Just a couple of days before I collected this Nissan Qashqai test car, it was announced that this model had topped the Sales Charts in the UK for the previous month, dethroning the Ford Fiesta that usually occupies this position, month-in, month-out. Now we all know that there is not the direct correlation between excellence of product and sales success, evidenced by all those Escorts that Ford managed to sell in the early 90s when they had a car which was pretty much bottom of its class, and these days finance deals be almost most of the reason for success than anything else, but even so, to claim the sales crown as opposed to just being a few places down from it is a notable achievement. And my own experience of the second generation, dating from 2014 when I got the chance to sample both petrol and diesel versions of the car soon after its launch suggested that is indeed a car with much merit and no significant weak points at all. Back in 2014, the Qashqai was certainly not devoid of direct rivals, as the success of the first generation model had not gone unnoticed by Nissan’s competitors, but the last few years have seen far more emphasis put by many manufacturers on their Crossover products than the regular hatches and saloons which used to constitute their offerings for the medium-sized family car market. Most of them are pretty good, so I was interested in renewing my acquaintance with the Qashqai to see how it stands up in 2017 and in particular to see what I think of it in comparison to its closest equivalent, the Renault Kadjar, which I had driven only a few weeks earlier.
A refreshed version of the Qashqai was premiered earlier in the year and is just starting to filter through to dealerships, but when I got to the rental car that had my name on it, I could see that the one I was going to be driving was not in fact a pre-facelift car. The update is largely focused around the usual mid-cycle tweaks to the appearance and a raft of new technology and equipment, whilst mechanically, it has pretty much been left alone. There were the usual rental car warnings on the key fob, instrument cluster and on the fuel filler flap that this was a diesel, and a little bit of investigation elicited that this was the less potent of the two that Nissan offer, with the 1.5 DCi engine which generates a moderate 110 bhp, exactly the same as the car I tested in late 2014. May be it is just as well that there were those warning labels attached, as when starting this Qashqai, you were barely aware of the fact that there is a diesel engine to power it, as the characteristic noise that you used to get with such fuel type powered cars has almost completely been eliminated. The engine is pleasingly subdued even when cold and there are only occasional instances, generally at low revs on a trailing throttle when your ears will remind which pump to select when the time comes. And with an average of 53.6 mpg achieved during my time with that car, that won’t be that often. 110 bhp is not that much, these days, for a car of this size and weight, and you will feel that, especially when you realise that the gears have been chosen to prioritise quiet and refined steady cruising over rapid acceleration. The test car had the infinitely preferable 6 speed manual gearbox (Nissan’s CVT, their offering fro automatic transmission equipped Qashqai remains an acquired taste), which had a precise and well-defined movement associated with the gearchange which is just as well, as you will find yourself using it quite a lot to get decent progress from the car. There is really very little in the way of acceleration on offer from the top three gears, so you will have to change down several to get that burst of speed that is so often needed in traffic-ed conditions. Once on the motorway, though, the noise levels are low with little interference from any of engine, wind or road to disturb the occupants. In traffic, the Stop/Start system will kick in quite frequently. This did not seem to be the best of its type, with the car sometimes stalling again as it tried to fire the engine. I did wonder if this was specific to this particular car, but a look at my review from 2014 suggests that I did not find it the smoothest of systems then, either.
Whilst the true enthusiast will probably not find a lot of driving engagement from the Qashqai, those who are looking for practical family transport will find little to complain about. The steering is perhaps a little lighter than I would prefer, but it is far from as over-assisted as some manufacturers seem to think is the market requirement these days. It does mean that the Qashqai is both easy to place on the road and also that there are no difficulties when it comes to manoeuvering it and out of tight parking spaces, something which a car like this is bound to be doing quite a lot. This was a front wheel drive model, as opposed to the one with the optional four wheel drive, and it handled and gripped the road much as you would expect, with a feeling of confidence imparted on the corners, with little in the way of body roll despite the higher centre of gravity. This Qashqai, in N-Vision spec, was a somewhat posher trim than the Acenta versions I had previously sampled, which meant that it had bigger wheels, these being 215/55 R18 in size, but there did not seem to be any appreciable penalty in ride quality. The Qashqai seemed to tackle the varying quality surfaces of our road network relatively untroubled by changes, always proving comfortable. There were no issues with the brakes, with a nice progressive feel to the pedal. There is an electronic handbrake, operated by a button on the front right of the centre console. It was generally not a problem, disengaging relatively readily whenever I needed it to do so. There were a number of features on this model to help with parking and manoeuvering. As well as front and rear parking sensors, there was what Nissan call the AVM, All-round View Monitor, a camera system which gives not just a view of what is behind, but if you pressed the right button one all around the car. This is one of the steps Nissan is taking both to add safety and practicality as well as move towards a level of autonomous driving.
One thing that struck me with me with the Qashqai duo that I tested in 2014 was that the interior ambience had been lifted massively over the first generation car and was bordering on the edges of looking premium in quality. That impression was augmented here by the use of a leather and suede combination for the seat upholstery. The driver’s seat had electric adjustment, but the front passenger would still have to alter the position, height and backrest rake the old school way using the levers under and on the side of the seat. Both chars had a lumbar support feature with a small lever on the inside of the seat allowing you to stiffen up the support for the small of your back. A telescoping steering wheel gave me all the adjustment I needed to get truly comfortable in what seems like an airy cabin, thanks partly to the space but also because the test car had a huge glass sunroof.
Those in the back should have little to complain about, either. There is ample legroom even with the front seats set well back, and the crossover styling means that there is more headroom than you would get in a regular hatch. The Qashqai is wide enough that three adults should be able to fit in across the car without undue difficulty. There is a drop-down central armrest. Places for odds and ends include map pockets on the back of both front seats, a small cubby in the rear of the centre console and small bins on the doors. There is a good-sized boot. A false floor is fitted to make the load area flush with the base of the tailgate, making it easy to slide heavy or awkward items in and out. This does only cover the central part of the boot, so the space on the side between the tail and the wheel arches is left as deep stowage wells, useful for those few items that inevitably you want to take everywhere. There is more space under that false floor. The rear seat backrests are asymmetrically split and simply drop down to create a much longer load platform. Inside the passenger compartment there is a good-sized glovebox, bins on the doors, a cubby under the central armrest and there are cupholders and smaller recesses in the centre console.
A combination of quality-looking soft touch plastics and piano black inlays with judicious use of chrome silver highlights imbue a feeling of class to the dashboard, a feeling reinforced by the leather-wrapped steering wheel which was pleasant to hold. Two large dials for speed and revs, with smaller water temperature and fuel level inset in their lower portions are presented under a single cowled binnacle, There is also a digital display area in the middle of the cluster, with the available data points selected using buttons on the right of the steering wheel boss, a place where you also find the cruise control and the audio repeaters. Two column stalks are used and there are both auto wipers and auto lights in this version of the Qashqai. The centre of the dash features the 7″ colour touch screen for audio and infotainment functions. It felt a little clunky in use, though the graphics were clear enough and thankfully there are still plenty of buttons to either side of the unit for audio functions making it generally easy to operate. N-Vision spec includes satellite navigation, though I did not actually test this out in my time with the car. Below this are a more traditional mix of rotary dials and buttons for the dual zone climate control.
There are a large number of different versions of the Qashqai, as tends to be the case with any volume-selling model these days. The initial, and relatively straight-forward progression of three trim levels – Visia, Acenta and Tekna – was soon added to as more versions joined the range. What has not changed are the mechanical versions on offer. There are two diesels – the 110 bhp 1.5 DCi of the test car and the more powerful 130 bhp 1.6 unit – and two petrols, the 115 bhp 1.2DiG-T and the more potent 163 bhp 1.6 litre DiG-T which was added to the range a few months after the initial launch. Transmissions come either in six speed manual or the X-Tronic CVT automatic and there is a further choice of front of four wheel drive. Not all combinations are offered, of course. But the trim levels on offer have grown and changed over time. From the outset, every version of the Qashqai came well-equipped, with a number of features added to the second generation cars. The entry level Visia rides on 16″ steel wheels whilst the spec includes automated climate control, Hill Start Assist, a five-inch colour HD infotainment screen incorporating bluetooth and an audio system with CD and USB capability, cruise control with speed limiter, all round electric windows, on board computer, a height adjuster on the driver’s seat, tilt/telescope steering wheel, split folding rear seats, Chassis Control, TPMS (Tyre Pressure Monitoring System) and Speed Limiter/Cruise control all fitted as standard, whilst outside there are body coloured door mirrors and door handles, and chrome glass surrounds,. Acenta models continue the generous theme with a further list of premium features fitted as standard. These include dual-zone climate control, a premium leather steering wheel and gear knob, 17-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass and a Luggage Board System. Safety equipment includes front fog lamps, auto headlamps and rain-sensing wipers and you also get six rather than four speakers for the audio system a map reading lamp and rear passenger lamps, map pockets on the back of both front seats, electrically folding mirrors, a rear seat armrest with twin cupholders. Both the Visia and Acenta models come with the option of a Smart Vision Pack (£450) that adds Nissan’s advanced Safety Shield system among other driver aids. Designed to enhance the safety of occupants, the pack incorporates Front Collision Avoidance, Driver Attention Support and Traffic Sign Recognition. Acenta Premium models added a raft of comfort and safety technologies. These include new-generation NissanConnect infotainment system with DAB radio. A rear view camera is also fitted as standard, along with i-key Start Push Button, parking sensors and a panoramic glass roof. Safety features include Front Collision Avoidance, High Beam Assist and Lane Departure Warning. Range-topping Tekna models feature an array of new-to-sector technologies that further highlight Nissan’s lead in the crossover market. For safety, Tekna models benefit from Bi-LED headlamps, Safety Shield with Traffic Signal Recognition and High Beam Assist. Tekna models also excel when it comes to design and technology features. All models are equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, part-leather seats, a large glass roof, heated seats, front and rear parking sensors and Intelligent key with engine start button. The latest-generation NissanConnect system is also standard, including a seven-inch touchscreen display, DAB digital radio, Around View Monitor and smartphone connectivity. Early in 2014, the n-tec grade replaced the Acenta Premium in the line-up, positioned between the existing Acenta and Tekna grades. Costing the same as the Acenta Premium, its spec included unique 18-inch alloy wheels with a stylish and distinctive black diamond-cut finish. Customers wanting to add even more features could choose an optional n-tec+ trim that included a full-length Panoramic glassroof and roofrails for an additional £550. Early in 2016, both the n-tec and the n-tec+ were replaced by the N-Connecta which carried over the features of the n-tec+ and added a larger display screen for the infotainment system and keyless entry. And then there is the N-Vision spec of the test car, which joined the range in September 2016. This is based on the N-Connecta but as well as adding the Around View Monitor, NissanConnect, Full Colour Rear View Cameras and Lane Departure Warning also includes the Panoramic Glass Roof with one-touch shade, Satin Silver Roof Rails, Sports Alcantara and Graphite Part Leather Trim, Heated Front Seats with Electric Driver Seat Adjustment and Dark Headlining.
This Qashqai impressed me much in the way those 2014 test cars had done. It is not exactly shouty about what it does, and the enthusiast is not going to get terribly excited by it, but for those looking for competent family transport, it continues to tick every proverbial box, still with no significant weakness. Whilst more power than you get with the 1.5 DCi would perhaps be useful, the attraction of this model is the 99 g/km CO2 it achieves meaning no road tax. The N-Vision trim was quite a step up from the Acenta that I previously experienced, but it does cost quite a bit more, so you would have to weigh up whether you wanted all those features or not. Interestingly, at the time I penned my last review, I noted that Nissan had hedged their bets on C-segment vehicles and had just re-introduced a conventional hatch to their range, the Pulsar. I wondered whether it would steal a significant number of sales from the Qashqai. We know now that it absolutely hasn’t, with the Pulsar being a competent enough car that you rarely see. So for family transport, Qashqai style would seem to be the order of the day. But what about the rivals? The Renault Kadjar is the closest, as the two cars share most of their underpinnings. I concluded my test of that car saying that whether you preferred it to the Nissan would largely come down to personal taste and the sort of deal you could strike (model for model, the Renault is generally cheaper), and having refreshed my acquaintance with the Nissan, that still remains my conclusion. Of course there are plenty of others to consider as well. The one that has had the best reviews, but which I’ve yet to sample myself is the Seat Ateca. I do need to try one before I can pronounce on which is better, but my suspicion is that it would be a close run thing. So, it would seem that the Qashqai’s contiuned sales success and in particular that pole position was on this occasion thoroughly deserved on merit.