Car reviews - Nissan - Qashqai - N-TEC
High-grade dashboard plastics, intuitive ergonomics, decent rear legroom, precise steering, nimble urban handling, excellent tyre grip, practical boot area
Room for improvement
Lethargic performance, jittery ride quality, intrusive chassis electronics, too-firm seats, no rear air vents, no Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, expensive N-TEC
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9 May 2018
By DANIEL DeGASPERI
THE fact that Qashqai sounds like ‘cash cow’ has long been more of an unimaginative rhyme than a clever jibe at the Nissan. It would seem, however, that in the decade since the small SUV – known here originally as the Dualis – was released, rivals seem to have read that definition as gospel.
Take one 4.5-metre-long five-door hatchback, add some ground clearance and body cladding, but leave the mechanicals unchanged and suddenly for many it became time to ka-ching in on the SUV boom. Now, as this second-generation Nissan Qashqai comes in for its first facelift, it faces newer rivals such as the Hyundai Kona and Toyota C-HR, plus older foes including the Honda HR-V.
Exterior changes are limited to a fresh front grille and headlight treatment, while the diesel has been ditched and a duo of new model grades added – specifically, the middle-tier ST-L and this N-TEC.
Each claims to offer more advanced active safety and luxury technology than equivalent middle-tier rivals, working in concert with a roomier interior than others in the class, and sportier suspension as part of this mid-life update.
But is it enough to moo-ve the Qashqai well beyond newer rivals?
Price and equipment
Although the entry-level Qashqai ST is priced from $26,490 plus on-road costs, the automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT) adds $2500, with the $32,990 Qashqai ST-L, this limited edition $36,490 Qashqai N-TEC and the $37,990 Qashqai Ti having been produced with auto only.
The ST-L competes with the $33,340 Honda HR-V VTi-L and $33,290 Toyota C-HR Koba, and it matches them with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), satellite navigation and heated seats.
It then adds 18-inch alloy wheels (versus 17s) and lane-departure warning over the HR-V, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat over the C-HR, plus a digital radio and 360-degree cameras over both. But it also lacks their automatic on/off wipers, LED headlights and dual-zone climate control.
The N-TEC finally adds those items, while finally matching the Honda’s panoramic sunroof and Toyota’s auto up/down high-beam. It might uniquely add 19-inch alloy wheels and auto-reverse-park assistance, but the full leather of its rivals is still missing, as are the Toyota’s adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assistance – all three of which are reserved for the too-pricey Qashqai Ti.
A freshly designed, thin-rimmed and flat-bottomed steering wheel headlines the facelifted Qashqai’s interior, as well as sportier seats, part-leather trim and revised stitching on this N-TEC model grade. Although the changes are minor, this Nissan continues to leverage off an excellent base thanks to consistent soft-touch plastics, mostly fine fit-and-finish, and competitive space for a small SUV.
There is no change to the 7.0-inch touchscreen, and it still lacks Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone connectivity. However, the more time spent with this Nissan reveals inherent value in the ergonomic simplicity of this system.
There is a high-mounted button for the 360-degree cameras and auto reverse-park-assist, a setup button with simple menus, a dial to zoom in and out of the nav map, and a clear tab to switch from day/light to night/dark map colours. More expensive vehicles simply do not get the basics as right.
It is expensive, but the N-TEC mostly feels like a mid-$30K model inside.
While there are few criticisms, however, they are significant ones. The front seats are too hard, and despite electric adjustment the tilt functionality keeps the driver’s base flat. The rear seat is too flat and too hard as well.
While other small SUV competitors also lack rear air vents, it is a disappointing omission nonetheless, especially given small hatches such as the Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Highline get them.
The other compact crossovers offer virtually the same amount of rear legroom and headroom, too, while not falling far short for boot space – both cuddle up to 400 litres, compared with the 430L luggage capacity of this Qashqai. That latter figure is also 7L off the HR-V, plus it lacks the Honda’s clever rear-seat holding mechanism, although it is a significant 53L ahead of the swoopy C-HR.
Engine and transmission
Citing limited sales, Nissan has dropped the 96kW/320Nm 1.6-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine from the range. However, it potentially did not sell because it was so expensive given that the auto-only base model grade asked $5500 more than the pre-facelift petrol’s $28,490 entry price.
The retention of the 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four cylinder, however, is a mistake. With unchanged outputs, it still only gets slightly more power than the diesel – 106kW at 6000rpm – while falling well short for torque, with 200Nm at a high 4400rpm.
Teamed with a 1429kg kerb weight, which leaves the Qashqai around 200kg heavier than a Golf 110TSI that has 4kW/50Nm-higher outputs plus a $26,490 starting price, and the result is slow and sluggish performance.
Even a C-HR Koba, which is heavier again at 1440kg and has only 185Nm of torque, feels significantly quieter and more effortless given the small 1.2-litre turbocharged engine produces that maximum torque figure from just 1500rpm and holds it strong until 4000rpm.
Thankfully, the CVT is a quick and intuitive unit that wrings the best out of the engine, but that also means very often throwing the tachometer needle towards redline to affect overall refinement and fuel consumption.
While a combined-cycle figure of 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres is claimed, it blew out to a disappointing 9.8L/100km on test.
Ride and handling
Nissan has firmed the suspension and added noise insulation to this facelifted Qashqai, all in an attempt to make it feel more dynamic yet quieter respectively.
Around town, it has achieved success with the former target. With nicely light and precise steering – except during quick parking manoeuvres, when the assistance turns gluggy and heavy – plus brilliant grip from the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, this small SUV feels brilliantly agile and nimble.
With the other target, well, it remains quite raucous particularly over coarse-chip surfaces and especially with the aggressive 19s and breathless engine revving.
The N-TEC also fails to capitalise on its stellar urban dynamics with freeway ride quality that turns jittery, and country-surface compliance that can be lumpy.
Even through smooth corners, the intrusive electronic stability control (ESC) intervenes well before the frankly amazing tyre grip levels are close to being reached, and while that is only part of the problem going downhill, the limited performance fails to capitalise on the talented chassis going the other way.
It is more impressive than a HR-V VTi-L, but a C-HR Koba is smoother, suppler, more engaging, and ultimately far more enjoyable than this model.
Safety and servicing
Six airbags (including dual-front, front-side and curtain), ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), front and rear parking sensors with 360-degree cameras and rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning, and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) are included in the N-TEC.
The Nissan Qashqai achieved five stars and scored 36.56 out of 37 points when tested by ANCAP in 2017.
The Nissan Qashqai features annual or 10,000km servicing intervals for the first 12 years or 120,000km. The first five years or 50,000km totals $1438 – for a decently average $288 each.
Fittingly as one of the original small SUV models, the Nissan Qashqai remains ahead of the pack for style and space, while it continues to offer exceptionally nimble urban driving dynamics.
In such respects this facelifted second-generation model still feels distinctly above average, however more was also required in an era where new contenders have arrived thick and fast into the small SUV segment.
While new active safety technology and luxury features have been added into newly created middle-tier model grades such as the N-TEC, the price of entry is extremely high.
Instead of giving buyers of such pricey models a better engine, Nissan has ditched the demonstrably superior turbo-diesel four-cylinder while – in a twist of the knife – failing to even lightly update its dated non-turbo petrol unit.
The end result is that both newer small hatchbacks, such as the i30 Premium and Golf 110TSI Highline, and fresh small SUV models such as the Toyota C-HR soundly eclipse this Qashqai N-TEC for overall value and enjoyment. The ‘cash cow’ needed to be more like a crouching tiger ready to pounce on newer prey, but alas it is not so.
Honda HR-V VTi-L from $33,340 plus on-road costs
Roomy and flexible cabin the upside, ordinary ride and handling the downside.
Toyota C-HR Koba from $33,290 plus on-road costs
Smaller inside, but a refined yet joyous drive and small SUV class benchmark overall.
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