Ten years ago Nissan’s car factory in Sunderland began producing what is possibly the most important British car this century. As well as starting a debate about what its name meant, the Qashqai introduced the wave of family cars with a crossover role between hatchback and all-roader. It now has 21 rivals, with more arriving, but still leads the sector. Last year, the sector in Europe was 2.6 million of which the Qashqai took 10 per cent.
Its 2007 contemporary from a Japanese UK factory was the Derby-built Toyota Auris, continuing the standard hatchback profile. The Qashqai was half a size larger and rode higher. It gave you more car – and significantly – more attitude for similar money to a comparable hatchback from Toyota, Ford and other mainstreamers. As time went on, it was also to appeal to those who couldn’t manage something posher like an Audi Q3 – though there is an overlap in pricing.
Nissan has some Qashqai “numbers” to mark its tenth birthday. There have been 2.3 million sold in Europe (from global sales of 3.3 million). Sunderland can produce a Qashqai every 62 seconds. The second-generation all-new model in 2014 sold half a million in 21 months, a record for a British car. Since 2015, a factory in St Petersburg has been boosting supply as demand continues to rise. Around 45,000 people in Europe work on Qashqai and in related jobs.
Back in 2002 what was to become the Qashqai started with plans to replace the Nissan Almera – made in Sunderland and a solid car but not a good seller in Europe. The decision was a scaled-down SUV which would be easier in town than a big SUV, with raised seating in a car-like interior – proposed by Nissan Europe. They chose Nissan Japan’s exterior design and a cabin from Nissan’s American team. The car was originally intended just for Europe so Nissan Europe finessed the project. Named after a Persian tribe and dubbed “urban nomad”, the Qashqai prototype did not win press acclaim at the 2004 Geneva Motor Show.
There would be front and all-wheel-drive versions. Peter Brown, then and still a senior vehicle evaluator at Nissan Europe, recalls that the press questioned whether “this crossover would be the best of both worlds or simply fall short of the mark for both hatchback and SUV drivers”.
Nissan pulled it off. The press (guilty) focused on the need for yet another 4x4 at a time when fuel economy was important and the 4x4 Mum Truck thing was being criticised. Nissan’s message was that most sales would be for a two-wheel-drive Qashqai and that smaller, economical engines were on the way. It was unveiled in the autumn of 2006 in Paris. The press began to like it but one “respected” UK publication said it was not the convention-shifter it was touted as.
Wrong. In its first nine months it sold 100,000, with the UK taking the biggest slice, of 18,000. So much for insight from the specialist media. The awards arrived but not the most important European award, which went in 2007 to the Ford S-Max, in a close contest with the Opel Corsa and Citroën C4 Picasso. It was not the first time nor the last that the voters have been blinkered and missed the really important car of the year. But that’s another story.
Prices start at £18,795 across a range of Nissan’s strange model names – Visia, Acenta, N-Connecta, N-Vision, Tekna and Black Edition with petrol and diesel engines. All-wheel drive is available on the N-Connecta diesel 130 from £27,485.
To sample today’s tenth anniversary offering, Nissan provided an N-Connecta with a 16lbhp 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine and front-wheel drive. With the opulent pearl black metallic paint making it glisten a very dark inky blue, its drive-away asking price is £24,780.
I haven’t anything harsh to say about this car – whether judged as a large hatchback, a smaller SUV, for shopping or commuting or day tripping. The 1.6 petrol engine is smooth and responsive and reasonably economical. In mid range – when you may need a burst to overtake – it delivers a surge of pace. The 0-62mph time is actually a brisk 8.9 seconds.
The official economy figures are (rounded) 38mpg urban, 58mpg extra urban and 49mpg overall. In my hands it gave between 38 and 45mpg – the latter not far off its official average.
The suspension comfort is good with low levels of noise – suggesting that the 215/55/18 tyre and wheel choice is spot on. Handling was sure and easily judged – no doubt thanks to its hidden helper, the Nissan chassis control. This intervenes to enhance cornering and ride quality.
The instruments and controls are smart, accessible, maybe showing some antecedents in the relatively small information screen. I couldn’t fault the navigation accuracy and speed. The front, side and rear cameras and 360-degree positioning monitor take care of parking risks and reduce vision errors. The N-Connecta kit brings traffic sign reading, high-beam automatic assistance and city emergency braking.
Verdict: Pride of Sunderland.