On test: Nissan X-Trail gets new practical hybrid powertrain

Worried that a fully electric car could leave them conked out miles from a charger, thousands of buyers have played it safe and bought a hybrid instead.

A sensible move some might say, but the world of battery-assisted vehicles can be a confusing place to navigate.

On the one hand, there’s the trusty mild hybrid – essentially a petrol car with a puny battery attached to help eke a few more miles from each tank of fuel.

Plug-in hybrids, or PHEVs, flirt a little harder with their fully-electric cousins, offering electron-only motoring for short journeys – providing the owner can be bothered to get the charging cable out.

See also: On test: UK’s first electric pickup – the Maxus T90EV

And then there’s the X-Trail e-4orce from Nissan, which is neither of the above.

In fact, with its small battery and twin motors driving the front and rear wheels, it’s most of the way to being a fully electric car.

The big difference is that instead of charging with a cable, the battery is continuously fed by a petrol engine that essentially acts as a generator.

In theory, it’s a compelling proposition, as drivers get the seamless power delivery of an EV without any range or charging concerns.

The only question is how much fuel it uses in the process.

Helping us get the handle on this quirky drivetrain is the plush Tekna-spec version of the e-4orce.

All the functional bits are the same as lesser models, but it gets a few niceties such as a Bose sound system, 12.3in screen and memory seats.

Pickup interior

© James Andrews

Nissan X-Trail E-4orce Tekna specs

  • Engine 1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol
  • Power/torque 213hp/525Nm
  • Drivetrain Dual electric motor
  • Fuel consumption 44.8mpg (combined cycle)
  • 0-62mph 7sec
  • Towing capacity 1,800kg
  • Weight 1,994kg
  • Price From £45,310


From behind the steering wheel, the e-4orce feels just like driving a pure EV.

There’s no transmission in play, so the dual motors deliver smooth, seamless acceleration and a pleasingly brisk 0-62 time of 7sec.

Activating the one-pedal driving mode enhances the electric feel further, with the regen ramping up as the driver’s foot is lifted off the accelerator, making the brake pedal largely redundant.

In a similar fashion to a regular mild hybrid, the e-4orce is capable of driving short distances on battery power alone.

This means it will generally set off in serene silence, which makes it all the more peculiar when the three-cylinder engine fires up like some sort of building site genny.

At lower speeds it will occasionally rev away irrespective of the accelerator position, but during spirited jaunts the rpm is more in tune with the movement of the driver’s right foot.

Once up to cruising speed, wind and road noise is sufficient to muffle the sound of the engine, making it easy to forget it’s there at all.

On the whole, the e-4orce is a decent on-road performer, with the dual-motor, four-wheel drive system giving it a planted feel, particularly on slippery surfaces.

Off-road driving

It’s fairly accomplished away from the tarmac too, with respectable ground- and wheel-arch clearance (for this type of vehicle) and a traction control system that helps send power to wheels that have the most grip.

Serious off-road work is clearly going to be a stretch, but it can claw its way along a sticky stubble field and can negotiate rutted gateways without too much kerfuffle.

No button pressing is required to unleash its inner mud plugger – according to Nissan the traction control system reacts 10,000 times a second to changing conditions – but there is a dial that can be turned to give some prior warning of the type of terrain you’re venturing onto.

Hill descent and hill hold modes are also available to ease the processes of driving down steep slopes and pulling away while pointing up them.

And the drivetrain is rated to pull modest-sized trailers weighing up to 1,800kg.

Pickup tyres

© James Andrews

Not that cheap to run

But here’s the rub. For all the effort Nissan has gone to creating this fancy drivetrain, you’d think it would run on the merest whiff of petrol.

However, during a week of mixed driving it delivered about 42mpg – not awful for a car of this type, but nothing to write home about either.

Tax is almost as expensive as a straight petrol or diesel too, at £170 a year, and because it costs more than £40,000, there’s an additional £390 to fork out for the first five years of ownership.

It does have the benefit of producing zero tailpipe emissions for short periods though, which is achieved by selecting a pure EV mode.

This’ll last just about long enough to pull in and out of a school car park.


For each generation of the X-Trail, Nissan has upped the level of cabin refinement to the point that it’s a rather swish place to sit these days.

The styling isn’t particularly exciting, but the acres of black and silver trim give it a quality, Germanic feel and the raised centre console offers a comfortable perch for your left arm.

This is also home to a couple of well-placed cup holders, a wireless charging pad for your phone and a deep storage bin for assorted detritus.

The controls are well thought out too, with dials and buttons for the heating and ventilation that are easy to use, and a screen perched on the top of the dash that sits nicely in the driver’s eyeline.

The optional Bose sound system fitted on this model was a particular highlight, making Jo Wiley sound like she’s chatting away in the seat next to you.

And the adaptive cruise control means long motorway jaunts are virtually effortless.

Seats are comfortable – there’s the option of fitting up to seven – although the faux leather has a far cheaper feel than the real deal you’d find on an equivalent Audi or BMW.

Pickup interior

© James Andrews


Nissan’s idea of fitting the X-Trail with an electric drivetrain and petrol generator seems like the ideal solution to the limited range of pure EVs.

It works well, with the starting and stopping of the engine almost imperceptible, other than the sound at lower speed and under heavy acceleration.

The only kicker is the unimpressive fuel economy, which combined with the high purchase price makes it a fairly expensive machine to buy and run.

The e-4orce has plenty more going for it though, including respectable off-road ability and a smart, comfortable interior that can accommodate up to seven passengers.

In fact, it has most of the bases covered for a rural family and it’s smart without being overly showy.

So it shouldn’t attract too many snide comments from the neighbours, even though prices start at £45,310.

Likes and gripes


  • Decent light off-roading ability
  • Smart, but not flashy
  • Smooth drivetrain


  • Unimpressive fuel economy
  • Expensive to buy and run

Other X-Trail models

For those that want a four-wheel-drive X-Trail, the e-4orce is the only option.

But there are a couple of two-wheel-drive versions for buyers who like their car to look like it can go off-road, without ever doing so.

The first is a run-of-the-mill mild hybrid, where a petrol engine and conventional automatic transmission are assisted by a small battery and electric motor to improve economy.

The second e-Power model works on the same principle as our tested e-4orce.

The only difference is that the engine and battery feed just one electric motor that sends drive to the front wheels only.

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