There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with Nissan, if its new Qashqai is anything to go by
Revealed finally in all its glory, the next chapter in Nissan’s irrepressible development of the crossover market sector takes an initial bow and Iain Robertson is inclined to state that the rest of the class is forced into playing catch-up.
Pronounced questionably in 2007, while Qashqai may have been missing a vowel and would invariably carry motoring headlines associated with ‘Cash Cow’, there was little to disguise the ripple of excitement inherent to its introduction. Nissan always claims that it invented the crossover segment, a factor that I queried from the outset, as the French Matra-Simca Rancho of 1977 inspired other off-roadery, non-off-roaders three decades earlier. However, as a mover and shaker in a more modern era, Qashqai was a definite market instigator.
Bland and conservative in its styling, the first Qashqai iteration was, by intent, an automotive wallflower, designed to initiate reflection but also to avoid upsetting a hatchback establishment. It was a painless family car, of modest dimensions and equally modest performance. In fact, the only four-wheel drive variant was at the top end of the line-up in Tekna guise, almost as though the concentration of front-driven models in the bottom to middle of the range were perceived as being the real gamechangers. They were and the £15k price-point ensured keenness.
Yet, Honda had defined but not nominated the crossover segment with its CR-V of 1995, with the Japanese steamroller having already gained traction with the Toyota RAV4 a year earlier. Both vitally important models to their respective manufacturers, another of Nissan’s claims that Qashqai is a pan-European best-seller can be contested heartily by Honda, as a part of the world which has an unquenchable thirst for the ‘blue-rinse special’. Visit North America and Toyota has the upper hand. Yet, they all compete in what is now the most hotly contested sector of the entire new car scene and there is no denying the Nissan Qashqai’s popularity, notably in the UK, where it is the undoubted ‘yummy-mummy’s express’.
To accord Nissan its due, Qashqai, now in its third generation, not counting mid-life refreshers, has moved with the consumer demand for greater comfort, enhanced practicality and, although it is more manufacturer orientated, higher levels of technology. The new model is packed to the gunwales with ADAS driver aids, some of which can be dialled out, along with the most up-to-date levels of connectivity. A first glimpse of the cabin reveals Audi-esque diamond-pattern stitching on the upholstery and a VW-like blend of tactility and dependable quality. I can almost feel the shudder from Ford Motor Company for its overpriced and under-engineered Kuga (a model for which I have never held any respect).
The driving position, not always the most confident element of Nissan’s presentation, is multi-adjustable across a wide range of settings and the command position is both confidence inspiring and supportive, while providing first rate comfort. The improvements are tangible, especially for taller seat occupants, which should not be surprising, as the roomy Renault Captur shared the old platform, as part of its strategic alliance with Nissan, and is a Gallic reality proving that the French can get it right, from time to time.
The driver is fronted by a 12.3-inch configurable digital instrument cluster and a large 10.8-inch head-up projection into the windscreen, with a 9.0-inch touchscreen for sat-nav, stereo (including ‘Alexa’) and other controls in a ‘floating’ position atop the centre stack that can be accessed from a steering-wheel switch. Up to seven devices can be latched to its WiFi system. There is none of the customary cost-cutting that used to be evident in Nissans of old, evidenced by impressively neat stitching, both technical and glossy trim finishes and superb switchgear tactility. It all possesses a hewn-from-solid appeal that draws more Audi-grade comparisons.
On the exterior, the stylised Nissan ‘shield’ at the front features skinny LED headlamp arrays that stretch out to the edges and factor in a strident fluidity to the new Qashqai’s character. Its flanks are equally shapely but not to the extant of the latest Hyundai, or Kia equivalents. Instead, there is a more considered and, once again, tangibly high-quality appeal to the car, enhanced with the use of up to 20.0-inch diameter alloy wheels. Although the increases are only millimetrically greater, the car is longer, taller and wider than the old model, which is reflected internally (even the boot is 50-litres roomier than before), where overall space is much improved, and a choice of eleven paint colours and five two-tone options help with personalisation.
Having dropped the Alliance’s turbodiesel engines from the range, the base unit is now the 1.3-litre 138bhp petrol engine that provides more than adequate punch. However, a 156bhp version of the DiG-T technology is available in 12V self-charging, mild hybrid form, both of which units drive through either a deliciously slick 6-speed manual gearbox, or Nissan’s new Xtronic constantly-variable transmission, a metal belt-driven development of its previous unit. As before, four-wheel drive is available on top versions only. Yet, the big news surrounds Nissan’s innovative alternative to plug-in electrification.
The self-charging e-POWER system uses a high-output battery and powertrain integrated with a variable compression, 1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine, power generator, inverter and 140kW electric motor of similar power to Nissan’s Leaf EV, for a maximum of 187bhp. The petrol engine only generates electricity, leaving the wheels to be driven by the electric motor. It is not an EV but it is cleaner and more frugal than a regular petrol engine alone. It is a thoughtful and brisk performer, while also providing a useful bridge to full electrification, for the non-believers.
The on-road behaviour of the conventional petrol models is much-improved, thanks to a new compact multi-link rear suspension. Damper control is supple and body roll is well controlled. Meanwhile, the steering responses are very good, even though the feel at the helm becomes more imprecise, with more lock dialled in. It is better than the previous model and results in a pleasing dynamic balance overall. The outgoing Nissan Qashqai became a success story not just for being built at the firm’s Sunderland plant but also because of its benchmark status in the UK and Nissan has just raised the bar above its rivals.