This in the new Nissan Qashqai, the second-gen version of the innovative hatchback-cum-SUV that defined the crossover segment. Rewind a decade and Nissan’s dreary core was the Primera, Almera and Tino, but the Japanese company took a brave step to abandon traditional market segment and launch the Qashqai. It hasn’t looked back since.
In essence the Qashqai was nothing more than a high-riding Almera, but the ruse worked and buyers loved the raised driving position and faux-4x4 looks in a package no bigger than a conventional ‘C-segment’ hatch.
We Brits were smitten, and even in 2013 at the end of the original’s life, we still bought 50,000 of the things. It’s the sixth highest-selling car in the UK behind only the Ford’s Fiesta and Focus, Vauxhall’s Astra and Corsa, and the VW Golf. No pressure on the new Nissan Qashqai, then…
What’s new about the new Nissan Qashqai?
The design, which is an obvious success. The first Qashqai, while brave in its philosophy, was rather bland to behold, but the Mk2 is much sleeker and more stylish – the nose is more angular, the doors heavily contoured, and the plastic body cladding better integrated.
On the practical side, the tailgate also opens 150mm higher – so only those of my lofty beyond six-foot disposition will now smack their heads – but there’s no longer a Qashqai+2 with three rows of seats. Nissan reckons most customers who bought the last-generation +2 did so for the bigger boot, rather than for the sixth and seventh seats, so the new Qashqai has a 20-litre larger load area (now 430 litres) and the new X-Trail SUV will get a third row instead. The reversing camera is also now self-cleaning.
What else has Nissan done to improve the Qashqai’s abilities as a family vehicle?
That larger boot now has a false floor, under which you can store the parcel shelf, and the two floor panels themselves can either be used to halve the space so the weekly shop doesn’t roll around on the journey home, or reversed to provide a waterproof lining for when the blasted dog has charged through the duck pond again.
In the back there’s more room in all directions for passengers, but although the seats fold flatter than before when you’ve got a dead Christmas tree to lug to the tip, they don’t slide or recline, and the lack of under-thigh support proves they’re designed for kids rather than fully fledged adults.
Much better news in the front, where the seats are very comfortable. Nissan claims they were inspired by NASA, but if the current space race is anything to go by, then the Mk3 Qashqai will have seats inspired by the cutting edge Chinese space program instead.
As for the rest of the interior, there’s been a much-needed hike in overall quality, boosted by details, including an electronic handbrake that frees up useful extra stowage space. It’s not all plaudits for the Qashqai cabin though, as the sat-nav screen has now been dropped out of your line of sight and the centre console design is much more generic than the Mk1 Qashqai’s tightly stacked unit.
>> Click here to read CAR's scoop on the upcoming Nissan Qashqai Nismo hot hatch
How does the new Nissan Qashqai drive?
The new Qashqai is 40kg lighter than before, but there’s also been a backwards step. The Mk1 Qashqai was underpinned by multi-link rear suspension, but to cut weight, and therefore CO2 emissions (and cost, too) the Mk2 Qashqai has torsion beam rear suspension. You do get a multi-link rear if you opt for the 4x4 version, but it’s beam on the back on front-wheel drive models, which will make up the majority of sales in the UK.
Most buyers will probably never notice the switch, but Nissan has introduced double-piston dampers and Active Ride Control to compensate for this. The dampers combat both large but low-frequency bumps on rougher roads, and smaller higher-frequency imperfections on smoother surfaces; the Active Ride Control subtly applies the brakes to reduce body pitch and movement over expansion joints, speed bumps and the like.
Does the tech work?
Sure does. The fact that our test car rode on 19in wheels shows how far the Mk2 Qashqai has come from its humble origins in late 2006, but despite a little patter from the big alloys, the new-gen rides rather smoothly and over big bumps, while the Active Ride Control ties down the rear promptly. More impressive is the step forward in refinement, the Achilles heel of the original. Engine, road and wind noise are all much better suppressed, even if the huge doors mirrors create a little too much roar.
We’re driving the 1.5 dCi diesel – only available as a front-wheel drive manual – which will be the biggest seller thanks to its 99g/km CO2 emissions, but that means only 109bhp and 192lb ft, so it’s not quick. Opt for the 1.6 dCi and there’s another 20bhp and 44lb ft, plus the choice of a CVT or four-wheel drive (but not the two together).
We also tested the 1.6 dCi with the auto ’box in front-drive form, and not only is it more sprightly than the 1.5 dCi, but the CVT is surprisingly adept too, maintaining low revs if you’re ambling, working up through seven stepped ‘gears’ if you’re accelerating hard, and only occasionally getting caught out and incessantly holding high revs. Still, go for the bigger engine matched to the manual transmission, we say.
There’s also Normal and Sport weightings for the electric steering, the latter a smidge heavier but with little real difference between the pair, and there’s also a new Active Trace Control system which gently applies the brakes to reduce understeer when you’ve overcooked a roundabout. Overall the driving experience is safe, secure, and sedate, yet not quite as invigorating as the original which was rather fun to fling around.
More mature than before, the new Qashqai isn’t quite as daring as the original, but the improvements in quality, refinement and CO2 emissions will only make it even more popular in the UK.