligent Blind Spot Intervention that alerts the driver to the presence of vehicles in blind spots diagonally behind the car, Intelligent Lane Intervention and Intelligent Cross Traffic Alert that can detect and warn the driver of vehicles that are approaching behind the X-Trail.

Intelligent Emergency Braking uses radar technology to keep an eye on speed and proximity to the vehicle in front and will alert the driver before engaging the brakes. Intelligent Forward Collision Warning helps alert drivers of an impending collision with a slower moving or stationary car. Intelligent Auto Headlights and Intelligent Around View Monitor with moving object detection – a support technology that assists drivers to park more easily by providing a better understanding of the vehicle’s surroundings.

I have never been a great fan of CVT gearboxes and, despite the fact the Xtronic unit fitted to the X-Trail ranks amongst the better ones, I still believe a ‘proper’ automatic gearbox would be a far better proposition, especially off-road if you intend to try and finesse the throttle without dropping into manual mode.

The 2 488 cm3 four-cylinder petrol engine producing 126 kW at 6 000 r/min and 233 Nm at 4 000 r/min produces 197 g/km of CO2 and has an average fuel consumption that can be contained to 8,6 l/100 km in normal conditions.

Power and torque are more than ample for what this X-Trail is designed for and, unlike some petrol models, there is not a black hole of zero torque below that peak efficiency of 4 000 r/min.

Driver options are standard two-wheel drive, Auto and four-wheel drive locked, with the former sending power to the front wheels. The Auto option is quick on the uptake and efficiently provides drive to the rear the instant any slippage is detected at the front.

Locked in all-wheel drive, the X-Trail outperforms its looks and, like that first generation I drove, can take on quite demanding rough roads and obstacles bigger than a shopping centre kerb.

The front suspension consists of an independent strut type with stabiliser bar backed up by a multi-link setup with stabiliser at the rear.

Ride quality is good both on and off road with the seats supportive and comfortable over long distance – naturally the full air-conditioning dealing with ambient temperature and the upgraded sound system laying down whatever beats move the occupants.

Fully kitted with anti-lock brakes, multiple air bags, stability and traction control along with the other previously mentioned systems, the X-Trail offers latest generation safety (active and passive) to mitigate injury in the event of a crash.

The X-Trail remains and icon in its segment – and rightly so.