Nissan X-Trail e-Power e-4orce first drive: the hybrid that drives like an EV

David Linklater
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Base price
Maximum power kW
Towing (Tonnes)
0-100 km/h
  • Seamless e-Power/e-4orce technology
  • Great taster for the EV-curious
  • Massive step up in quality and equipment
  • Over 200kg heavier than petrol-only model
  • Not as frugal as you might be expecting
  • Disconnect between driver and petrol engine

The new-generation Nissan X-Trail is now based on the same platform as the Mitsubishi Outlander. But when it comes to the obligatory electrified eco-models, the two brands have taken extremely different directions.

Mitsubishi has stuck with an extended iteration of its plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technology for top-line Outlanders. But Nissan has evolved a technology called e-Power (available in Japan since 2016) into its mainstream SUV. So meet the X-Trail e-Power e-4orce, coming to Kiwi showrooms in early-2023.

That’s quite a mouthful, but what is it? Heavily electrified, but not plug-in. The X-Trail’s e-Power system combines a high-tech 1.5-litre variable compression turbo-petrol engine with a small (1.8kWh) battery and dual electric motors.

The trick is that the petrol engine never drives the wheels; it just makes power to charge the battery, which drives electric motors through an inverter. It’s what’s sometimes called a range extender.

The idea is that you get an EV driving experience, because the X-Trail e-Power does indeed have 100 per cent electric drive, even though the power source is a petrol engine rather than a plug. The engine can run at its most efficient/economical speed most of the time, because it’s not subject to instant demands from the driver.

So e-Power is one key part of the X-Trail powertrain. The other is e-4orce, the new electric AWD system that will be standard on all Kiwi-market X-Trail e-Power models. It employs dual motors with a combined output of 157kW.

Any electric AWD system is vastly more responsive than a mechanical one. Nissan claims e-4orce reacts 10,000 times faster than a conventional AWD system, not to mention the broader range of talents you get with AWD-by-wire: more precise control of individual wheels and power distribution, front-to-rear and side-to-side torque vectoring.

It all sounds very complicated, but the driving experience is seamless. The battery can only give 2-3km of pure-electric running on a full charge, but the regeneration is very effective and it charges up quickly. The petrol engine is still running more often than not, but it’s astonishingly quiet. It does fire up more aggressively when you drive hard, to keep ahead of the power demands from the battery.

An issue for some may still be the perceived disconnect between what the car is doing and what the engine is doing, because the engine is often just living its best life in charging the battery: it might be humming (well, thrumming, it’s a three-cylinder) along while you’re sitting still, for example. Or slowly tapering off even though you’re going faster. But that’s just how the tech works, as odd as it may seem at first.

The elephant in the room is the X-Trail e-Power’s fuel economy, which is rated at 6.1l/100km and 143g/km (WLTP combined). That may not be as frugal as buyers are expecting from such a complex hybrid system; it doesn’t match the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid’s 5.3l/100km under NZ’s Clean Car 3P-WLTP standard, but the caveat is that our experience with range-extender technology (DRIVEN’s long Honda Jazz e:HEV being a prime example) proves that it really delivers its best in urban driving and suffers diminishing returns at highway speeds. So we’ll keep an open mind – and wait for confirmation of the e-Power’s Kiwi 3P-WLTP figure to see if can secure a Clean Car Discount by staying under 146g/km.

The e-4orce AWD is deeply impressive, simply because it reacts so quickly and operates so seamlessly. We drove on everything from winding mountain roads to a dedicated off-tarmac “workshop” course during the international media launch in Slovenia, and it all felt rather effortless. No doubt all chosen to highlight the car’s strengths, but the bottom line is that while the X-Trail is neither a sports machine or a heavy duty off-roader, it's an astonishingly capable all-weather, multi-terrain family crossover.

You get the obligatory drive modes (five of them), but we reckon you’ll seldom use them; the powertrain is smart enough to work out what’s required and when. The e-4orce setup does include hill descent control, if you’re determined to tackle the rough stuff.

This is a vastly more luxurious X-Trail. The fit and finish of the top-spec model we drove was impressive, and the cabin design treads the line between technology and practicality nicely. You get the requisite digital displays: dual 12.3in instrument and infotainment screens plus a large head-up display that Nissan boldly claims gives a total 35.5in of viewing pleasure.

But there are also a reassuring number of physical buttons, for frequently used functions like climate control. The transmission lever is a stubby “e-shifter”, but you also get standalone buttons for EV mode (to prioritise battery power until it’s depleted) and e-Pedal – a setting that allows BEV-like one-pedal driving by cranking up the regen so that just lifting off the throttle will slow and stop the car. Just like a Leaf.

Some nice high-end SUV practical touches, too: a “butterfly open” centre console box (that’s a very Euro thing), 40/20/40 split rear seats (ditto), rear seats that slide by 220mm and rear doors that open to 85 degrees – so near-as to 90deg and really impressive when you see the aperture for rear-passenger access.

There will be two e-Power e-4orce models for NZ: ST-L and Ti-L. Both get the full suite of ProPilot driver assists, but the Ti-L really ramps up the luxury and tech with Nappa leather, Bose sound system, tri-zone climate control and heated rear seats, adaptive lights and remote engine start. You do have to go for the top model to get a hands-free tailgate, though.

The new X-Trail isn’t just about things starting with a small “e”. A more conventional lineup with a 2.5-litre petrol powertrain (more aligned with sister Outlander) will be launched at the end of this year, in 2WD or AWD, five or seven seats, for $47,990 to $59,990.

The e-Power comes early in 2023, only with e-4orce AWD and only as a five-seater. It’s priced at $62,990 for the ST-L and $66,990 for the Ti-L, essentially meaning a $7k premium over the equivalent ICE models (although the ST-L 2.5 has the addition of third-row seating). That’s a high price point in the context of the X-Trail we’ve known over the past two decades, especially when the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid tops out at $58,790; but Nissan is adamant about the e-Power rising up the ranks to be a technology and quality flagship, a stepping stone to an EV for those customers who "are not ready to charge". It’s certainly a unique proposition in this, or any other, segment.

 1.5-litre variable compression petrol generator with 1.8kWh battery and dual electric motors
POWER: 157W (combined)
GEARBOX: Single-speed, AWD
0-100KM/H: 7.0 seconds
CONSUMPTION: 6.1l/100km, CO2 143g/km (WLTP)
PRICE RANGE: $62,990-$66,990


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