Nissan, which has been scrambling for sales with its restyled X-Trail, will add more fire power to the compact-sized wagon by finally adding a diesel version to its line-up this week.
A year ago, Nissan repeatedly dismissed the diesel as a viable option, saying there wasn't a business case for it in Australia, but its change of heart has been driven by customer demand.
Nissan has set the price of the diesel at just $1000 over comparable petrol models, admitting the petrol versions were subsidising the cost of the diesel so it could come to market at the budget price.
The X-Trail has been travelling a rocky road of late. It was once the best selling compact wagon in the market, but sales of this latest version, launched late last year, have according to Nissan's marketing manager Ross Booth, been “disappointing”.
Nissan, he admits, was caught napping — too slow to react to an intensive price cutting blitz from its rivals like Subaru and Toyota.
With that lesson learnt, Nissan has now retaliated with a new marketing campaign, effectively lowering the price of the petrol models by picking up on-road costs, while its dealers have also come to the party by doing drive-away, no more to pay deals.
So far this year the X-Trail has been convincingly outsold by market leader, Toyota's RAV-4, Subaru's Forester and Honda's CRV while Mitsubishi's Outlander has rapidly closed in on X-Trail's fourth place.
Nissan says the X-Trail is the first volume seller in the compact SUV market to offer a diesel. Suzuki launched its diesel Grand Vitara earlier this year but Booth doesn't see the fellow Japanese brand as a volume seller nor a serious rival.
The X-Trail will come with a choice of two turbocharged diesels, both a variant of the same of 2-litre motor sourced from alliance partner Renault. But one of the new diesels comes with a penalty.
A big selling point for the X-Trail has been its class-leading 2-tonne tow capacity — and by Nissan's own reckoning 80 per cent of buyers use the wagon for towing.
While the six-speed manual version retains the maximum braked trailer rating, those opting for the six-speed automatic will be limited to just 1350kg. The difference in tow capacity is governed by how the transmissions are cooled: manual models feature a conventional separate external oil cooler for the gear box; the auto is water cooled internally from the engine and cannot take the added tow load.
Nissan, based on past experience, expects 60 per cent of X-Trail buyers will opt for the automatic so those wanting to tow heavier boats or caravans will have to buy the petrol model which retains the 2-tonne rating.
The auto also doesn't match the manual for power and torque either. It will come with an 110kW/ 320Nm version of the turbocharged diesel; the manual gets more potency with a 127kW and 360Nm.
Both engines are economical, rated at 7.4l/100km for the manual and 8.1l/100km for the auto. Peak torque is achieved at just 2000rpm, with 90 per cent of maximum torque on tap from a low 1750rpm.
There will be two specification grades: the TS and premium TL both of which have similar equipment to petrol models. Pricing starts at $36,990 for the TS manual and $38,990 for the automatic. The better equipped TL starts at $39,990 for the manual and the auto comes in at $41,990. The price of the diesel has been pegged at just $1000 over petrol versions.
But in a bid to cut costs and keep the $1000 price premium, climate controlled air conditioning (standard air con fitted instead), leather wrapped steering wheel and leather gear knob have been dropped in the TS and replaced with a vehicle alarm.
The TS comes with Nissan's smart All Mode switchable all-wheel drive system with hill start and downhill assist, six air bags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, cruise control, keyless entry, alloy wheels, six-stack audio and trip computer. The TL adds leather upholstery, power adjustable front seats with seat heaters, huge sunroof and climate control air conditioning.
If you exclude Suzuki's Grand Vitara, the X-Trail gains bragging rights over its main rivals for being first in this compact SUV market with a diesel.
But the timing isn't brilliant; Nissan should have had this engine option available more than six months ago when Australians were quickly warming to the advantages of having an efficient diesel over a petrol motor.
Now that there is an ever-widening gap between petrol and diesel pump prices, some of that advantage has been lost so the appeal of a diesel X-Trail is not as strong.
Nissan's rivals will be closely monitoring the diesel wagon's take up rate — Nissan expects it will account for about 40 per cent of volume — to see if there is still a strong demand by buyers for an oil burner. As such, the arrival of the diesel is really a toe in the water exercise for all the major players.
Nissan's inability to offer the maximum two-tonne tow rating on the automatic will hurt, especially when trying to attract business from buyers looking for the combination of an all-road wagon, diesel engine, automatic transmission and big towing ability.
The X-Trail however should be a very attractive proposition to fleets and private buyers on its fuel efficiency alone.
The auto wagon is not a bad thing and nice to drive; but the manual offers a more spirited edge, although both suffer from a noisy diesel clatter, especially at idle.
The X-Trail has already proven itself as a competent, well designed family wagon; the diesel just adds icing to the equation.
And the big factor in Nissan's favour is the price. Diesels normally command a hefty premium over petrol models, so Nissan's bid to keep the price to $1000 is a marketing winner.
Pricing: TS manual $36,990, automatic $38,990; TL manual$39,990, automatic $41,990.
Engines: 2-litre four cylinder diesel, 110kW at 4000rpm (six speed automatic) 127kW at 3750rpm (six speed manual).
Torque: 320Nm at 2000rpm (auto); 360Nm at 2000rpm (manual).
Fuel consumption: 7.4l/100km manual, 8.1l/100km auto
Emission: 198g/km; Euro IV compliant.
Acceleration: zero-100km/h 10s (manual), 12.5s (auto).