The Nissan Qashqai is one of Australia’s most popular small SUVs, a regular at the pointy end of the charts alongside the rival Mazda CX-3 and Mitsubishi ASX, plus a host of new additions including the Toyota C-HR and Hyundai Kona.
As you may be able to tell, this is a hyper-competitive vehicle segment, luring a growing array of buyers out of their small hatchbacks with the promise of more ride height and cabin space, and faux tough looks, for similar money.
The time has now come for the Qashqai to get the typical mid-life upgrade, bringing some cosmetic and technological tweaks to keep it up to speed with its best and brightest competitors. Here, we test the range-opening ST variant.
There are a few things that set the Nissan apart. Alongside the Honda HR-V, it’s perhaps the most practical offering in its class, with excellent rear leg room and cargo space. It’s also made in the UK alongside the smaller, wackier Juke.
Our Nissan Qashqai ST costs $28,990 with the CVT automatic transmission favoured by most buyers (add about $3000 for the on-road charges). This is $500 more than the MY17 model, and equivalent to the price of mid-range versions of the HR-V, CX-3, ASX, Kona, Suzuki Vitara and co.
Stylistically, the updated Qashqai gets a new-look front grille and bumper that take after said X-Trail. It’ll age well. Clearly aimed at more ‘responsible’ buyers than some of the class’s wilder offerings.
If you want ‘boomerang’ LED running lights and big, sporty wheels, you’ll need to look at the Qashqai ST-L and N-TEC.
Inside the cabin, there is a new steering wheel with slicker buttons, plus some nicer trims and surfaces that lift the ambience. The seats are more supportive than before and have cloth said to be more durable.
Standard equipment includes six airbags, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, lane assist, a new autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system, and a forward-collision warning system that’ll bark at you if you’re approaching a car too quickly.
For the safety conscious, the range-topping Qashqai gets blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane assist and adaptive cruise control. Some rivals such as the Kona let you add much of this equipment to the base model as an option.
The ST also has daytime running lights, cruise control, Bluetooth/USB inputs, front parking sensors, 17-inch alloy wheels, button start rather than a key, and a trip computer between the analogue gauges, with a digital speedo.
The cabin is really well made, tactile and has thoughtful touches such as an Auto Hold system with an electric parking brake. There’s also a heap of cabin storage options, and a more commanding driving position than is common.
In the negative column is the infotainment. We live in a world now where the bare minimum expectation even in a sub-$20K car is becoming a large touchscreen. Instead, the base Qashqai gets a non-touch 5.0-inch unit surrounded by dust-drawing black plastic and buttons.
There’s also no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and the reversing camera display is obviously smaller than average.
We will commend the system for one thing though: the Bluetooth re-paired up rapidly without fail, making its use seamless. In other words, it looks crap but works. Still, the ST-L’s 7.0-inch screen really should be the bare minimum.
To the back seats. The Qashqai is also significantly more practical than a Kona or CX-3. It’s about 20cm longer than some rivals in the class, its rear seats have excellent head room and leg room even for tall adults, and the side windows are easy to see out. All four are also one-touch.
There are ISOFIX child seat attachments and rear airbags. The back seats fold pretty flat to quadruple the cargo space from 430L to 1600L.
It’s worth noting, though, that even the super-practical Qashqai can’t quite defeat the Honda HR-V’s so-called Magic Seats, which fold flatter and lower. There’s also only a space-saver spare wheel, which is de rigueur these days.
Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine producing 106kW of power and 200Nm of torque, and enough to move the 1400kg crossover to 100km/h in around 10 seconds. Nothing in this class is a speed demon.
The Qashqai is front-wheel drive only, like the Honda, and uses a continuously variable transmission with a slick leather shifter. Nissan does CVTs quite well. It’s actually less intrusive than many, suiting an engine with peak torque only on tap from 4400rpm.
Just puttering around town or sitting at 1800rpm and 100km/h is in this car’s wheelhouse. The factory fuel use claim is a reasonable 6.9L/100km of 91 RON fuel on the combined cycle.
The Nissan can also be had with a six-speed manual gearbox for $2500 less if you fancy shifting your own cogs. Maybe you’re a UK expat?
Nissan has also made some revisions to the way the Qashqai drives as part of the 2018 update. The company’s engineers re-tuned the dampers and spring rates, and stiffened the anti-roll bar to improve body control/impact absorption.
It also tuned in a little more steering resistance around centre, added damping to stop kickbacks and vibration through the wheel, and fitted systems that brake individual wheels during cornering and direct torque flow to improve cornering.
The fundamentals comprise multi-link rear suspension (some rivals have cheaper torsion beams) and struts up the front.
The Qashqai ST remains an amenable urban companion on its 17-inch wheels shod in good quality, grippy and quiet Continental tyres. Higher-grade Qashqais’ 18s/19s take the edge off, of course.
The steering is feel-free but easy to twirl around, the ride quality is pretty good aside from the odd hints of ‘business’ over low-amplitude rutted surfaces, the body control is fine – the springs are soft, yet any lateral movement is minimal – and noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are deadened by thicker glass and more seals.
It’s a far more amenable cruising companion than the noisy Mazda CX-3.
Nissan’s warranty has a three-year/100,000km term, which is inferior to many rivals with five years (Honda, Hyundai and Mitsubishi). The Qashqai’s servicing intervals are only 10,000km, with the first three visits capped at a reasonable $224, $298 and $224.
A quick look at the 2018 Nissan Qashqai ST has reinforced our respect for this car. It's exceptionally well made, and unlike a number of small crossover SUVs, it's also practical enough for family life or empty-nester adventures.
It's still not the most engaging thing to drive, but it's comfortable and predictable, and fit for purpose in much the same way as Honda's no-nonsense HR-V.
At the same time it's too expensive at base level, as we hope this review conveyed earlier. We'd expect Nissan to start doing campaign drive-away pricing once the gloss of this MY18 upgrade begins to wear a few months down the track.
Also consider using Nissan's finance company, which often has very keen 1 per cent interest deals on offer. This would make a Qashqai ST-L with its better touchscreen, slicker looks and extra luxury touches all the more alluring.