It's pretty rare that we Canadians get anything cool that our neighbours to the south don't get. In fact, it usually works the other way, with America's larger cities and their residents' higher disposable incomes making that country a more attractive market for many brands and retailers.
But once in a while, an automaker will throw us Canadians a bone that we don't have to share with the U.S. While it's not necessarily cool in that "Omigod-I-have-to-have-one" way, Nissan's compact X-Trail SUV is a good example. This little truck has been available in most overseas markets since 2001, but only came our way in 2005 to slot in below the Xterra as a direct competitor to car-based compacts like the Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute, Hyundai Tucson/Kia Sportage and Honda CR-V, among others.
Based loosely on the platform that underpinned the previous-generation Sentra, the X-Trail used the 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine found in the high-performance SE-R version of that car, as well as the Altima mid-size sedan. That engine, good for 165 horsepower, could be paired up with either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. Fuel consumption, according to Natural Resources Canada's test methods, was rated at 10.8 L/100 km (city) and 8 L/100 km (highway) for an all-wheel drive X-Trail with manual transmission. Opting for the automatic gearbox or a front-wheel drive model didn't affect those ratings significantly.
Despite the X-Trail's relatively small market share in North America - Canada's obviously a much smaller market than the U.S.—this little Nissan trucklet has a decent following on the web. This is good, because Nissan-related forums are about the only place to get an idea of the X-Trail's reliability—U.S.-based Consumer Reports doesn't acknowledge its existence.
The best source for X-Trail info that I was able to find is NissanForums.com; as far as I can tell, it's a U.S.-based website, but there's a dedicated X-Trail discussion section where most of the posters are Canadian.
It was there that I came across the few minor issues that affect 2005 model-year Canadian X-Trails. One is a problem with rust occurring around the left rear wheel arch, apparently caused by improper application of rust proofing at the factory. This issue appeared in discussions in March 2006, and Nissan Canada appears to be aware of the problem; the fix is to have the rusty piece of metal cut out, and a fresh piece welded in place and repainted.
Another rust issue that's been brought up has to do with corrosion happening behind the outside handle on the rear hatch. Nissan is apparently aware of this problem too, as it affects both the X-Trail and the Pathfinder. It appears both issues are being covered under Nissan's corrosion warranty.
The only potential mechanical problem I could find was an issue with screws located inside the 2.5-litre engine's variable-length intake manifold runners. These screws can become loose and get sucked into the combustion chamber, causing serious trouble. A recall has been issued in the U.S., but not here; that recall also only applies to Sentra and Altima models with the same engine, with no mention of the X-Trail. Check this thread at an Australian X-Trail forum for more on this issue.
On the whole, reliability seems to be pretty good, though it's hard to tell for sure after just two years' worth of X-Trails sold here. You might want to spend some time at the Technical Problems & Solutions section at the same Australian X-Trail forum; I browsed for discussions on common issues and didn't find much to indicate any serious flaws.
The other aspect of the X-Trail that's difficult to pin down because of its Canada-only status is crash safety. U.S. organizations like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) haven't tested the X-Trail, but it has been tested according to Europe's New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP); that organization gave the X-Trail four stars out of a possible five for adult occupant protection in front and side impact tests. That, however, was for an X-Trail with side and head-curtain airbags, which were only available as standard equipment in the top-line LE model and not offered on lower trim levels.
The X-Trail's used values fall somewhere in between those for pricier (but popular) Japanese rivals from Honda and Toyota, and the less-expensive (and even more popular) Ford Escape (and its Mazda Tribute twin).
So, should you buy a used X-Trail? Well, you could probably do worse. By all accounts that I came across, it doesn't quite have the bulletproof reputation of the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4. But with solid reliability that appears to be on a par with the Ford Escape, that model might be a better choice with its dirt cheap resale values. In any event, I'd call the X-Trail a pretty safe bet, providing you get a prospective purchase checked out for the issues mentioned above.