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WORDS JAMES WHITBOURN

NISSAN X-TRAIL ST

The entry-level five-seat X-Trail and Outlander front-drive autos are identically priced at $30,490 but the Nissan gets a bigger 2.5-litre petrol four (than the Mitsubishiís 2.0). It misses roof rails and gets a smaller 5-inch (versus 6.1) multimedia display screen, but adds auto headlights and neat warming/cooling front cupholders. 16/20 Nissan donk is 25 percent bigger and delivers 15 percent more power and 19 percent more torque (126kW and 226Nm). It pulls similar weight Ė 1470 versus 1430kg Ė so no surprise itís noticeably quicker and more flexible. It has a smaller 60L tank and on official figures uses more 91 RON, at 7.9L/100km. 14/20 The Nissanís light steering, which is a boon in carparks, proves lacking in connection and feel in the corners, despite the generally agreeable chassis. They each have strut front and independent multi-link rear suspensions and electric power steering, but X-Trail has a bigger 11.3m turning circle, versus 10.6m for Outlander. 14/20 Classy design and soft-touch materials mark X-Trail cabin as huge step up over its predecessor. In great news for the kids, both get rear air-con outlets. Parents will be pleased with the Nissanís various storage options Ė underfloor, in a ĎDivide-N-Hideí cargo system and on wet/dry reversible boot floor panels. 16/20 Seat plushness and cabin quietness ensure the Nissan is off to a terrific start, but when conditions get busier, the relatively firm suspension lets lumps filter into the cabin, and it can wallow over bigger bumps. Yet the X-Trail, with help from 225/65R17s, is adept at riding the sort of sharpedged bumps found in our cities. 14/20

MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER LSMITSUBISHI LS

Both get cloth trim, CVT gearbox, hill-start assist and reversing camera, but the Outlander has a few bonuses, such as LED tail-lights (both get LED DRLs), climate control (only plain air-con in the Nissan), voice control for the Bluetooth system (also with steering wheel controls in both) and a driverís knee airbag. 17/20 The Mitsubishi 2.0-litre has only one camshaft but still has four valves per cylinder, plus the brandís Mivec variable timing system. Happy on regular unleaded, it produces 110kW and 190Nm, but works harder and is a bit more intrusive under load. Bigger 63L tank and 6.7L/100km consumption translates to superior range. 13/20 Measured against X-Trailís light yet inoffensive steering, the Outlanderís inconsistently weighted system is inferior. Itís allied to a chassis that, despite good grip and reasonable turn-in response, is ultimately unpolished, lacking body control and overall composure. There are better-driving SUVs, and the X-Trail is one of them. 12/20 Outlanderís cabin made a similarly large leap in the MY16 facelift and is a polished effort. Mitsubishiís cargo capacity is slightly smaller at 477L (compared with the Nissanís 550L) but expands to 1608L with the 60/40 second row folded (the X-Trailís seatbacks are split 40/20/40). Also gets floor console with storage box and lid. 15/20 The Mitsubishiís relatively unsupportive seats and moderate level of road and suspension noise intrusion set occupants up for a less than cushy journey. Springs and dampers are relatively firm to help put the Ďsportsí in SUV, yet body control is lacking. Elsewhere, 225/55R18s make low-speed ride edgier than in the X-Trail. 12/20

V PRICE & EQUIPMENT

20 POINTS

INTERIOR & VERSATILITY

20 POINTS

PERFORMANCE & ECONOMY

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RIDE & REFINEMENT

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STEERING & HANDLING

20 POINTS SCORE 74/100 69/100 Mitsubishiís facelifted MY16 Outlander and Nissanís third-gen X-Trail impress with newly appealing cabins, which have come a long way for the models. Equipment and value are expected in Japanese SUVs, but these two deliver a good level of standard gear for base models, especially the Mitsubishi, which gets a few more features. The X-Trail counters with a bigger, torquier engine that gives it greater flexibility. Itís also quieter and more comfortable in terms of both seating and ride. And, although not perfect, itís a reasonably good steer, too. Mitsubishiís longer five-year/130,000km warranty is a sweetener (the Nissan is covered for three years and 100,000km) but itís not enough to swing our vote, which goes to the X-Trail.