It’s impossible to underestimate the significance of Nissan’s new Qashqai. Like Apple’s ability to deliver a product you didn’t know you needed until you saw it, Nissan’s first-gen crossover was what thousands of drivers decided they needed. It was a phenomenal success. And it was a popularity that blind-sided even Nissan: initially it expected to shift just 100,000 units of its high-riding-Almera-in-drag. Over the last seven years, the Sunderland plant has run almost constantly at twenty-four-seven capacity to build over 2,000,000 Qashqais.
Last year, in its final year of production, Britain still purchased just over 50,000 models, making it the sixth best-selling car in the country. Imagine, then, the pressure to deliver an equally appealing and successful successor…
The new Nissan Qashqai is a handsome-looking car, in a rather expected sort of way…
Yes, it may not have pushed out the boat very far on to the lake of exciting and innovative design, but the new Qashqai is much more striking than before, swapping rather bulbous lines for a chiselled and edgier look. It looks clean, fresh and well proportioned: clearly new but with enough similarity in its stance and proportions to link it with its forebear.
What about the cabin?
Like the exterior, the cabin looks good and feels better. Superbly supportive front seats, intelligently configured centre console, tactile plastics, a spot-on driving position, good visibility – everything inside makes for a comfortable place to spend time, with a generous dollop of feel-good factor thrown in. Versatility is top-notch. At 430 litres, the boot is now 20 litres larger, the tailgate opens usefully higher, the rear seats (fixed, rather than sliding) fold flat to liberate more room in all directions, oddment storage space is plentiful and the cabin feels solidly constructed with generous dimensions.
The old seven-seater Qashqai+2 has been dropped – those drivers wanting more than five seats will be ushered in the direction of the new X-Trail, which has abandoned the outgoing model’s set-square design and looks like a Qashqai that’s been put through a photocopier at 120%.
Which Qashqai are we driving?
We have driven the 1.5 dCi diesel model, so we thought we’d have a go in the 1.2-litre DIG-T petrol with six-speed manual transmission, in Acenta Premium guise. That means a £20,995 price tag. Equipment levels are very generous – that price includes satnav, a full-length sunroof, reversing camera, Bluetooth, DAB, 17inch alloys and an impressive raft of safety gear. Traffic sign recognition, auto hi/low beam lights, lane departure and front collision warning systems, Active Ride Control, and an army of three-letter safety acronyms are all standard specification.
As a result, the Qashqai feels pleasingly sophisticated and technically advanced. Sure, we know that £21k is a huge chunk of money for most families to spend on a new car, but those that do will not feel short-changed in the slightest.
Let’s hit the road, then
The 1197cc engine is incredibly refined and smooth. Below 4000rpm it’s all but inaudible, and it spins smoothly if a little slowly up to its low 5000rpm power peak. There’s a mere 115bhp on tap, but kept between 2000-4000rpm there’s a decent 140lb ft of torque available. So, progress is never anything but leisurely. Around town the engine feels alert and prompt, but keeping up with faster motorway traffic demands plenty of gear shuffling and working the engine.
And in a way, the laid-back performance works hand in glove with the flowing, loping Active Ride Control-enhanced ride quality, long-throw gearshift and unhurried steering. Body control is good – there’s plenty of lean through corners, but for a large and tall car, the Qashqai always feels controlled and contained. Factor in disarmingly high refinement levels, and the Nissan makes for serene and relaxed transport.
We’d still opt for the 1.5dCi diesel, though, given the choice. Yes, it’s more expensive, but given that we battled to achieve 37mpg in the petrol, the derv’s greater economy and lower emissions seems better value to us, in the long-run.
So has Nissan bottled it? Not at all. If anything it’s dramatically upped its game to create an heir worthy of its class king title. This 1.2-litre petrol may not be the best engine choice for the Qashqai, but it’s still a very impressive all-round package.
Would we take one over its rivals? Well, Mazda’s CX-5 may have a more honed dynamic edge than the Qashqai, the Audi Q3 wins hands down in car park kudos, and Skoda’s Yeti may have more character, but on all-round appeal - versatility, equipment levels, residual strength and general feelgood factor – the Qashqai is a winner.
Once production at Sunderland hits its stride, its production lines will spit out a Qashqai every 62 seconds. Which, on the basis of the all-round excellence of this new model, might not be quite quick enough.