Rental Car Review: 2017 Nissan X-Trail

After 16 days and about 4800 kilometers (2,976 miles), I still can’t tell you for sure what an X-Trail is. But I know I liked it, a lot!

The Importamation clan took a 16 day trip to Europe recently. Germany, Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands, and Czech Republic to be precise. Because one of one of our teens was in an academic competition there, it meant we had some days we could travel on our own, but then some other days we had to be back in Berlin. So that led to some backtracking and hence the miles.

We flew into Berlin, where we picked up the car at the airport Hertz. I had booked online months ago, and knew from prior experience that some cars were not allowed in certain countries. Hertz has restrictions against any SUV, any convertible, and certain makes (Mercedes and BMW) going to the Czech Republic.

So, I rented a “small sedan” class with stick, A/C, but little else. I wanted a trunk anyway for storing stuff out of sight. The thought of having to spend two weeks in a small sedan (“Opel Astra or similar”) with two teens wasn’t thrilling for me or them. And, the rental rate was not much less than an E-Class or ML. But, it was allowed to go to Prague, one of our stops.

When we arrived, the car rental building was a short walk from the main Berlin terminal. The Hertz attendant greeted us warmly, and proudly proclaimed that she had upgraded us several classes to an SUV that added automatic, navigation, leather, and diesel (which is a real perk there due to the fuel prices). I told her we were going to Prague, so I thought that an SUV wasn’t allowed. She winked and said “It’s OK for you, no worries.”

Well, of course I was still worried because I knew if something bad happened, Hertz wouldn’t care that the lady winked and told me it would be OK. But it was nice to have such a better vehicle for the same dirt cheap price (E106.96 a week, or about $128.00 a week, with free miles)!

So, we went to the assigned stall and there she was. Continuing the tradition of odd rental car colors I seem to be on the receiving end of, it was the brightest metallic orange car I have ever seen. Like a candy metallic you might see on a show car.

It was a 2017 Nissan X-Trail, 7500km on the clock. Pretty well loaded like the lady behind the counter said: 2.0 liter diesel, automatic (well, CVT), navigation, heated seats and steering wheel, black leather interior, AWD, and then the usual power everything, cruise, etc.

The interior wasn’t luxurious, but it was pretty nice. Lots of padding on the armrests and stitching on the dash and door panels gave a quality vibe. The switch gear felt good and was all intuitive. I’m not a fan of “piano black” trim, though, because it’s just lots of shiny black plastic.

There was a pretty large screen between the speedometer and tach that cycled through the usual data: radio station, nav directions, fuel economy, etc.

There was a giant sticker on the upper driver windshield corner stating operation in the Czech Republic and most places ending in “-stan” was PROHIBITED. My wife asked me what it said and I muttered something about “don’t take it to bad parts of town”.

The only option that appeared to be missing but likely available was a sunroof. It did not have blind spot monitoring, but it did have parking sensors front and rear, as well as a 360 degree panorama camera system when in reverse. In the nav screen, the split screen image showed the rear view, as well as the “overhead” or “bird’s eye” view in all directions. It was the first time I had driven a vehicle with that, and it was helpful in tight parking situations.

Which, of course, was every single time we parked the car. Anywhere. This would be a “compact” SUV in the USA, but it was a handful to park everywhere we went. It felt like a Suburban would feel in a typical US mall lot or parking deck. I finally left it on the street at the front door of the hotel for two days in Vienna, resulting in a E36.00 parking ticket. But since the “hotel deck” two blocks away was E22.00 a day, and the deck closest to the hotel was E40.00 a day, I actually came out ahead and didn’t have to navigate another tight deck.

As it turned out, our worries about break-ins and theft in Munich and Prague were ill founded. The Prague hotel was not high end, but it was new and was part of a mixed use center with a very clean and well-guarded parking deck. The chain is called “Motel One” and I highly recommend it. We used Motel One in Brussels, Prague and Vienna; the rooms were all small but stylishly appointed, with strong A/C and wifi. About E80.00 a night.

In Munich, we were concerned because our small family-run hotel was not on a great block, judging from Google street view (the many Motel One’s in Munich were all sold out). But, we chose it because it was one of the only hotels walkable to the historic city center that had A/C and parking. They in fact had a small garage in the basement that held about 16 cars, and it was locked. You had to get the front desk to open the garage door each time you wanted to enter or leave, so it was about as safe as one could get.

I say I am not sure what an X-Trail is…. I researched what it was, but the information online is inconclusive. I thought this was a North American Rogue with a different name, but Wikipedia makes no mention of that connection. The prior two generations of X-Trail are clearly vehicles that were never offered in North America, and I saw lots of those on the trip. But this third generation sure seems to just be a Rogue. Maybe an overseas reader or Nissan fanatic can explain it.

Part of this journey was a number of hours on the German autobahn. Which isn’t as exciting as it sounds. The speed limit comes and goes often and rapidly, at least it did where we traveled. No limit, then 130kph, then 60kph, then 80kph, then no limit, then 100kph….you get the idea. Seems like every remotely busy interchange resulted in a 60kph or 80kph limit, then no limit…..until the next interchange.

Everyone seemed to follow it religiously. An Audi would fly past in the no limit zone, but then I would catch up to them in the next 60kph zone, because they are sticking to 60kph and I am buzzing along at 75kph. Audis were by far the craziest drivers, as far as seeing how fast they could go in the no limit zones.

I settled on 150kph in the no limit zones, about 93mph. We were being passed by as many cars as were passing, so it seemed to be about the median speed. We could avoid being run over while not running over anyone else, which seemed to be the primary goal when driving someone else’s car.

The X-Trail seemed surprisingly happy at that speed. Of course, the roads were as smooth as glass in Germany. The X-Trail also had what appeared to be V-rated summer Bridgestone tires, despite being AWD, so that helped too. The road and wind noise was very loud however, at that speed. The X-Trail was quite quiet and composed in the prohibited Czech Republic, ironically, since there was a limit of 100kph (62mph) or 120kph (74mph) everywhere we went.

It occurred to me how unsettling my ES350 would be in these conditions. What is comfortable and smooth on US interstates, would be floaty and not confidence inspiring at 100mph all day. I never saw a single ES in 16 days in Europe as they aren’t sold there at all, but I did see a few GS350 taxis and one LS. The new 2019 ES will be sold in the UK and western Europe, if my internet research is true.

Of course, for the 75 minute U.S. interstate ride home from the airport once we were back in the States, the ES350 felt like riding on a cloud. Different countries, different conditions, different cars.

There were lots of Landcruiser Prados in all the countries on this trip as a side note, which is our Lexus GX SUV in the States.

The Czech Republic also afforded me an interaction with law enforcement. I knew about highway “vignettes” there already. It’s a windshield sticker and it’s how you pay tolls, basically. Many countries require one and you’ll see cars with literally stickers all over the windshield, which seems like a bad idea. You can buy them at the post office or many gas stations in the respective country.

The car had a German vignette on it, and what I knew to be a 2018 Switzerland vignette as well. There was a third sticker I did not recognize, but the nav was full of prior destinations in Poland so it was probably a Polish vignette.

I researched and found no information in my brief looking online about Czech, Netherlands, or Belgium vignettes. I saw Austria did require one, about $12.00 for a 10 day vignette.

We went to Prague for a couple of days, then back to Berlin. When we left Berlin, we had to drive through the Czech Republic on the way to Austria. Well, of course this time, I got pulled. By a VW van! It was marked and had blue lights on the roof. It got in the lane in front of me, which didn’t concern me because I had the cruise set on the speed limit. But then, an LED sign in the rear window lit up and said “POLICIE – STOP”. He pulled off into a gas station siding and I followed.

To make a long story short, he spoke no English, and I didn’t speak the German he assumed I did (because of the German plates). He may have tried Czech with me (think Polish, only harder), but I can’t tell.

From there, it followed the usual protocol. If I had never been stopped by the police, I’m not sure I would have had any idea what to do. He was asking me for my license, I assumed. I explained it was in my wallet, which was under the driver seat in my theft-resistant man purse thing I use when we travel (it’s a small canvas backback with RFID blocking, metal mesh in the fabric, and metal cables in the straps so no one can slice it open or slice the straps and run off with it. I am the designated mule for all our passports, money, phones, kleenex, hand sanitizer, etc.).

I made it as clear as I could that I was going to reach under the seat, because I knew to do so quickly was not a good thing idea in the USA or anywhere else. Sure enough, he put his hand on his gun when I reached slowly under the seat. I slowly pulled the bag out and slowly got the license out, as well as the international license I obtained from AAA at home. The international license isn’t required anywhere we were going but Austria, but hey, why not hand it over since I had it.

He clearly wanted something else, and then I realized he wanted the registration. I got that out of the glovebox, and then he motioned for me to follow him to the van.

The van was a pretty cool setup. He opened the sliding door and motioned me to a seat. There was a small desk with a computer, printer, and a chair on either side, the two chairs facing each other. He used the word “vignette”, so of course I knew instantly why he had pulled me over. He motioned to the gas station, and said “you, now”. I went in and bought a 10 day vignette for about $13.00, and put it on the windshield.

By this time, he had the ticket written and in some sort of pig Czech/pig English/pig German dance, the information was communicated that Czech fines are due on the spot, in cash, or else. It was a 500 Czech Crown fine, or about $20.00, and the Euro can’t be used for the fine. I went back into the gas station and told them I needed 500 Crowns for the officer, and I returned to the VW van. Everything was signed off on and overall, it was as pleasant as a traffic stop could be. The VW van had over 400,000km’s on the clock too, I noticed, as an aside.

Shortly after that, we were out of the Czech Republic for good…..but I pulled over at the first gas station in Austria and bought their vignette too. We now had 5 vignettes plus the Hertz sticker on the windshield.

I reset the fuel economy at the start, and at the end of the 4800km we averaged right at 100kph and 12.4km per liter for the trip. This translates to 29.1 mpg (12.4 x 3.78 liters per gallon = 46.872 times 0.62), pretty dang good for clogged urban driving, 93mph on the autobahn, and every speed in between while carrying four adults and all their luggage. We paid around E1.20 per liter for diesel most stops, or about $5.50 a gallon (E1.20 x $1.20/Euro = $1.44/liter x 3.78 liters per gallon).

It had plenty of power in most conditions, though it could be pokey in stop and go traffic without enough time or space for the turbo to kick in  (it usually started to roar right when you took your foot off the gas and had to brake, giving a jerky ride). It always started right up without much glowing from sitting overnight, and while you could tell it wasn’t burning gas under there, it wasn’t overly noisy either. I think in a nod to the lack of obvious signs of the fuel used, Hertz plastered a giant “DIESEL” sticker on the fuel door as well as above the A/C controls.

I kept watch on the tire pressures with the dash readout, especially after I ran over a spring loaded traffic barrier (but details aren’t important). I tried to check the oil level, but couldn’t find a dipstick at all. I could not find a dash oil level readout either, and the owners manual was AWOL. A door jamb sticker indicated it just had an oil change so hopefully everything was fine. But, I would think checking it at each fuel stop when driving at autobahn speeds is good practice. I’m not concerned about the long-term health of a rental, but I don’t want it to run dry on my watch, either.

Overall, it was a great experience with the X-Trail and while I am not sure it is a Rogue underneath, they must have a lot of common DNA. For that reason, I would highly recommend anyone needing a small SUV to at least go test-drive a Rogue.