AND the award for resolutely refusing to rest on its laurels goes to… Nissan, for introducing an all-new version of its popular Qashqai just as the first-generation SUV is racking up record sales.
It’s a brave move but one that Nissan deserves to be rewarded for, because the new Qashqai scores even higher than its forebear did on practicality and economy. The Tonka-toy looks have matured a little, but it still ticks the box marked “chunky”.
Nissan has sold 2,000,000 Qashqais – twice as many as company bosses forecast – since the first one rolled off the production line in 2007, and 250,000 of those have found a home in the UK. So it’s hardly surprising that this new Nissan is all about evolution, not revolution. It still looks like a Qashqai, but one that’s gone to the gym. Stand to the side of its sculpted flanks, squint a bit, and there’s a hint of the latest Porsche Cayenne/VW Touareg in its profile.
It’s wider (20mm) and longer (47mm) than the old car, which means there’s ample room for five adults (and only five, since the seven-seat Qashqai+2 will no longer be offered). At 430 litres, the boot is a modest 20 litres bigger than before, but the tailgate opens higher and two panels that form a false floor can be raised, lowered and folded to create a flat load space or separate compartments for soggy dogs and weekly shopping.
The new car is also 15mm lower, although Nissan says headroom is increased by 10mm and the raised driving position remains. I’ve no idea how that adds up, but I managed not to bang my head off the ceiling.
The Qashqai’s cabin strikes a nice balance between substance and style. The bits you touch – steering wheel, gearknob, door handles and buttons – have a premium feel to them. Go on, stroke the top of the dashboard if you like – it won’t bite, scratch or make a horrible crinkly sound. A TFT screen mounted between the dials relays satnav info and trip computer stats to the driver. Even the seats, says Nissan, are “inspired by Nasa” to improve passenger and driver comfort.
Space-age stuff indeed. Fortunately, the Qashqai is a lot more economical than the seven-inches-to-the-gallon Saturn V rocket which propelled Neil Armstrong towards the moon. For now, the range is offered with a choice of three engines – a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine and a brace of diesels in 1.5-litre and 1.6-litre flavours. A 1.6 turbo petrol will be along in the summer.
Pick of the bunch is, well, any one of them, really, but Scotsman Motoring awards a gold star to the 109bhp 1.5 diesel, which is eerily quiet for an oil-burner. I didn’t even realise the motor was running while I wandered round the car taking photos. It boasts VED-beating emissions of 99g/km of CO2 and Nissan says it’ll top 74mpg in mixed driving, yet it pulls the Qashqai along well, showing 60 in 12.4 seconds and maxing out at 112mph.
The 1.6-litre diesel ups the power to 128bhp, and is offered with the option of four-wheel drive and Nissan’s new Xtronic transmission. This continuouly variable set-up makes a decent fist of matching engine revs to road speed, largely doing away with the “rubber band” feel that has blighted so many CVT boxes.
The 1.2-litre, four-cylinder petrol replaces the old car’s 1.6-litre petrol and gains a turbocharger to make up for its lack of cubic capacity. Paired to a six-speed manual gearbox, this 114bhp engine is quick to pick up its heels in stop-start town traffic, but you need to keep the revs above 1,500rpm to eke the most from it. A steep hill on the motorway heading out of Madrid called for a change from sixth to fifth, then fourth, to keep the speed up as we passed a line of lorries.
The Qashqai’s road manners are as refined as the smooth engines and sober interior suggest. Drivers of the old car might notice slightly snappier steering and a moderately firmer ride, but rest assured the Qashqai has a flair for smoothing out major bumps and minor imperfections in the road surface. Grip is good and body roll is well controlled.
All that’s left to do now is pick your trim. Entry-level Visia brings air-con, cruise control and hill-start assist. Acenta adds a splash of leather, 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone air conditioning and that funky boot floor. Top-of-the-tree Tekna models gain 19-inch wheels, LED headlamps, a glass roof and seven-inch touchscreen display. Cheapest Qashqai is a 1.2 petrol in Visia trim at £17,595, and the most expensive is the 1.6dCi diesel Tekna 4x4 at £27,845.
My only gripe relates to the lane departure warning alarm, part of the Nissan Safety Shield package fitted as standard to Tekna cars and available as an option on the others. It chirps self-righteously if it senses you’ve crossed the white line without indicating, which is mildly annoying on the motorway and downright infuriating every time a tyre nibbles the centre marking on a twisty B-road. Nissan says its customers prefer an audible warning to a shake of the steering wheel or a twitch of the seatbelt (á la Citroen), but we suspect cost has something to do with it. The good news is you can switch it off and get on with enjoying your new Qashqai in near-silence.
Car Nissan Qashqai 1.5dCi Visia
Engine 4cyl, 1.5l, diesel
Performance Max speed 112mph; 0-62mph 12.4s
CO2 emissions 99g/km