The fortunes of the Nissan Qashqai are bewildering.
The thing is just starting to hit its stride, four years after it was launched in Australia, where it replaced the hugely successful Dualis. And there’s a big update coming, with the 2018 Nissan Qashqai due here early in the new year.
What’s more puzzling is that the segment in which the Qashqai competes – small SUVs – is busier now than it ever has been.
You might have thought a car that is approaching the mid-point of its life-cycle may see buyers start to shuffle in other directions. But the fact of the matter is, Nissan has been smart in luring buyers into the entry-level versions of the Qashqai (ST petrol regularly priced at $25,990 drive-away with a ‘free auto’). And that’s been made easier for them in lieu of the Pulsar’s exorcism from the Australian market.
But this isn’t the cut-price customer-pleaser. This is the top-spec Ti automatic model, which, at $36,990 plus on-road costs, is one of the most expensive small SUVs without a prestige badge you can currently buy. But, unlike many rivals, you can get this high-spec version with a manual for a smaller price, which is nice. But does it have the goods to live up to its asking price?
The answer is a little bit of 'yes' and a little bit of 'no'.
I mean, we know the updated version of the Qashqai is expected to bring heaps of new technology, including Nissan’s ProPilot semi-autonomous driving system, which can brake, accelerate and steer on the highway.
As far as the current offer goes, the Qashqai isn’t short of stuff – in fact, this Ti model can already park itself, and it has a surround-view monitor, front and rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warning. It doesn’t have autonomous emergency braking, unlike the models currently sold in Europe, but we tip it will come in the new model.
One of the things that doesn’t quite live up to the price tag is the infotainment system. While it does display the surround-view camera system nicely, the graphics and resolution are low by class standards. You need only have a squiz at a Subaru XV to see what else is available in terms of clarity, and to realise the Nissan is really not at the cutting edge anymore in that regard.
But the updated version will get an updated media system. Sorry if I keep drawing comparisons to a car that isn’t here yet. But if you’re in the market for a Qashqai, you ought to keep in mind that within six months there’ll be a significantly improved model on sale.
Not that the current one isn’t good – because it is. And yeah, while the media system isn’t brilliant, it’s not terrible, either. The Bluetooth system connects and reconnects easily enough, and while the 7.0-inch screen has a swathe of buttons either side of it, they’re all reasonably logical to figure out. One thing I loved while listening to the footy on a Saturday afternoon drive was the fact the screen displays a readout of the scores. Nice!
But there are some annoyances – you can’t choose your music by album or artist when connected by Bluetooth, and the steering wheel control that should be the volume control isn’t that at all. No worries, the facelifted model gets a new steering wheel…
The rest of the cabin is quite pleasant. There are nice elements such as LED ambient lighting, and the huge panoramic glass roof is lovely, too – and unlike some other roof systems like it, it has a solid cover that’ll block out the sun on hotter days.
The driver’s seat has electric adjustment, but doesn’t have memory settings, and doesn’t have electric lumbar support – there’s no digital speedometer, either, unless you set the cruise control. The front passenger seat is manually-adjustable, but both have seat heating.
The front seats feel a little small for a bigger driver, and the same can be said of the back seats, which are a little short in the squab. They’re comfortable, though, aside from the lack of headroom due to the glass roof, and there are ISOFIX outboard child-seat anchor points and three top-tether hooks, too, but there are no rear air-vents.
Storage in the Qashqai remains a positive point, with decent door pockets up front, handy storage sections between the front seats, and door pockets in the back that are a little small. The boot is great – 430 litres, with a nice flat load floor right up to the boot lip if you want it, though you can remove the floor panels for extra room.
The Qashqai seemingly ticks a fair few boxes for small SUV shoppers then – but, how about those who enjoy driving?
Well, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine teamed to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) auto and front-wheel-drive mightn’t get you salivating to hit the road. But it’s a drivetrain well suited to its application, and one that is easy to accustom to.
With 106kW of power and 200Nm of torque it isn’t a powerhouse on paper, but the way the CVT revs out – without screaming – means you can readily draw on the pulling power, on the open road, or if you’re just accelerating away from a roundabout or traffic lights. The drivetrain can chug a little when you get back on the throttle if you’ve been coasting for a while – but that’s a minor qualm.
Nissan claims fuel use of 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres, and during our time in the Qashqai Ti we saw 7.4L/100km across mixed driving conditions.
One of the Qashqai’s biggest advantages is that it drives like a hatchback – it is involving, verging on fun at times, with accurate and responsive steering and a well sorted chassis that, with the 19-inch wheels with Dunlop Sport Maxx RT (225/45) rubber, is amazingly grippy, undoubtedly aided by Nissan’s Active Trace Control torque-vectoring system that’ll brake the inside front wheel in corners, helping you tuck into corners really easily. It brakes well, too.
There’s a touch of body roll in the bends, and the suspension is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to dealing with different surfaces. Over pockmarks at 80km/h it is brilliant, while at 110km/h on the freeway it feels a little sharp over one-off bumps. At urban speeds the big wheels can transmit sharp edges to the cabin as well, and it doesn’t feel quite as settled as we’d like. Any coarse-chip surface, no matter the speed you’re travelling, shows up a lot of road roar.
Nissan’s ownership plan sees maintenance due every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first, up to 120,000km. The average cost per visit over that period is $307 for petrol models, and the Qashqai – like all Nissans – is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty and the same span of roadside assistance cover, which is fine, but not exceptional, by class standards.
All in all the Qashqai remains a pretty convincing compact family SUV, so there’s no wonder it is selling as well as it is. But rather than buying the current top-spec model, I’d thoroughly suggest waiting until the 2018 Nissan Qashqai arrives in Australia early next year… unless you can get a great deal on the current one.
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