2011 Nissan Qashqai +2 2.0i Acenta (CH)


Despite seemingly endless new automotive market niches being identified and product to occupy them being developed, sold and bought these days, for the volume manufacturers, almost no section of the market is more important than the mid-size hatchback, the so-called C Segment. For a successful manufacturer of cars for this sector, sales volumes are high, and the profit margin should be that bit greater per unit than in the equally vital supermini class of cars. After enjoying almost surprising levels of success with a series of dependable but utterly dull Sunny models in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, Nissan tried to up their ante with two generations of Almera hatchback, and were disappointed by the way the market received the cars. Accordingly, they announced very publicly that they would not try for a third time, and would instead  field something different to the market. Capitalising on the burgeoning demand for cross-over style vehicles, they launched the Qashqai in early 2007, as a vehicle which appeared to combine some of the benefits of the faux-roader, with higher driving position, slightly greater ground clearance and levels of space, without the downsides of bulk and greater fuel thirst. Qashqai has been a runaway success for them, with production levels having to be increased more than once to keep pace with demand. Eighteen months after the launch of the initial vehicle,  the range was extended when the +2 model appeared, offering 7 seats for those who needed the ability to carry more people than could be accommodated in the standard car. Subsequently, a light facelift has been applied, with the most obvious changes being to the nose, with the latest “family look” being applied to the grille. With the appearance of some Nissan in the Hertz Switzerland fleet, I got my first chance to form my own conclusions on this well-rated car.
Although the wide range of diesel and petrol engines that have characterised volume market cars for long continue to be offered by almost all manufacturers, the realities of ever increasing fuel costs and emissions based taxation strategies have encouraged more and more people to go diesel, and this has been as true of the rental fleets as the private buyer, so it was a bit of a surprise to find that my test Qashqai was fitted with the largest available petrol engine, a 2.0 litre 4 cylinder unit which develops 138 bhp. It also came with the optional all wheel drive system, and a manual gearbox. There are no complicated procedures for starting this Nissan, you simply put the traditional key into the ignition slot, twist it and the engine fires. This is a smooth and refined unit which does its job well, but with no fuss and no aural stimulation. It revs freely all the way to the red line at 6500 rpm, though to maintain decent momentum in traffic and even when the car is challenged by some of the steeper slopes of the Alps, you probably won’t find yourself driving it flat out at all. 138 bhp is no more than “average” for a 2 litre engine these days, but it seemed more than adequate for the Nissan, especially as this car, unlike so many modern petrols does not appear to have been saddled with gearing optimised for CO2 figures which deprive of any useful acceleration in anything less than three gears lower than top. I found that there was plenty of torque and that frequent gear changing for a burst of extra speed was not often necessary. Using the gearbox more would have been little hardship, though, as the lever slots readily between the ratios with just the right level of precision and resistance so you are no doubt as what is happening but without feeling any resistance to the action. The gears are well spaced, and as well as lowering the revs quite significantly, sixth proved usable at even moderate speeds. A discrete arrow alongside an icon of a gear lever features in the bottom of the instrument display, as an indicator of when the car thinks you could be in a higher gear.
The Qashqai is quite a large and heavy car, though, so despite all this, you cannot reasonably expect true parsimony, and so it proved, with fuel consumption averaging out at 32 mpg, which was probably a consequence of 2 days spend with lots of alpine ascents and not that much steady speed autobahn cruising. After suffering a number of recent test cars blighted by the current trend toward ever lighter and feel-less steering, it is good to report that Nissan have seen fit not so to afflict the Qashqai, and whilst you would never bring out this attribute as class leading, there was decent feedback through the wheel to give a good indication of what the steered wheels were doing. The same comment applies to the handling, which proved predictable and “safe”. Levels of body roll were low, too. For the +2 model, the suspension settings have been altered slightly, to cope with the extra bulk and weight, but I found that the Nissan generally rode well, albeit the roads of Switzerland, with their generally good surfacing are perhaps less of a test than those in the UK. No issues with the brakes, which worked well even on the steeper descents. There is a conventional pull-up handbrake between the seats. There is a plastic moulding around the area which sits higher than the handbrake, and I did find it was sometimes all too easy to hit your knuckles on this when releasing the brake, though I am sure that a longer term owner would adapt the way they held the brake just ever so slightly to avoid this. Noise levels were commendably low, and one advantage of petrol power is that this applies at idle as well as on the move. Visibility is generally good, though the third side windows are kicked up, thanks to the styling design, and I found that the angle at which the lower edge rose was sometimes a bit of a limitation when looking over your shoulder for parking or also at side junctions. To help with reversing, there was a camera on the test car, which projected a clear image of what was immediately behind, on to the sat nav screen.
Whilst a decent driving experience is important, it is probably not going to be the key criterion against which a prospective purchaser would select a Qashqai. Buyers are likely to have practicality high in their list, especially those who opt to pay the £1200 premium for the longer wheelbase +2 version. As well as boasting an extra 135mm in the wheelbase, the +2 sports both a new bonnet, new rear doors and tailgate, and has extra rear overhang of 75mm. The car is higher, too, by 40mm, and all +2 models have roof rails. In this guise, room in the middle row of seats can be really very good. This row of seats are on sliders, and set back as far as possible, there are particularly generous levels of space available for the occupants of this row of seats. Slide the row well forward to help out those who are going to sit on the rearmost chairs, and an element of compromise with the front seat occupants may be called for. As with all 7 seaters of this size, those rearmost seats are not really designed for adults or long distances. Nissan say that the seats are only intended for those who are no taller than 1.6m. One issue is that the seat cushion is almost on the floor, so knees and chin end up uncomfortably close together. This is an almost universal problem with C-segment sized vehicles though, and the Nissan is by no means the worst example. With all 7 seats in place, the available boot space is next to nothing. The retractable load cover can be stowed in the underfloor stowage are, thankfully, but even so, just a very small space between the base of the seats remains. The rearmost seats are split, so you could have some luggage room and one extra seat, of course. There are pulls on the rear of the seat backrest to allow you to erect or collapse this row of seats. The middle row of seats are split, too, with the backrests dropping onto the cushion, creating a flat load area. The middle section of this row of seats is dropped by pulling on a looped strap that is buried in among the seat belts, and only accessible from inside the cabin, whereas the outermost portions are easier to fold down, with a release on the outside of the upper part of the backrest. That middle part has a slider on its rear face, which means that if could be folded down whilst the outermost portions of the seat are occupied, giving a couple of cup holder to the middle row occupants. Provision for odds and ends in the cabin is reasonable, with a good sized glovebox, door bins, a deep, but rather small cubby under the central armrest and a small recess in front of the gearlever.
There are a couple of ways of describing your view of the main cabin of the Nissan. It could be that you find it plain and unspoilt by any pretence at lots of fake wood and “plasti-minium”, or you could describe the mostly black dashboard as simply too dull. Either way, there is no doubting that the build quality levels are good, and the dashboard moulding is actually far softer to the touch than you might imagine from looking at it. There are silver highlights around the air vents, the gearlever surround, on the door casings, parts of the steering wheel and the knob for the four wheel drive selection which do provide some visual relief. The instrument display comprises two large dials, namely speedometer and rev counter, with smaller ones for fuel level and water temperature, with a series of digital displays set between them. They are all clearly marked and easy to read. The centre of the dash comprises an integrated screen for the sat nav and other settings, which is surrounded by the audio unit controls, and below this are the climate control functions. A multiplicity of small buttons on the spokes of the steering wheel repeat some audio unit functions, as well as the cruise control. All are easy to use and pretty intuitive, with the exception of the sat nav system, which I only briefly played with and then abandoned (I did not need it, as I knew where I was going, anyway!).
Nissan are one of many manufacturers who abandoned the traditional model designations of L, GL, S or whatever in favour of some rather odd names a few years ago. Although there was no badging to tell, a trawl of the not terribly informative Nissan Switzerland and UK websites, led me to believe that the model I had was the mid spec Acenta, augmented by the addition of not just metallic paint (one of about slightly different 5 shades of silver!), but also the reversing camera. All +2 models come with a full length panoramic glass roof, which has an electrically operated cover. With this open, daylight streams into the car, making the cabin feel light and airy. The roof does not open, though. Roof rails are also standard on the +2. The wheels were absolutely not to my taste, with a mixture of a chrome and black surfaces.
Having driven the Qashqai for 2 days, it is easy to see why the car has been such a success for Nissan. For sure, it is not exciting. Not in the least. But it is practical, and being a Nissan it is likely to prove reliable. It does exactly what it promises to do, with no significant weakness. For many people, that is exactly what they want and need from a car, and with this unpretentious vehicle that is what they would get. At £23645 for a 2 wheel drive version, it is not a particularly cheap car, though, and I suspect that far more buyers would prefer the diesel engine, which is even more costly. It does not have the market entirely to itself either, with the deservedly lauded Ford S-Max probably providing the most formidable opposition.
2011-09-04 06:42:16

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *