When you spend most of your motoring life in London, it's all too easy to become disillusioned with driving in the UK. That's the mindset I found myself in as I planned an early spring break in Wales. Looking forward to twisting stretches of challenging B-road, I was all set to blow the cobwebs away in Auto Express's long-term Smart Roadster - until I saw a weather forecast. The UK's annual snowdrift had arrived.
Adamant that my trip couldn't be cancelled, but equally confident the tiny rear-wheel-drive Smart wasn't the right tool for the job, the only option was to reach for the Nissan X-Trail's keys. It might not have provided the thrills I was after, but by the end of the weekend the 4x4 had won me over. Having completed a strenuous 12-month stint with us, nearly everyone who has taken the off-roader has found it's a hugely capable vehicle.
Making it out of the city and over the border into the peace and tranquility of the Welsh mountains, the benefits of swapping a sports car for an SUV soon became apparent. With four-wheel drive, high ground clearance and big, rugged tyres, the Nissan easily tackled the bad weather conditions, while the high driving position gave great views.
And along with the X-Trail's physical capabilities came a renewed sense of adventure for the driver. It may not have the handling and cornering abilities of a roadster, but it does allow you to explore far-flung regions without the fear of coming across a deep ford or a mud-strewn road.
So the X-Trail is an impressive machine - but how has it stood up to its tough year at Auto Express? Readers placed it in top spot for off-roaders in our Driver Power 2004 reliability survey. Our
X-Trail has followed its initial six months as photographer transport with other strenuous duties, including shifting bikes, wardrobes and even garden compost! The good news is that OV03 WEX has stood up to all the abuse, and looks just as sharp now as it did when it arrived a year ago. It's also impressive inside, where the hardy interior has proved easy to clean and durable.
However, despite being only a year old, our car is already obsolete. Nissan facelifted the range in December last year, addressing nearly all of the shortcomings we have learned to live with over the past 12 months. The most significant change is an updated diesel engine, which delivers more power and refinement. While our X-Trail's 112bhp and 270Nm of torque delivers gutsy performance, the unit is noisy and rattly, and pumps out plenty of black diesel smoke when accelerating.
One thing that hasn't changed is the standard six-speed gearbox, and while it does allow relaxed cruising thanks to the tall top ratio, the stiff shift from first to second has been a constant irritation.
So how is the Nissan's balance sheet look-ing? Over a testing 23,740 miles, the 4x4 has re-turned a respectable average fuel consumption of 33.2mpg, while the 12,000-mile service, at £198, was reasonable given the car's size. So the X-Trail was frugal, versatile and reliable - this is one long-termer that will be sorely missed.