Car reviews - Nissan - Qashqai - range
Value, design, spec levels, CVT response, diesel torque and economy, refinement, dash design and layout, active safety tech options
Room for improvement
Petrol engine lacks sparkle, no AWD availability, no diesel manual, no turbo-petrol availability
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14 Nov 2014
THE STORY of how Nissan struggled and failed for decades to take on the VW Golf in Europe with copycat hatchbacks, before striking upon the idea of the jacked-up Qashqai crossover, is already the stuff of legend.
Designed and built in England, the J10 (sold in Australia as the Dualis) tripled sales forecasts to become one of the most popular UK models of all time.
Two million-plus in less than seven years – especially in economically ravaged Europe – is an outstanding achievement.
No pressure then for the J11 successor.
Well, the good news is that no difficult second-album syndrome exists here. The bad news is there is less choice than before with the demise of the all-wheel drive variants.
Still, the new Qashqai is probably the best mainstream Nissan on sale, and a big step forward from the likeable Dualis thanks to improved value, safety, comfort, refinement, dynamics and efficiency.
Oh, and the styling is a whole lot better too.
Longer, lower and wider than before, the Qashqai exhibits a more athletic stance than the Dualis ever did. It’s a handsome update on a familiar theme that will sell on looks alone.
Stretching the wheelbase has remedied one of the preceding model’s biggest drawbacks – tight rear-seat legroom and limited cargo space.
The Dualis’ appealing cabin snugness remains, as do the high-set seating positions and hip-hugging front cushions and backrests, which are rejigged for improved support.
Furthermore, the dashboard is the very essence of modern clarity and ease, with a comfy multi-adjustable driving position, superb instrument dials, clear and simple central touchscreen, effective ventilation and plentiful storage options.
Backed up by soft-feel upper-fascia plastics and smart material and trim choices, the Qashqai boasts the best of European quality and Japanese precision.
Plus, even the base ST is well equipped, with rear parking sensors, reverse camera, Bluetooth audio streaming and telephony connectivity, 17-inch alloy wheels and a leather-trimmed wheel included, in a car that costs less than $200 more than the previous base variant.
And that’s before you factor in the now-12 month service intervals (it was six) for better convenience and less cost – according to Nissan.
But the back seat is still a bit tighter than you might imagine, boot space isn’t massive despite a 20-litre capacity increase (aided by the standard-fitment space-saver spare), the steering wheel somehow feels cheap despite the hide-wrapping, and the indicator stalk on one of our test cars felt sticky.
Overall, though, Nissan’s Euro compact SUV has definitely advanced – a fact underlined from the moment the Qashqai and dealer forecourt wave bye-bye.
The old Dualis was pleasant but uninvolving, both in terms of engine performance and chassis dynamics.
Nissan’s decision to upgrade the volume-selling 2.0L four-cylinder petrol engine (that 80 per cent of buyers will choose) with variable-valve timing and direct-injection seems to have plumped out the torque band to the point where the drivetrain feels eager and more urgent right from the get-go.
Coupled with what might be the world’s best continuously variable transmission (CVT) application that undoubtedly contributes, step-off acceleration feels livelier than before, there’s more mid-range oomph as the revs rise.
The car also now cruises at highway velocities with noticeably reduced noise and harshness compared to before.
However, we must add that – with plenty of experience with the Dualis 2.0L under our belts – our expectations were not great to begin with on the performance and refinement front.
The reality is that the petrol-powered Qashqai with 106kW of power and 200Nm of torque is not as sparkling or spirited as some rivals – namely the Volkswagen Tiguan or Hyundai ix35 equivalents – and that’s a disappointment.
Why can’t we have the zippy 1.6-litre turbo petrol unit offered elsewhere, Nissan Australia? The newcomer surely deserves the best drivetrain available?The better choice, then, is the 96kW/320Nm 1.6L turbo-diesel, mated only with the fine CVT.
Over the ST it commands a $4700 premium – though the TS does score more equipment like (a seamless) idle stop, push-button start, automatic wipers, fog-lights, a trick cargo separation system, privacy glass, electrically folding mirrors, driver lumbar support, dual-zone climate control and better audio to help justify the extra premium that diesel brings.
Whichever way you look at it, the diesel’s extra oomph down low more than makes up for its initial off-the-line torpidity. Once that unbelievably quiet and smooth 1.6L dCi is in the sweet spot, it’s a strong and effortless performer.
That the Qashqai diesel is capable of averaging 4.9L/100km is a fantastic effort as well.
If we were talking about the old Dualis, we may have voiced concerns about the front-drive only chassis’ ability to cope with 320Nm of torque.
Now we have no fear, for the wider track and new driver-aid technologies like Active Trace Control seem to have done their bit the Nissan steers with confidence, grips corners with ample security and poise, and pulls up well.
There wasn’t much chance to really explore the dynamic envelope on the limited run through the Southern Queensland hinterlands on the Qashqai’s Aussie launch, but the bits we did experience – and mainly in the TS dCi – suggests that the company has prioritised safety and ease without sacrificing agility.
Having said that, a Mazda3, Ford Focus or VW Golf all steer with sharper and more precise steering, avoiding the disappointingly feel-free helm that seems to be the norm in most Nissans nowadays.
If you want a driver’s SUV with real steering precision and feedback buy a Ford Kuga or Mazda CX-5.
We can’t help wonder if the AWD versions not coming to this market might offer more for those who savour the sensations felt from behind the helm? Admittedly, we aren’t really sure about the Qashqai’s ride quality, since almost all the roads we sampled were smooth and free from the ruts and bumps of most capital city streets.
On the other hand, the suspension did not pitch, sway or crash over anything, so we’re giving the company the benefit of the doubt that the much-touted double-piston shock absorbers are doing their thing.
What we can announce with surety is that the Qashqai is an attractive, appealing and charming compact SUV package.
Right now it is competing against a bunch of ageing combatants like the VW Tiguan and Hyundai ix35, and so it has the advantage of freshness and modernity to help lure customers. If Qashqai isn’t best in class then it won’t be far from the top.
Nissan in Europe has clearly put in plenty of effort nurturing its golden goose.
So what are our first impressions then? The Qashqai deserves to be a smash hit.
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