Nissan X-Trail VS Skoda KAROQ
- No price penalty for new model
- Among the most versatile offerings in its segment
- Safety updates add plenty of appeal
- CVT auto a loud and intrusive annoyance
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Not as dynamic as segment leaders
- Charming to drive
- Great space utilisation
- Super flexible
- Optional safety gear
- Thirstier than expected
- Gets pricey with all the options
If you're a fan of the old Nissan X-Trail - and plenty of you are, it was the brand's best-selling model here last year - then we've got good news for you: this 2017 Series II update is absolutely unchanged under the skin.
Better still, it costs the same as the old one. Or less. So is more of pretty much the same a good thing?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
The Skoda Karoq is a small SUV, but it has big advantages over some of its rivals.
It's compact, tech-heavy, and has seats that you can remove. How good is that? I mean, if you've ever thought to yourself: "Geez, those back seats are really in the way!", then you'll get my drift.
The Karoq has been on sale in Australia for about 12 months now, and is still available in just one spec. In that time, the smallest Skoda SUV has only amassed the same number of sales as Mitsubishi racks up for the ASX in a single week. Yes, you read that right.
But despite the fact its popularity has been quite limited to this point, there's one thing you need to know - it should be on your shopping list.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
It might not be an X-Trail blazer, but this nip-and-tuck has added some critical technology and safety extras to an already competent package. It's improved in the areas that matter and, CVT aside, is an easy-breezy drive from behind the wheel. For ours, the petrol-powered ST-L makes the most sense, no matter which configuration you opt for, scoring the best of the new stuff without breaking the bank.
Has this refresh put the Nissan X-Trail on your SUV shopping list? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The Skoda Karoq is a very worthy alternative to the mainstream players in the market, if your budget can stretch to include some of those options - and you might want to include some, if you plan to have an SUV that keeps up with the Joneses.... but add the lot and it starts to look pretty expensive. We wouldn't be surprised if some of the option-only safety items are made standard at some point in order to keep up with other players in the space.
It was and still is rather handsome, the X-Trail. It's not pushing any design boundaries, sure, but neither is it controversial or polarising - plus, it's bound to age well, given it hasn't really changed much since 2014, and it still doesn't look old.
This time around, though, Nissan has redesigned the grille, with a new shield that forms part of a now-jutting jawline. There's a new design for the alloy wheels, too, along with new rear lights and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
Inside, you get what you pay for, with the cheap plastics that lower the tone in the entry-level model replaced with soft-touch and premium-feeling materials (along with a bigger multimedia screen) in the more expensive models.
In the entry-level ST, for example, the 5.0-inch screen is surrounded by a sea of rock-hard plastics, while the top-spec TI offers up a leather-wrapped and raised centre console, and a stitched leather panel lines the dash.
It launched about a year ago here, and it still looks more modern than some its competitors. It isn't rugged like a Subaru XV, nor is it as aggressive as a Hyundai Kona. No, it's a bit more like a Nissan Qashqai - inoffensively attractive. That's if you consider it in the same part of the market as those cars.
Skoda pitches the Karoq as its mid-sized SUV - so it should actually be up against the likes of the Hyundai Tucson, Subaru Forester and Nissan X-Trail. Based on its dimensions, that's not really the case - it's 4382mm long, 1841mm wide and 1603mm tall - and that makes it smaller than any of the models in this paragraph, and indeed closer to the ones in the paragraph above. But on price, it's definitely in the upper bracket; we'll get to that soon.
It's a smart and very European design outside, arguably understated - even with optional 18-inch wheels as featured on our car. The LED headlights on our car are optional, but LED daytime running lights are standard. And how about that colour? How good is it to see green again? It's Emerald Green, officially, and it'll cost you $700.
Inside there are new options for the version we're driving, as opposed to the previous version, including the availability to option of the Virtual Cockpit 12.3-inch information display for the driver (which costs $700). Check out the interior images in the next section.
Nissan refers to its X-Trail as the "Swiss-army knife of our range - the one-size-fits-all, family proof car", and so expect a useable, versatile cabin irrespective of whether you opt for a five or seven seater.
All trim levels offer two up-front cupholders and room for bottles in the doors, along with a USB connection and a 12 volt charge point in the centre console, and a second power source in the centre bin. The dials in the driver's binnacle are analogue, but they're separated by a digital screen that displays all the usual trip data.
The backseat (or second row) is hugely spacious for human-sized riders, even if you opt to go three across. But the aircon vents have no temperature controls and there's no power or USB connections points on offer. There is, however, room in the doors for bottles, and two extra cupholders hidden in the pull down divider that separates the rear seats.
Things do feel a bit squished in third row for the seven seat models, though, with the back row definitely reserved for children. It's tight in head and legroom, and adults (with the possible exception of Tattoo from Fantasy Island) will find the going tough.
Five seat models offer 565 litres of storage with the second row of seats in place, swelling to 945 litres with the second row folded flat. Opt for a seven seater, and you'll get a paltry 135 litres with all seating rows in place, growing to 445 litres with the third row folded flat, and maxing out at 825 litres with everything flattened.
The only other car that offers up this sort of practicality in such a compact footprint is the Honda HR-V. And we get why that mightn't appeal to you - the shape of that car is more hatchback (or hunchback, according to some!) than SUV.
So if you want that (slightly more) rugged look, the Karoq might be your next best option. It has a really clever interior, with three rear seats that can be slid, folded or even removed individually. That's right - you can essentially turn this in to a van, if you need to.
With the seats in their most passenger-friendly setting, you'll still have 479 litres of cargo capacity to play with. While if you slide them all the way forward, you'll see the boot expand to 588L. Fold them down, and that jumps to 1605L. Remove them and you've got a staggering 1810L available. All that, and you still get a space-saver spare wheel, too.
This is clearly a family-friendly boot, with enough room to store our umbrella pram quite easily. It also coped with three suitcases. It even managed to fit the largest case and the pram in together. Unprecedented!
In the cabin there is enough room for someone my size (six feet tall, or 182cm) to sit behind a driver of the same size. Knee room is a little tight, but headroom, toe room and shoulder room is surprisingly good.
The back seat includes dual map pockets, good door pockets and rear seat air-vents, too. And if you need cup holders in between the seats, you can fold down the centre seat backrest. A nice note for parents - there are three top-tether points, and ISOFIX attachments for the two outside rear seats. Plus there are standard tablet holders for rear seat occupants that buckle on to the front headrests.
Up front there are big door pockets and a few decent loose item storage pockets, but the cupholders are smaller than average. The controls all fall to hand logically, and the materials are mostly pretty good, though there is quite a bit of hard plastic throughout (easy to wipe down if you have youngsters, I guess).
The media screen in our test car is the optional one, a 9.2-inch display with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, sat nav, Bluetooth - all the stuff you'd want, excluding a volume knob. Instead you've got to use the 'button' elements on the screen, which is annoying (yes, there is a steering-wheel mounted scroller, but what if the passenger wants to turn something up or down?!).
It's a crisp and lovely display, it's easy to learn, and it links well with the (also optional) Virtual Cockpit screen in front of the driver. Both add to the 'almost an Audi' feeling you get in the Karoq, but at a price.
Price and features
Good news for X-Trail shoppers: Series II prices, right across the board, are either identical to, or down slightly on, the 2016 sticker prices.
The range still kicks off with the petrol-powered ST - $27,990-$30,490, depending on your engine choice, $31,990 for the seven seater and $32,490 as a five seat, four-wheel drive (4WD), before climbing to the ST-L ($36,590 for the five-seater, $38,090 for the seven-seater, and $38,590 for the five seat-only 4WD version) before topping out with the 4WD-only Ti ($44,290).
There are still two diesel-powered options on offer (both of which are pencilled in for a mid-year or later arrival), the $35,490 TS, and $47,290 TL.
The ST and TS trims arrive with 17-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and taillights, along with powered mirrors, automatic headlights and some splashes of chrome, including the door handles. Inside, expect cloth seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, push-button start and climate control. A tiny-looking 5.0-inch touchscreen is mounted in the dash, which is paired with a six-speaker stereo, but there's no Apple CarPlay/Android Auto on offer anywhere in the range.
Stepping up to the ST-L trim and you'll add fog lights, roof rails and heated mirrors outside, while your seats are now leather-trimmed, and heated in the front. You'll also score dual-zone climate control and a powered driver's seat. Your entertainment options are now controlled through a bigger 7.0-inch touchscreen, which is sat nav equipped.
The top-spec Ti (or TL, if you've opted for a diesel), gains 19-inch alloys, adaptive headlights and a sunroof outside, along with a boot that opens automatically when you wave your foot under it. Inside, you'll find a heated steering wheel, along with heated seats in the second row. You get a better stereo, too, now an eight-speaker Bose unit.
You know what would be really great? If Skoda Australia put a Karoq on fleet that wasn't laden with optional equipment. We get it - the company is trying to showcase everything you can get in a Karoq.
But with a list price of $32,290 plus on-road costs, and an as-tested price of $41,590 (plus on-roads) for the model we're testing, it's a little difficult to judge it on its actual merits. I mean, there's almost 30 per cent additional cost on our test car.
First, we'll have a look at what you would get if you bought a standard car, then we'll go through what's optionally fitted to our test vehicle.
The Karoq's standard gear list includes: an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a reversing camera, USB input (only one, though...), Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, an eight-speaker sound system, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, keyless entry and push-button start, and adaptive cruise control.
The standard wheel setup is a 17-inch pack with a space-saver spare, and there are roof rails, LED daytime running lights and LED tail-lights (but not LED main beams), auto headlights and wipers, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors with auto-stop (to avoid back-up bumps). More on that in the safety section below.
The cabin is usually trimmed with fabric seats, but you still get a leather-lined steering wheel and gear selector, plus a reversible floor mat for the boot.
Now, the option packs. Our car has the Premium Tech & Travel Pack, which is a combined dealio with a $7900 price tag.
It includes adaptive LED headlights, front parking sensors, 18-inch alloy wheels, an electric tailgate, leather seat trim, electric driver's seat adjustment with memory settings, heated front seats, auto-dimming side mirrors with auto folding, stainless steel pedals, drive mode select, a 9.2-inch media screen with DAB digital radio and gesture control, wireless phone charging, a 10-speaker Canton sound system, semi-automated parking, and extra safety gear in the form of blind spot monitoring, 'Emergency Assist' which can pull the car over if it thinks you're unresponsive, and Traffic Jam assist that can take over most of the driving at speeds below 60km/h.
Sure, it's expensive, but you get a lot for the money. The other options on our car include the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, which is new, and costs $700. Plus metallic paint, at $700.
Engine & trans
There are two petrol engines on offer in the X-Trail range, with a revamped (and, on paper at least, significantly better) diesel engine scheduled to arrive closer to the middle of the year.
The smallest petrol - a 2.0-litre unit good for 106kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4400rpm - is available only in the base model ST, and can only be partnered with a six-speed manual sending its power to the front wheels. Which is bound to make it as popular as curdled milk.
The big seller, then, will be a solid 2.5-litre petrol unit that will produce 126kW at 6000rpm and 226Nm at 4400rpm. It's partnered exclusively with a CVT auto, and can be had in two- or 4WD.
Finally, the late-to-the-party diesel is a fine-sounding 2.0-litre that will produce 130kW at 3750rpm and 380Nm at 2000rpm (significant increases on the outgoing 1.6-litre engine). It's also CVT only, and will only be offered in the 4WD configuration.
Nissan's holding out some hope for the diesel, too. Somewhere around 95 per cent of diesel sales in the segment are 4WDs partnered with an automatic transmission - a configuration missing from the current range.
This grade of Karoq is called the 110TSI, and it has a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, and it produces 110kW of power (from 5000-6000rpm) and 250Nm of torque (from 1500-3500rpm). That's plenty for this size of car, and indeed more torque than plenty of the Karoq's rivals.
We've heard from Skoda that a Karoq 140TDI 4x4 diesel variant is coming in 2020, if that interests you.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine sips 8.2L/100km on the claimed/combined cycle, while emitting 190 grams per kilometre of C02. The bigger, 2.5-litre petrol is actually more efficient, needing 7.9 litres (8.1 in seven-seat models) to go the same distance, emitting 183 grams (188 grams if you opt for the third row) per kilometre. Predictably, ticking the 4WD box hurts economy a little, increasing that number to 8.3 litres and 192 grams per kilometre.
The incoming diesel sips a mere 6.0 or 6.1L/100km, depending on the trim level, and emits 158g/km of C02.
Official combined cycle fuel consumption for the Karoq 110TSI is listed at 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres, and you might see that if you do a lot of country driving... but we didn't, so we didn't.
Instead, our test - which incorporated plenty of city running and a couple of highway stints - returned 9.6L/100km.
It's interesting to note that relatively high number (well, it is 65 per cent over the claim!) was despite the fact the Karoq's cylinder deactivation technology - which allows it to run on two cylinders under light loads - was in use quite a bit. There's an 'eco' display on the dash and an almost imperceptible rumble from the engine when its running in this mode.
Nissan clearly reckons it's onto a good thing with its X-Trail, and so hasn't messed with the formula too much. Or at all, for that matter.
In fact, except for the new diesel engine that's yet to hit our shores, nothing's changed under the skin at all.
But that's maybe not such a bad thing. We spent the majority of our time in the top-spec Ti model, equipped with the bigger 2.5-litre petrol engine and 4WD, and it's a hugely likeable set-up, delivering its power in a constant stream, while its confident suspension irons out all but the worst bumps in the road, and manages to dispose of most corners without transforming the X-Trail into a rollicking high-seas tall ship.
It's confident off-road, too, tackling gravel tracks with ease, while the steering, though weirdly light, is nicely predictable. Nothing there that needed too much updating, then.
But the CVT auto, for us at least, is harrowingly close to a deal-breaker: a whining, whirring disruption that makes smooth progress difficult, instead making you feel like you're constantly ebbing and flowing, surging forward with every light prod of the accelerator.
Elsewhere, though, the X-Trail is spacious and comfortable, and always easy to manoeuvre. And, in the top-spec models at least, it feels polished and premium in the cabin, though some cheaper plastics have crept in below the passengers' line of sight.
That's because it's built on the same platform as the likes of the Audi A3, Q2 and Q3, and the VW Golf and Tiguan, among others. And the overarching goodness of those models spreads across to the Karoq, because it's a really nice car to drive.
The ride is quite well sorted, with only a bit of sharp-edge thump because of those larger-than-standard alloy wheels. Around town over speed humps and roads riddled with pockmarks and lumps it was very nicely controlled and comfortable, while on the open road it felt like a bigger vehicle, with a really secure feel to it.
The steering is accurate and easy to judge, not too heavy when you're trying to park it, and not to light when you're on the open road.
And the drivetrain is mostly pretty good, too. There is some hesitation when you initially apply throttle, which is a common complaint for cars with dual-clutch automatic transmissions like this one. It does take some getting used to - and if you think you'll be able to just jump in and gun it away from the traffic lights without any lag, then you'll be disappointed because there is lag to contend with.
But I honestly found it fine, and accustomed my driving to suit. The benefits of that transmission are evident in other situations, because it offers really crisp and clever shifts at speeds from 10km/h to 110km/h.
Every X-Trail arrives with a commendable standard safety package, including six airbags (dual front, front-side and curtain bags), along with a reversing camera and forward collision warning with AEB.
Spring for the ST-L trim, and you'll add blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and a surround-view camera that detects motion, while the Ti or TL top-spec models score lane departure warning and pedestrian detection, while for reasons known only to Nissan, only the Ti gets Intelligent Lane Intervention, which will counter-steer if it senses you drifting out of the lane, along with active cruise control.
The X-Trail range scored the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when tested in 2014.
The standard safety spec of the Karoq is good, but not class-leading.
You get a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, auto emergency braking (AEB), driver fatigue monitoring, tyre pressure monitoring, multi-collision braking (to stop you careening into other road users in the event of an accident).
You'll need to option advanced safety gear like blind spot monitoring and lane keeping assistance. But while it lacks traditional rear cross-traffic alert, it does have Manoeuvre Assist, which can auto-brake the car when reversing if an obstacle is detected at speeds below 10km/h.
The Karoq has seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver's knee), and there are three top-tether and two ISOFIX child-seat anchor points.
The X-Trail is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty, and will require a trip to the service centre every 12 months or 10,000km.
X-Trail falls under Nissan's menu-based servicing program, with owners able to verify what needs to be done and cost estimated ahead of each service.
Skoda offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty for all of its models, which is bang-on par with the rest of the mainstream makers, but not as good as you'll get at Kia or Toyota, which offer seven years warranty (Kia as standard, Toyota if you service your car on time).
The brand offers the choice of pre-purchasing your maintenance, or paying as you go, with intervals set every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. The PAYG option will set you back an average of $447 per visit, before additional items.
If you pre-pay, you can choose either a three-year pack ($790, or about $263 per year) or a five-year plan ($1650, or $330 per year). So pre-purchase. Do it. It's totally worth it. And you can roll it in to your finance plan, so you'll barely even notice it.