FOUR blokes on a road trip.
Traditionally this is a recipe for tomfoolery and unbridled shenanigans.
And typically your standard four-cylinder front-wheel drive car doesn't inspire excitement.
But the Nissan X-Trail managed to surprise. And not unlike one of the playboy occupants, the compact SUV punched well above its performance weight.
It's a vastly different look for the new X-Trail.
Launched earlier this year, we managed to sample the book-ends of variants - and our overall verdict came like a bolt from the blue.
You'd expect complaints from two gentlemen who failed the "shotgun" test. In fairness, the six-foot 10-inch front passenger really deserved his pole position on natural attributes alone.
Apart from asking for some additional rear pew lumbar and seat base support, the criticisms were few and far between. Up front there were no such issues with nice seats which make long journeys easy.
All the buttons are simplistic, especially in the ST, and over two weeks we never had reason to dive for the operations manual.
Improvements have been made with cabin materials and soft-touch textures replace hard plastics.
Leather adds a touch of class in the Ti models yet there isn't much wrong with the basic cloth trim.
On the road
During a searching rural drive the base-model X-Trail displayed impressive dexterity.
Carrying the four-man load it was unflustered in the bends and had limited body roll under duress.
With some encouragement, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is an impressively capable offering. Timely shifts with the manual help maintain momentum and the ability shone beyond the sub-$30,000 price tag.
Step up into the all-wheel drive with a 2.4-litre powerplant partnered to an automatic transmission and you can feel the improved urgency under your right foot.
It also has a console dial for all-wheel drive. Select between two-wheel drive, automatic or diff lock modes for off-road driving…although you wouldn't want to tackle terrain too challenging.
Despite a more refined experience when it was first launched, we found the Ti automatic to be noisy on test and lethargic when pushed hard. In fairness that's not something many drivers would do too regularly.
Both variants were easy to drive, and offer composure on the open road and in traffic.
What do you get?
Base STs come with 17-inch alloys, 12.7cm LCD monitor, push button start, CD stereo with USB and auxiliary port as well as Bluetooth phone support, Nissan Connect system with apps, air-con and audio connectivity and cruise control.
Given the price differential, the Ti rightly gets fog lamps, privacy glass, sat nav with larger 17.7cm screen and digital radio, cameras which provide front/rear/top view, leather trim, power adjustable driver seat, dual zone climate-controlled air-con, 18-inch alloys, LED headlights, power tailgate, automatic wipers, sunroof, lane departure and blind spot warning functions.
This is a busy segment. Also consider the Jeep Cherokee (from $33,500), Hyundai ix35 (from $26,990), Kia Sportage (from $25,990), Honda CR-V (from $27,490), Holden Captiva (from $25,990), Ford Kuga (from $27,990), Mazda CX-5 (from $27,880) and Mitsubishi Outlander (from $27,740).
While the rear bench seat has a 40/20/40 split fold function, the centre section doesn't fold flat as it doubles as the arm rest with dual cup holders. It's more useful in a 60-40 format.
Getting into the back is made easier by doors which open to 80 degrees.
With the second row having a tilt and roll function, it offers ample leg room for adults and improves entry into the third row of the seven-seat models.
You get another dual cup holder in the console, which by the flick of a switch sends hot or cold air onto your beverage in Ti models.
Five-seat models offer an awesome false floor on the boot. Slide the covers away and there is some handy space beneath to store wet gear or valuables.
Just in front of the shifter is a space perfect for keys and smartphones or audio devices - right next to the USB, auxiliary and 12-volt port.
Both achieved about nine litres for every 100km, with the smaller four-cylinder required to do more heavy rural lifting.
Nissan has capped price servicing, and while intervals have been at six months, expect that to be lengthened to annual.
Modern flowing lines replace the hard-edged approach, and it's a likeable design.
The smaller Qashqai has followed suit and both garner attention.
What matters most
What we liked: Surprisingly good performance from base model, contemporary styling, interior space.
What we'd like to see: Electric park brake in auto models, annual servicing intervals (but watch Nissan to act on that quickly).
Warranty and servicing: Three-year/100,000km warranty with roadside assist (option to extend to six years), capped price servicing is available for the first six years or 120,000km. Intervals are every six months or 10,000km, with average price for the 2.0-litre engine $304 while the 2.5-litre is $310.
Model: Nissan X-Trail.
Details: Five-door two-wheel or all-wheel drive compact sports utility vehicle.
Engines: 2.0-litre four-cylinder generating maximum power of 106kW @ 6000rpm and 200Nm @ 4400rpm; 2.5-litre petrol 126kW @ 6000rpm and 226Nm @ 4400rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual (2.0-litre only) or continuously variable automatic.
Consumption: 7.9 litres/100km (combined average); 8.3L/100km.
CO2: 183g/km; 192g/km.
Towing: 1500kg (braked), tow ball rating 150kg.
Bottom line plus on-roads: 2WD - ST (m) $27,990; 4WD - Ti (a) $44,680.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.