Nissan climbs into bobsleigh business

My first trip in the newest Nissan left me underwhelmed with its lack of space, lack of head support, and unsubtle braking — and it didn’t even have cupholders.

In fairness it didn’t have a steering wheel — any wheels in fact — or doors or even windows. I also felt a bit stiff after I got out, a clear indicator that ride comfort wasn’t great.

Positives? Well, the open-top design meant it had a million metres of headroom until it plunged into tunnels — and it did seat seven, albeit in cramped fashion.

The Japanese carmaker has gone from Pulsar to pulse-racing by designing the world’s first seven-seater bobsleigh — and just three months after it ‘railed’ off the production line, myself and six other people (one of whom was thankfully driver and Olympic bronze-medal winner Sean Ollson) found ourselves hurtling at 103km/h down the course at Innsbruck, Austria.

Just minutes earlier, we had arrived in another new Nissan seven-seater, the latest incarnation of the X-Trail which was considerably more comfortable and much better equipped, with doors, windows, and wheels, as well as quite a few more luxury perks such as satnav and a nifty camera system, which would be a bit of a life-safer for parking a car of its size while putting up with as many as six children screaming/fighting/crying in the back seats.

With the Juke and Qashqai already in their stable, Nissan describes itself as the crossover pioneers. The X-Trail, which replaces the Qashqai +2, certainly proves that a lot can be achieved in the segment for a relatively small price — with prices starting at around €32,000 for the five-seat version it is one of the cheapest in its class — Nissan is hoping to shift 2,000 of them here this year.

Nissan climbs into bobsleigh business

It is also frugal when it comes to fuel. One would have thought the 1.6-litre diesel engine would be too small to lug around such a large vehicle. Yet it seemed as at home mixing it up with powerful German saloons on the Autobahns as navigating around the snow-lined and breathtakingly picturesque mountain roads between Munich and Innsbruck.

The bobsleigh and the car have very little in common but Nissan did get renowned bobsled designer Diego Menardi and sports expert Ian Richardson to incorporate the X-Trail’s front profile and lights on the bobsled. Frankly this part of the sled was not what we were particularly focused on when hurtling around the Olympic course with a force of 4.5G.

It didn’t help that the helmet stopping my skull being staved in by the side of the sled was on the tight side — 15 or so other “lids”, as the bobsleigh fraternity called them, had simply sat on top of my ridiculously large head until Richardson rummaged in a cupboard and unearthed one that somehow made it past my nose (this experience earned me the nickname “Megamind” for the rest of the trip from my X-Trail co-pilot EB).

Nissan climbs into bobsleigh business

Positioned as I was at the back of the sled, my view was confined to the back of the man in front of me who, I could just about hear over the smashing of my head against the side and the rush of the rails, had been reduced from a respected pillar of journalism to a giggling maniac for the first 30 seconds of the trip. Then he too was robbed of the ability to make any noise by the sheer speed of the thing.

No sooner were we at the bottom and climbing like Bambi from the sled, than we were whisked into a waiting van and brought further up the course to be unleashed in a four-man version — which hit over 120km/h. Faster than the Nissan bobsleigh, my position slightly further up the sled meant i was able to see everything ahead of me in a more comfortable position — not that seeing potential impending death was necessarily a good thing.

Nissan climbs into bobsleigh business

Once prised from the slope, it was back into the Nissan X-Trails to experience a different form of sliding — this time in mud. With a boffin from Nissan in the passenger seat setting different weight distributions and other technical magic on the car’s “ALL MODE 4x4-i system” we were able to make the two-tonne car glide round a circular course like a dirt-bike — well, I say we...

As I was one of the last to have a turn, the muddy field had been well-ploughed by my predecessors and, at one point, I found a crater than may have defeated a tank. The boffin urged me to put the foot down and fling the wheel from side to side, but that just made the hole deeper. Eventually I sheepishly reversed and avoided the now mansized hole.

All in all I found that, to butcher Nissan’s quote, innovation can excite — but it can also scare the hell out of you.

Nissan climbs into bobsleigh business

TALE OF TRAILS

X-TRAIL SVE 1.6 dCi 4x4

Seats: Seven
Height 1,710mm
Length 4,640mm
Gross weight 2,160kg
Engine size 1.6 dCi
0-100km/h 11 seconds
Top speed 186km/h
Power 130PS (HP)

X-Trail Bobsleigh

Seven Seats
Height 850mm
Length 4,200mm
Gross weight 895kg
Engine size N/A
0-100km/h 30 seconds
Top speed 105km/h
Power 621 HP (463 KW)


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