Nissan's Qashqai has been such a huge success that developing the latest model must have been quite a challenge. Andy Enright takes a look
The latest Qashqai is sleeker, feels more expensive inside and offers a choice of two diesel and two petrol engines, front or all wheel drive and manual or Xtronic automatic transmissions. There's no seven-seater any more but make no mistake, this is a much improved version of Nissan's hugely popular crossover.
Some automotive success stories are easy to predict. We all knew that the Audi R8 was a winner as soon as we drove it. It made the Porsche 911 seem old and clumsy. Likewise, the Fiat 500 couldn't possibly fail once it made it to the showrooms virtually unchanged from the fantastic Trepiuno show car. But the Nissan Qashqai? That this unprepossessing vehicle should rack up some huge sales came right out of left field. Its predecessor, the Almera, could have been a synonym for mediocrity. Nissan played a really smart move though. They tore up the established supermini/family hatch/family saloon rulebook and started flooding the market with crossovers and SUVs. Some, like the Murano and the Pathfinder, never gelled with the public. Others, such as the X-Trail and the Juke, hit the targets. Then there was the Qashqai, which in 2007 found itself challenging the biggest-selling hatchbacks in the sales charts. It's been tweaked, offered in seven-seat Qashqai +2 form and spawned a number of special editions, in the process generating over two million sales around the world. The big news with this latest car though, is that it's fresh from the ground up.
As before, buyers can choose between front and four-wheel drive versions. The front-wheel drive cars get a cheaper torsion beam rear suspension set-up, while those with All-Mode 4x4 get a more sophisticated independent rear suspension. The calibration has been performed in Europe to suit European tastes. Whether you choose front or rear wheel drive, the Qashqai benefits from Active Trace Control which monitors the behaviour and trajectory of the car, and applies subtle braking to deliver a function similar to a Limited Slip Differential, providing the best traction and the least understeer. There's also a dual mode steering system which changes the weighting of the electrically-assisted rack when you select the Sport setting. Buyers get the choice of two downsized petrol engines and two turbodiesels. The petrol units comprise an 115 PS 1.2-litre DIG-T powerplant that drives through a six-speed manual box or a 1.6-litre 150PSDIG-T engine that develops a respectable 240Nm of torque. Most customers will doubtless be drawn to the diesels and here, there's a choice between a 1.5-litre dCi co-developed with Renault, good for 110PS, and benefiting from a revision of the engine's internals to improve refinement. Or the 130PS 1.6-litre dCi unit that is offered in either two or four-wheel drive guises. This engine is also sold with the Xtronic transmission, a stepped CVT gearbox.
Sleeker and more expensive-looking than its immediate predecessor, this Qashqai's styling is certain to be a major attraction for previously floating voters. The tape measure indicates that it's 49mm longer and 20mm wider than the old car, as well as 15mm lower. Nissan claims it's more like a four-door coupe as a result and while that might sound like typical marketing hyperbole, one look at that roofline profile suggests they may be onto something there. The reason why the Qashqai has suddenly got a lot sexier is that it no longer needs to seat seven. There's no Qashqai +2 model planned, the latest X-Trail taking over that duty instead, so Nissan's designers have been freed up somewhat to allow the Qashqai to scrub up very sharply. The interior has come on leaps and bounds. While the old Qashqai made a lot of friends with its equipment and technology provision, interior ambience was more Comet than Bang and Olufsen. With that in mind, the latest version ups the design values quite markedly. Nissan freely admits that the shared platform under the vehicle has saved them 30 per cent in build and development costs and that's been ploughed back into improving perceived quality. It's a lot better than before with some nice metallic finishes, stitched leather trims and creative use of lighting but it's not at the grade where it seems a cut-price Audi Q3. Practicality is as good as ever, with more space in the back and even more headroom thanks to a lower seat height in the back. Boot space has gone up to 430-litres as well. Load space flexibility has also been improved with a tailgate that now opens 150mm higher and includes a dual-floor system designed to provide a flexible and versatile load space. That's a win-win if ever there was one.
Prices start at just over £17,500 and stretch to almost £28,000 for the range-topping all-wheel drive version, so they have crept up by £500 on average compared to the outgoing model. Upon closer inspection of the Qashqai, most would agree that this is a reasonable ask given the higher quality finish. The trim walk-up shouldn't spark too many surprises either, starting with Visia grade and then progressing through Acenta, Acenta Premium and Tekna. Even the entry-level model gets a decent bash at the equipment list, being furnished with cruise control, a stereo with USB and Bluetooth, heated body-coloured mirrors, air conditioning, stop/start and hill start assist. It also gets the usual safety features like ESP stability control, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and front, side and curtain airbags. Only the 16-inch steel wheels look a little mean. You'll need to stretch to the Acenta to get 17-inch alloys, but the top Tekna trim gets some really interesting bits like the Safety Shield pack. This includes an Around View monitor, blind spot warning, moving object detection and Driver Support Assist. It also gets Intelligent Parking Assist, a heated windscreen, and Bi-LED headlights. Pick up a parking scrape in one of these and you'll have really excelled yourself.
Despite being a bigger and plusher car than its predecessor, it probably won't surprise you to hear that the latest Qashqai betters it in terms of efficiency measures. The 1.2-litre DIG-T petrol engine manages 129g/km and 50.4mpg while the more powerful 1.6-litre DIG-T petrol unit also records 50.4mpg with emissions rated at 132g/km. The 1.5-litre dCi diesel is the engine to choose if you feel that fuel station pasties and chocolate bars are sabotaging your fitness regime. This gets 74.3 miles per gallon - and the 1.6-litre diesel isn't that much worse. Here you get 119g/km and 61.4mpg if you go for a manual front-wheel drive version, with an equivalent four-wheel drive car registering 129g/km and 57.6mpg. As well as fitting stop/start systems, reducing engine frictional losses, optimising gear ratios and reducing weight where possible, Nissan has also devoted a great deal of attention to the Qashqai's aerodynamics. With a drag co-efficient of 0.32, it cleaves the air very well for a relatively high vehicle. From the elements on show such as the roof spoiler with winglets, to those hidden away like the flat floor design, there's some clever thinking at work here. Another innovation making its debut on the manual-boxed diesel Qashqais is an Active Grille Shutter system. This closes off airflow through the radiator when not needed. The grille shutter automatically shuts at speeds over 20mph and only opens if sensors detect that the engine needs cooling.
Nissan has taken a calculated gamble with this version of the Qashqai and it's one that reflects subtle changes in the way we buy cars. In 2007, it was fashionable to ditch the family hatch in favour of something more outdoorsy. Fast forward to today and efficiency is the buzzword. The Qashqai couldn't fight tomorrow's battles looking quite so SUV. It needed to tone down, become sleeker and, yes, be a bit more like a conventional hatchback in profile. We think Nissan has judged this one perfectly. Time and again the company has been correct in predicting customer demand and having a product right there. That's not about to change. What demonstrates this more than anything is that of all the Qashqai variants that are being offered to the UK public, only two feature all-wheel drive. This is a car that no longer purports to be anything remotely off-road at all. Instead, it's a model that plugs in to what buyers want, rather than what they immediately need. Even in these hard times, Nissan realises that a new car purchase needs to come with a dose of feel-good factor - perhaps now more than ever in fact. Given that reality, this Qashqai looks set to cash in.
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