It may have a funny name, but the Nissan Qashqai has a very serious task of following up on the success of its Dualis predecessor.
The Qashqai (pronounced ‘cash-kai’) is born in the UK and designed for European tastes, just as the Dualis was. In its latest generation it has become 47mm longer and 23mm wider, stretching 4.38 metres and 1.81m respectively, and is now only 50mm/3mm adrift of a Volkswagen Tiguan.
It resembles its Japanese-built X-Trail sibling inside and out, and indeed the Nissan Qashqai is built on the same Common Module Family (CMF) platform that will be shared with future Renaults. However the X-Trail is 263mm longer and 14mm wider, available as a seven-seater with all-wheel-drive and a 2.5-litre engine. Conversely, the Qashqai is exclusively built as a five-seater with front-wheel-drive and choice of a 2.0-litre petrol or 1.6-litre diesel.
There are now clear distinguishers between Nissan’s small and medium-sized SUV options.
The Nissan Qashqai ST starts at $25,890 plus on-road costs and is equipped competitively with 17-inch alloy wheels, 5.0-inch colour display with NissanConnect apps connectivity and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, cruise control, manual air-conditioning, cloth trim and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. An extra $2640 buys a change from six-speed manual transmission to automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Another $4710 allows you to switch from petrol-auto to diesel-auto in the form of the $33,200 Qashqai TS that also adds electrically foldable door mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, front foglights, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, dual-zone climate control, a rear centre armrest and configurable cargo area (more on that soon).
Or, for around the same money you can switch back to petrol power and manual shifting with the $32,490 Qashqai Ti. Take a deep breath before reading its equipment additions over the ST and TS: 19-inch alloys, seven-inch colour touchscreen with sat-nav and an around-view monitor, auto LED headlights, panoramic sunroof, leather trim with front heating and 6-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat, blind spot monitor, moving object detection, auto park assist and auto high-beam.
Add another $2500 for the auto most Aussies will choose, and you have an absolutely loaded compact SUV for less than $35K. Or, if you want more torque, you can choose the identically-equipped $37,990 Qashqai TL range-topper.
Speaking of outputs, the 2.0-litre petrol engine in the Qashqai is a new direct-injected unit producing 106kW of power at 6000rpm and 200Nm of torque at 4400rpm. These are about what the average $20K hatchback makes, except the Nissan SUV weighs around 100kg more than the average hatch (between 1372kg and 1457kg depending on the specification).
Qashqais equipped with the Nissan-Renault 1.6-litre turbo-diesel are even heavier – 1556kg TS, 1605kg Ti – but they also raise torque to 320Nm at just 1750rpm. Power dips slightly, to 96kW at 4000rpm. Claimed fuel consumption for the diesel is just 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres, compared with 7.7L/100km for the petrol manual and 6.9L/100km for the petrol auto.
The small Nissan’s interior isn’t just generously equipped, however – it is also superbly finished. The design may mimic the X-Trail, which is no bad thing in itself, but there’s attention to detail in the Qashqai including extra soft-touch surfaces, real leather on the steering wheel and leather-look padding flanking the transmission tunnel.
The touchscreen interface works a treat, with high resolution graphics and simple access to NissanConnect and Pandora/TuneIn/Google apps. The auto-parking and blind-spot technology available in the Ti works very well, too.
We tested only the petrol and diesel Ti grades (which 50 per cent of all buyers will purchase, according to Nissan), and they proved brilliantly comfortable in their seats with a fine driving position. One row back and the Qashqai misses the rear seat airvents standard in its X-Trail cousin, though the cushion itself is comfortable and legroom among the most generous in the small SUV class.
SUVs needs a party trick to standout, and the Qashqai gets off to a good start with a 430-litre boot – not quite as capacious as X-Trail (550L) but larger than Subaru Forester (422L), Jeep Cherokee (412L), Ford Kuga (406L), Mazda CX-5 (403L) and Tiguan (395L).
In all grades bar the ST the Qashqai gets a split floor with two removeable sections, each of which can be flipped around for a carpeted or plastic side, removed altogether for a square space, or one can stand up and be wedged vertically to create two separate boot sections – smart; clever.
The Qashqai is also not just one of the best current Nissan models to drive, but one of the most satisfying SUV models to steer.
The electro-mechanical steering has two settings, Normal or Sport, but they’re buried beneath multiple settings menus and provide only slight variations in weight (from light to marginally less light). In either setting, the Qashqai is effortless to manouevre around the city, and direct and consistent on a country road.
Despite low-profile 45-aspect 19-inch tyres that can contribute to a bumpy ride, the Qashqai Ti remains settled and stable. It can filter through some minor irregularities into the cabin, but largely feels mature and sophisticated in the way it deals with larger potholes and heaves in the road. We can only imagine how comfy the ride would be on the base model’s chubby 60-aspect 17s...
All Qashqai grades get quality Continental tyres, and in the Ti’s case they contribute to excellent handling that’s not far off the CX-5 benchmark. If you’re looking for security in your family car, if you have to suddenly swerve to avoid an object, this Nissan's chassis and tyres provide inherent safety benefits before the SUV gets out of shape and calls on the stability control. If you just want to have fun on a winding road, the Qashqai lets you have fun as it feels just like a big hatchback.
That is unless the road starts to traverse some hills, because neither petrol nor diesel engine delivers above average performance. The diesel is smooth and quiet – not just for a diesel – and the CVT mimics a close-ratio normal auto by ‘stepping’ gearchanges under full acceleration. There’s some lag off the line, compounded by a slow stop-start system, and it feels burdened by weight when the throttle is pinned to overtake. Its trip computer did, however, show 6.3L/100km on our freeway/rural drive.
Conversely, the petrol engine showed 11L/100km. To the CVT’s credit, it mostly hides the torque deficit of the petrol. If you’re bumbling around the ‘burbs, the the auto raises revs quickly to get the best out of the engine, and its only when larger bursts of acceleration are required that it feels like it’s working hard.
As with the diesel, the petrol’s engine noise is well suppressed, and the Qashqai is one of the quieter SUVs for wind noise, although coarse-chip road noise can be intrusive, as is usual in this class.
Nissan has worked to improve servicing costs compared with other models in its range, and the Qashqai moves to annual servicing (from six months) although still with a 10,000km limit (where 15,000km is the benchmark). A capped price servicing program means the first three services, and fifth, sixth and seventh service will each cost between $207 and $279, while the fourth and eighth check-up asks $402.
Good looking, clever and roomy inside, very affordable yet packed with kit, and great to drive, the Nissan Qashqai is an impressive SUV lacking only a bit for performance and petrol-engine economy.