Car reviews - Nissan - Qashqai - range
Premium interior feel, high levels of safety equipment, easy to use infotainment system, sharp steering
Room for improvement
Gutless engine, harsh ride, hit and miss CVT
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24 Nov 2017
By TUNG NGUYEN
NISSAN’S Qashqai has always been a bit of a quiet achiever for the brand, selling five-digit sums year after year and easily finishing in the top five of the small-SUV segment.
However, since its launch in 2014, newer rivals have arrived to shake-up the market, including the critically lauded Mazda CX-3, quirky Toyota C-HR and resurrected Honda HR-V.
The updated Qashqai will have to lift its game considerably to stay competitive in one of the market’s booming segments then and Nissan has given it a fighting chance thanks to stylish new looks, a more upmarket interior, trimmed variant count and more safety gear.
The changes don’t come free though, with the carryover variants coping a price hike and a new mid-grade version added to bolster the Qashqai’s ranks.
Has Nissan done enough to keep its Qashqai crossover competitor in contention or has its rivals moved beyond what it can deliver?
Nissan’s new Qashqai, which goes on sale today, drops in one of the hottest segments on the Australian market with ambitions to nab around 1250 sales each month, or 15,000 a year – enough to expectedly secure a podium finish.
However, the Qashqai sits at the larger end of the segment, with the new facelifted version growing an additional 17mm to measure 4394mm long, making it closer in size to a Hyundai Tucson than a Hyundai Kona.
The increased dimensions, while not noticeable on the road, gift the Qashqai with an impressive 430 litres of boot stowage that increases to a voluminous 1598L once the second-row seats are folded, while second row, adult-sized occupants are given ample room.
Your reviewer’s 185cm frame was comfortably able to sit in the second-row seats – including the middle position – without the need to adjust the front seats at all.
The three-variant launch range that includes the ST, ST-L and N-Tec (the latter of which will be replaced with the Ti in mid-2018) are powered by the same 2.0-litre atmo four-cylinder engine, with the diesel powerplant dropped due to low uptake.
Peak power of 106kW comes at 6000rpm while maximum torque of 200Nm is available at 4400rpm, which is about average for the segment, but propelling the up-to-1429kg Qashqai makes the engine feel a little asthmatic and underpowered.
The continuously variable transmission (CVT) doesn’t do the Qashqai any favours either, taking a while to ‘downshift’ and often feeling laboured under heavy load.
It didn’t help that the drive route selected for the Qashqai launch was through sweeping country Victoria roads with a mix of freeway driving and twisty B-roads.
Overtaking vehicles above 80km/h sometimes felt like an exercise in bravery with a bootful of throttle often resulting in the CVT lazily shifting down and no surge of power or urgency from the engine as the speed slowly, but surely, rose.
It’s a bit weird that Nissan markets the front-drive-only Qashqai as a city-slicking SUV yet our drive program took us through country blacktop and even an unsealed road.
With overtaking not its forte, it’s fortunate then that the Qashqai cabin is very pleasant because it might take a while to get to your destination.
The new premium interior is dramatically improved compared with its predecessor, with a more ergonomic steering wheel featuring buttons that are easier to reach and a thinner rim for better instrumentation visibility.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels fantastic, offering a nice texture for the area of cabin that will likely be touched the most.
The seats for us are also a standout thanks to ample back, shoulder and thigh support while even the cloth-trimmed interior of the ST-L and N-Tec both feel upmarket and premium.
Soft-touch materials adorn the dashboard, while our test cars were equipped with a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen infotainment display flanked by large, clearly labelled buttons that are intuitive and easy to use.
Pairing our phone through the Bluetooth system was a cinch, but audio streaming did glitch out and stop working at one point and required a switch to another audio source before working again.
The inclusion of improved safety systems is also a welcome addition in the new Qashqai, with autonomous emergency braking, front and rear parking sensors, and lane departure waring now standard across the range, as well as a reversing camera.
ST-L grades and upward also gain surround view cameras, satellite navigation and digital radio, while the top-spec N-Tec and Ti score blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert. Only the $37,990 before on-roads Ti nets adaptive cruise control though.
Although we didn’t get a chance to test out the newly fitted safety systems while blasting through the less-than-perfect country roads, the drive did expose another flaw in the Qashqai – the hard, and often discomforting, ride quality.
Standard 18-inch wheels in the ST-L and 19-inch wheels in the N-Tec certainly don’t help, but we felt a softer suspension setting that is more forgiving over potholes and road imperfections would go a long way in making the Qashqai a more appealing family vehicle.
Although we did not get a chance to test the base-level ST, we suspect the ride in the 17-inch wheel-equipped variant would be a lot more forgiving.
The Qashqai has sharp, direct and communicative steering feel, a welcome change from the often numb and disconnected systems of its peers.
A quick tug of the wheel and the nose of the Qashqai had no qualms in changing direction on a moment’s notice, and even sports a noticeably small turning circle.
All in all, we can’t help but feel our taste of the new Qashqai is a case of a winning car in the wrong setting, kind of like how newer phone apps run slow on dated hardware.
The Qashqai is undoubtedly more suited for inner city driving – sprinting through the Collingwood backstreets between meetings or dashing from work to meet a Tinder date for coffee – and we will reserve final judgement until tested under the right conditions.
As it stands now though, Nissan’s new Qashqai is a well-equipped and very capable small-SUV that offers a lot more than its competitors only to be let down by the context we experienced it in.
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