► All new third-gen Qashqai driven
► New engines, better infotainment
► Evolutionary, not revolutionary
The most influential and best-loved British everyday car of the noughties is reborn. That's right, the Nissan Qashqai is back for a third generation.
Headlines include the car's first electrified powertrains, more big screens than Cineworld, and a lighter, stiffer bodyshell.
Team those technical innovations with good old fashioned practicality, such as wide-opening rear doors and a variable boot floor, and the Qashqai looks set to continue its bestselling status - one that it finally deserves.
Remind me, what’s a Qashqai again?
Don’t pull my leg, these things are everywhere! But for any newly repatriated castaways, this is the car that invented the midsize ‘crossover’, a motoring mash-up the length of a Ford Focus hatchback but with an SUV’s taller roof, raised seating position and optional four-wheel drive.
When the first model launched it was a delicious novelty; 15 years later, some 3.5-million have been exported from the Sunderland factory to 100+ markets, making it a bona fide smash hit.
As a result, Nissan has been evolutionary in its approach. The exterior design update is beautifully judged: all slimline lamps, chiselled surfaces and big-wheeled beefiness. It’s a little longer to boost cockpit and luggage space, but it’s still sufficiently compact to thread confidently through north London’s busy streets.
The interior isn’t such a knockout. A carbuncular tablet protrudes from the dashtop, devoid of curve, with housing noticeably bigger than the screen and unremarkable graphics and a clashy nav menu. Much better are the chunky buttons that provide clear operating shortcuts and air-con adjustments, in unison with nice-to-touch temperature dials.
On high-grade Tekna models, the centre cubby and dashboard are immaculately trimmed in PVC (which looks and feels more luxurious than it sounds), and there’s a classy textured plinth for the six-speed manual or stubby automatic transmission. Overall it’s a victory for no-nonsense functionality over flair.
New Qashqai: engine and gearbox combinations
Initially the only engine on offer is a 1.3-litre four-cylinder with mild hybrid assistance, where a belt-starter generator operates a responsive stop/start system, adds torque into the driveline and offers a fuel-saving coasting function on the automatic transmission.
Peak power is 156bhp, with 199lb ft of peak torque from 1800rpm. We tested both the six-speed manual, expected to account for 55 per cent of registrations, and the automated continuously variable transmission. Or xTronic as Nissan engineers steadfastly call it, seeking to disassociate their shifter from the CVT’s historic reputation for ‘rubber band’ response and flailing revs out of sync with the acceleration level.
They’re right to be so protective: invest in the xTronic if you can. The manual is a bit of a roundhead in a world of cavalier Japanese ‘boxes from Mazda and Honda: Nissan’s is a touch vague and with a fractionally long action changing up from second to third. It’s coupled with an arthritic-feeling clutch, lots of gearchanges to keep in the power band and an occasional hesitancy to deliver momentum from low revs in second and third.
In contrast, the xTronic (a £1900 premium) is great. It responds snappily to kickdown, delivers a nice surge of power with a muscular bellow of revs, and features reassuringly calibrated steps. You can even take charge of snappy changes yourself with paddleshifters on the wheel.
And how does it drive?
No Qashqai has ever handled like this before. You instantly notice there’s nothing lightweight nor hesitant about the steering, helping it dart through gaps in the traffic. The electric power assistance motor is mounted adjacent to the rack, and the ratio is quicker, making the steering feel more responsive off the dead ahead.
The ride is poised but compliant: you feel urban potholes and motorway expansion joints, but their clatter and energy are smoothly suppressed. Body movements are well controlled, with things rapidly settling down after shocks and speed bumps.
There are a choice of rear suspensions: 19-inch wheels denote a torsion beam, the 20-inchers roll on a multi-link suspension which typically offer sportier handling and a better ride. We spent the most time sampling the torsion beam, spearing across the country from Nissan’s Cranfield Technical Centre before settling in for a long haul up the A1.
The Mk3 Qashqai feels overwhelmingly planted and poised, its strong lateral grip carving through corners, governed by steering that’s linear and nicely weighted. This crossover has a newly found spring in its step, aided by a weight loss programme that’s shed 60kg from the bodyshell. The tailgate is now composite for the first time, and some of the body panels are aluminium.
It’s not entirely good news though. Coarse tarmac generates an undertone of tyre noise, particularly at motorway speeds, and persistent rustles of wind can affect the windscreen and the sides. Group tests will determine whether this is excessive for the class.
What’s life like on board?
Rear occupants will have no reason to complain, with a six-footer having three-inches of space for knee and headroom behind an equally sized driver. The rear doors also open to a whopping 85˚ angle, making it easier to load the kids (though increasing the chance of them dinging other people's cars as they throw them open).
And the engineers have lavished attention on the boot, having seemingly sought feedback from most of the 3.5m Qashqai customers.
The tiered luggage boards remain, allowing owners to increase the depth of the boot, or slot in one as a bulkhead to stop groceries flying around the boot. These boards are reversible and wipe clean on one side, to make tidying up after that muddy walk much easier.
The parcel shelf will stow beneath them, and we watched a quick demo of the boot's versatility, showing the ease of loading four golf bags into the 504-litre boot.
Spec and prices
The Qashqai range kicks off with the £23,535 Visia trim,which has all the key safety features you’d need in a family crossover; adaptive cruise, rear cross traffic alert are all present, as is blind spot intervention, traffic sign recognition and parking sensors.
The Acenta Premium level starts at £26,135 and adds a keyless start, folding door mirrors, USB-C sockets, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It also throws in folding door mirrors and an improved 8-inch touchscreen infotainment package, with six speakers.
The N-Connecta trim begins from £28,395 and stretches the infotainment screen to a 12.3-inch TFT panel along with 9-inch dials, and it also adds wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
A special launch edition model, dubbed the Premiere Edition, costs £29,275. Made in limited numbers, they come equipped with 18-inch wheels, panoramic glass roof, and a two-tone colour scheme.
The Qashqai Tekna trim rises to £30,845 and adds features such as a powered tailgate, the Qashqai's first Head-Up Display whose big display you can customise, wireless charger and ProPilot Lev system – as well as heated seats and a heated steering wheel for extra comfort.
Finally, Tekna+ features 20-inch alloys as standard, user memory and massage seats, as well as a ten-speaker BOSE-branded sound system. But it does cost £34,175 – just over £8k more than the entry-level Qashqai.
Despite the onslaught of more than 20 C-segment crossover rivals, the Qashqai Mk2 was the class best-seller. This slicker, thoughtfully engineered, handsome and more rewarding to drive version has the capabilities to stay there.
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