There's no denying that the Nissan Qashqai is a popular choice amongst Australian buyers. Since the second generation of the Japanese crossover landed on our shores in 2014, the company has sold more than 38,000 of them locally (to the end of October 2017) and some 3.3 million worldwide.
While pitched as a small SUV, the Qashqai straddles the small and medium segments in terms of size, offering interior space and luggage capacity that's comparable to numerous vehicles from the class above. However, the Nissan has lost some sales ground of late to the ever-popular Mazda CX-3, along with the almost-prehistoric Mitsubishi ASX.
For 2018, Nissan has given the Qashqai a mid-life refresh, bringing a new look, added driver-assistance technologies, and more equipment across the range. All models now feature autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with forward-collision warning as standard, along with lane-departure warning.
Further up the range, adaptive cruise control is offered for the first time on the Ti model – though that won't be here until mid-2018 – while the N-Tec gains rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive headlights.
CarAdvice attended the local launch of the updated range in Daylesford, Victoria, to get a first drive of the refreshed crossover over a mix of country roads and highways. We spent the first two-hour drive loop in the new N-Tec variant (from $36,490), and the second stint the following day in the also-new mid-spec ST-L (from $32,990).
The ST-L basically replaces the outgoing TS diesel in terms of where it sits in the line-up, while the N-Tec is filling in for the Ti flagship as the latter won't arrive until mid-2018 due to production delays.
In terms of equipment, the ST-L features a 7.0-inch navigation system, 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, LED daytime-running lights, heated front seats with electric driver's adjustment, and a surround-view camera system with moving object detection. There's also heated electric-folding door mirrors, privacy glass, DAB+ digital radio and roof rails over the base ST.
Meanwhile, the N-Tec certainly stands out from its lesser brethren thanks to its full-LED headlights and stylish 19-inch alloy wheels. The only other feature that helps distinguish the N-Tec (and soon Ti) from the ST and ST-L grades is the silver garnish on the rear bumper, which has a diffuser-like shape.
Equipment highlights in the N-Tec include automatic and adaptive headlights, a panoramic glass sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, a fold-down rear centre armrest, dual-zone climate control and ambient interior lighting. Compared to the ST-L, the N-Tec also gains several driver-assistance technologies like blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, intelligent park assist, intelligent driver alert and high-beam assist.
Unfortunately, a global production delay means that adaptive cruise control and active lane assist are not available until March 2018 production, hence why the Ti is unavailable until midway through next year.
Inside, the redesigned front seats that are standard from the ST-L up are quite comfortable, offering good thigh and back support, while also being well bolstered through the sides to give that 'hugging' feel. Both the ST-L and N-Tec get leather bolsters with cloth inserts, which makes for a supple area to rest your bum, while the leather-trimmed bolsters look and feel of a high quality.
When hopping in, the first thing you're likely to notice is the new steering wheel, which features a D-shaped rim. Its width is slightly wider (37mm up from 34mm), while the smaller centre hub and slimmer spokes allow for a better view of the driver's instruments. The leather-trimmed tiller feels nice in the hand and looks upmarket, especially when compared to the previous car's teardrop unit that was feeling quite dated.
Elsewhere in the cabin, Nissan has upgraded the materials used for the air vents and interior door handles, along with a new stitched faux-leather material on the centre console where your knees rest and the centre bin lid between the front seats.
Cabin quality remains solid across the board, and the array of soft-touch materials used on the upper- and mid-tier sections of the dashboard give the Qashqai an upmarket ambience at the front, as do the squishy upper door trims and padded elbow rests. Out back, however, rear passengers miss out on the soft-touch upper door trims, though they still get the leather-look elbow rests.
There are no air vents for second-row passengers, however, which is odd considering the Qashqai is based on the same platform as the larger X-Trail, which features rear ventilation. Being a mid-life facelift, the overall layout of the second row of seating is the same, meaning the Qashqai still offers good head and leg room for two adults in the rear. Its compact dimensions mean three in the back would be a squeeze, though it's far more practical than, say, a Mazda CX-3.
Behind the second row is a 430-litre boot, expanding to 1598L with the rear bench folded – only bettered in the segment by the Honda HR-V (437L/1462L) with the second row in place.
Now for the driving.
All variants are fitted with the same 2.0-litre aspirated petrol engine developing modest outputs of 106kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4400rpm. The outgoing model's 1.6-litre turbo-diesel has been dropped due to slow sales.
Unfortunately, Australia also misses out on the 120kW/240Nm 1.6-litre turbo petrol offered in overseas markets like the UK, though this is probably because it's only offered with a manual.
Meanwhile, all versions bar the entry-level ST (from $26,490) are fitted as standard with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), while the entry-level model comes standard with a six-speed manual, though the CVT is optional.
Like the pre-facelift model, all Qashqai models send drive exclusively to the front wheels.
In terms of performance, the carryover petrol engine is still nothing special, and is more suited to putting around town than the country back roads that we frequented during the launch drive. So much as breathing on the throttle on steep inclines or at high speeds can send the motor spinning towards 5000rpm and beyond, bringing with it an annoying and asthmatic thrashy engine note.
It's also worth noting that not a lot of progress is made at highway speeds even when the engine is on the limit, so if you do a lot of country driving where overtaking is commonplace, you may have to look elsewhere.
Once at speed, however, the 2.0-litre motor and CVT settle into a quiet hum, which in the N-Tec sees lower-profile 225/45 R19 tyres exacerbate the tyre roar over rougher road surfaces. The ST-L with its smaller 18-inch rims and chubbier 215/55 rubber fared noticeably better in the NVH stakes, while also making for a more compliant ride.
Overall refinement is improved over the previous car thanks to the added sound insulation of the facelifted model, though, as already mentioned, models with larger wheels still suffer from noticeable tyre roar.
Both models offered decent ride quality over uneven surfaces, though the N-Tec can get a little busy over constant imperfections. Nissan says it has retuned the dampers and reduced the single-wheel spring rates for improved bump absorption and calmer body motion, and it seems to have made a subtle difference.
The steering, meanwhile, is quite light, which will be appreciated by those who will drive their Qashqai in shopping centre carparks and tight inner-city streets. However, at higher speeds the feel through the wheel is quite numb, and at times feels disconnected from the front wheels – which isn't a particularly nice feeling when taking corners at speed. While the Qashqai doesn't need to handle like a sports car, some added steering feedback wouldn't go astray.
In terms of ownership, the Qashqai is covered by Nissan's three-year/100,000km warranty, with up to six years/120,000km capped-price servicing.
While we'd need a little more time with the updated Qashqai to really gauge how much of an improvement the upgrades have made, this reviewer reckons that the Nissan will probably continue to be a sales leader regardless of what his assessment is.
The Qashqai scores top marks for its addition of AEB across the range, and also gets a tick for the improved refinement levels – particularly on lower grades. However, a base automatic variant is going to set you back at least $28,990 before on-road costs, which is more expensive than pretty much every direct competitor.
Compared to the base Toyota C-HR (from $26,990), the entry-level Qashqai ST misses out on useful features like blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control, along with satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control, dusk-sensing headlights and rain-sensing wipers.
One must also consider the fact that the larger X-Trail ST and numerous other models from the medium-SUV segment kick off around the $30,000 mark.
Despite its pricing and equipment shortcomings, the Nissan offers class-leading interior space, including a boot that is only rivalled by the Honda HR-V.
Another niggle is the lack of a more powerful engine option. Those who do most of their driving around town will find the sole engine option adequate for daily use, but once the speed limit rises, the petrol mill can feel a little underdone. Those wanting a more engaging drive with a little more oomph can look the way of the Hyundai Kona optioned with the punchy 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo petrol (from $28,000).
So, while the Nissan Qashqai probably won't be our top pick of the small-SUV class, its combination of sharp looks and segment-leading practicality should keep it at the top of many buyers' shopping lists.
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