PORT ELIZABETH, Eastern Cape – Nissan has refreshed its popular X-Trail range and released some pretty keen pricing to boot.

The name has been firmly established from it inauguration back in 2001. External changes are subtle, with a new V-shaped grille, headlamps with daytime running lighting and darker rear lenses the main updates. A flat-bottomed steering wheel and a shark-fin radio antenna are further additions to the package.

There is a worldwide move towards safer driving, reducing emissions and reducing crashes and injuries in motoring. Nissan has thus introduced a number of high-end features to the X-Trail in the form of what it calls "Nissan Intelligent Mobility". Cameras around the vehicle now give you an all-round view for avoiding obstacles when parking, while auto dimming lights, blind-spot warnings and collision warnings (with emergency braking) are also offered.

Some improvements to upholstery and the quality of the interior trimmings have also been effected. What has not changed is the generous comfort and support of the seats. This is a decided advantage of larger vehicles where there is no need for compromise.

The expanded line-up of eight models includes three 4x4s and you even have a choice of five or seven seats in certain derivatives. A strong point of the design is the amount of rear legroom available. To fully utilise this, Nissan has allowed the rear seating to slide so you can increase the size of the boot in the five-seat version or provide more space for the two rearmost occupants in the seven-seat option.

As before, there are three engine choices: 2,0- and 2,5-litre petrols and a 1,6-litre turbodiesel. Slight re-mapping and tuning has squeezed out a few extra kW and N.m, so the 2,0-litre now has 106 kW with a maximum torque of 200 N.m. This entry-level model is supplied with the super-slick six-speed manual gearbox.

The second petrol engine that is not used in any other Nissan products in South Africa is the naturally aspirated 2,5-litre four-cylinder, tuned to 126 kW and 233 N.m. This gets the CVT treatment for a wide spread of variable ratios for its four-wheel-drive layout. We drove both the 2,5-litre CVT and the 1,6-litre turbodiesel 4x4s and our preference is certainly the diesel.

While the petrol comes in at a keener price, the diesel uses much less fuel and is both quiet and smooth (just don't let the revs drop below 1 500 r/min when on the move). And, of course, there's that great six-speed gearbox. It is always a sign of a good design when you manage not to stall a turbodiesel that you don’t drive every day. And this is one such design. A touch of clutch-slip on the way out and the rest falls neatly into place.

The ride is on the soft side as befits a spacious SUV but the new wheels fitted to the top-spec Tekna versions are now 19 inches in diameter. This, coupled with 225/55 section tyres, means that harsh gravel roads are a bit hard on the system. Having said that, the X-Trail takes smoother gravel roads in its stride. The use of electrically assisted steering has resulted in a small reduction in road feedback, but it is acceptably user-friendly.

The features list for the top-spec model is impressive: dual climate control, electric adjustment for both fronts seats, sat-nav (although the screen isn't very large), rain-sensing wipers and a big sunroof with a full-length powered screen. A healthy six-year/150 000 km warranty, meanwhile, is supported by a three-year/90 000 km service plan.

While many would opt for the entry-level Visia front-wheel-drive 1,6 dCi manual (with seven seats) for a competitive price of R392 900, the added features of the Tekna are certainly appealing.