The UK-built Nissan Qashqai has been a top-seller for the Japanese brand for some time now, and the recent MY18 refresh aims to add to the stylish crossover's appeal.
We've already had a steer of the entry-level ST variant (you can read that review here), so this time around we're getting behind the wheel of the current range-topper, the 2018 Nissan Qashqai N-Tec – kicking off at $36,490 plus on-road costs.
Our tester is finished in 'Magnetic Red' metallic commanding a $550 premium – bringing the as-tested price to $37,040 before ORCs.
Why did I say 'current'? In July the Ti specification ($37,990) will arrive in local showrooms replacing the N-Tec and adding some extra high-end equipment – more on that in a moment.
For now, the N-Tec distinguishes itself from models lower in the range through the inclusion of stylish 19-inch wheels, adaptive full-LED headlights, a fixed panoramic glass sunroof, automatic wipers, ambient interior lighting and dual-zone climate control.
The N-Tec is also the only Qashqai variant available locally with driver-assistance systems like blind-spot monitoring, automated parking assistant, high-beam assist and intelligent driver-attention monitoring – it's not even an option on the ST or ST-L.
Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and lane-departure warning are already standard across the MY18 range as part of the mid-life refresh, but we'll have to wait for the Ti model to get adaptive cruise control and lane assist due to a global production delay.
Other features carried over from lower grades include a 360-degree camera system, a 7.0-inch touchscreen navigation system, heated front seats, partial leather-accented trim, front and rear parking sensors, along with keyless entry and start.
So, for some premium coin you get a fair bit of kit – though we'd argue the Ti will make more sense from a value perspective considering it will add the aforementioned driver-assistance systems and plush Nappa leather trim.
In saying that, the N-Tec is priced at the pointy end of the small SUV segment in Australia, not only duking it out with top-spec versions of mainstream rivals like the Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR, but also entry-level iterations of premium offerings like the Audi Q2, BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA.
Based on looks, Nissan's small crossover remains one of the more conventional and handsome offerings in a segment full of polarising designs. The revised LED head- and tail-lights give the Qashqai a rather classy look, aided by the huge 19-inch wheels and unique rear bumper treatment reserved for the N-Tec and Ti variants.
Speaking of the headlights, the new model features large daytime-running lights that double up as indicators, which add to a more premium look.
Where the Qashqai counters most of its rivals is with its superior practicality, featuring cabin that is more than spacious enough for four adults and their kit.
The boot is rated at 430L with the second row in place, expanding to 1598L with the rear bench folded. In terms of volume, the Qashqai is only bettered by the Honda HR-V in the small SUV class (437L/1462L) with the rear seats up.
Speaking of the cabin, the MY18 refresh didn't shake things up too much, but the new flat-bottom steering wheel and revised finishes throughout the cabin are welcome changes. There's plenty of soft-touch materials on the dash and doors up front – thanks to its European focus – though rear passengers miss out on the same yielding surfaces. There are also no rear air vents, something that its larger X-Trail sibling addresses.
Other features include the swish red LED ambient lighting, though it's limited to the lower section of the centre console. Keen-eyed drivers will also appreciate the addition of a digital speedo function in the TFT display between the physical dials.
The front pews are nicely bolstered and offer good support during long drives, though there's a lack of differentiation from the ST-L grade in terms of trim – the Ti will bring fancy Nappa leather, though.
It feels pretty upmarket inside, however, our tester developed a small rattle in the driver's door.
In terms of infotainment, the 7.0-inch central touchscreen comes standard with satellite navigation and DAB+ digital radio, though smartphone mirroring tech like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto remains absent from the line-up. Nissan has told us, though, that these systems will be coming soon to Australian models – though we don't know which ones and exactly when, yet.
The interface does look a little dated and the screen itself sits a little low in the cabin, meaning drivers will have to take their eyes off the road to make inputs or change the station, but all in all it's definitely not the worst in the class. In fact, it's better than the set-up used by the Infiniti luxury brand.
Another annoyance is the fact that the panoramic roof is of the fixed variety, while also negating room for a sunglasses holder up front.
Rear passengers of the N-Tec will, however, appreciate the fold-out centre armrest with cupholders, something that isn't included in lower variants.
Out on the road, the updated Qashqai doesn't differ too much from the model it replaces – in the sense that it's rather inoffensive without being a standout in any one area.
Under the bonnet is the carryover 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine generating a modest 106kW of power at 6000rpm and 200Nm of torque at 4400rpm.
Drive is sent exclusively to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT) in N-Tec guise, though a six-speed manual remains an option in the entry-level ST.
Fans of diesels will be disappointed to know that the pre-update model's 96kW/320Nm 1.6-litre oiler has been dropped due to low sales.
If you're thinking the Qashqai's outputs sound mediocre, that's because they are. The lack of low-down oomph means the 2.0-litre mill has to constantly spin past 3000rpm to get anywhere reasonably quickly – not helped by the fact the N-Tec has a solid kerb weight of 1429kg – though around town you can get away with being light on the throttle.
The CVT does a relatively good job of keeping you in the power band, though at times it tries to act like a torque converter automatic by 'stepping' as if it has conventional gears. At times when it does this, it can drop the revs too low when approaching inclines, meaning it has to 'kick down' again and send the engine to 4000rpm and beyond – which can be a little annoying.
Once at speed, though, the engine settles into a quiet hum, sitting at just under 2000rpm at 100km/h. The lack of engine noise can somewhat amplify the presence of tyre roar, however.
Nissan says it has retuned the dampers and steering for improved ride comfort and steering feedback in the MY18 range, while also making improvements to noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels. There's less engine noise in all situations compared to the outgoing model, and wind noise is generally kept to a minimum – though windy days can see the large side mirrors generate a bit of a whistle.
CA founder Alborz Fallah noted that "despite sitting on 19-inch wheels shod in low-profile 225/45 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber, the Qashqai rides well enough. It settles well after a bump, but given the low profile tyre, it tends to jitter around on most surfaces with minor vibrations felt through the cabin.
"It's fair to say the N-Tec can get a little busy over smaller imperfections compared to lower-grade ST and ST-L models with smaller wheels. So whilst we love the look and design of the bigger wheels, no SUV in this size needs such low profile tyres without a more advanced suspension setup."
Additionally, tyre roar can get quite noticeable over coarser surfaces and is more apparent when compared to lesser grades with chubbier tyres.
On the flip side, those Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres offer good grip in the bends, aided by the Qashqai's composed body control. The steering, however, is rather floaty and lacks feedback, often requiring more lock than initially anticipated – though this can be improved somewhat by switching the steering mode to 'Sport' using the driver's display.
In saying that, the Qashqai feels nicely planted at all speeds, giving the solid and high-riding driving experience that many buyers want from an SUV. Despite being a 'small SUV', the Nissan drives like a larger car than it actually is, in a good way.
There were a couple of other niggles with the driving experience, though. Our tester's indicated speed seemed to be 6–8km/h higher than the actual speed, meaning you aren't quite doing the speed limit when you think you are, and the cruise control system doesn't really brake down hills – preferring to flash the speed at you on the TFT display, which is your prompt to hit the brakes.
Real-world fuel economy was decent during our three weeks with the car. After some 1300km of various driving conditions, favouring urban environments, the Qashqai returned an indicated 9.0L/100km. We did see mid- to high-8s with more freeway driving, and we reckon you could easily achieve high-6s and low-7s if you spend most of your time on the highway.
Nissan, meanwhile, claims the Qashqai uses 6.9L/100km on the combined cycle. With its surprisingly large 65-litre fuel tank, you can easily achieve 700km+ per fill in mixed driving – for reference, the larger X-Trail has a 60L tank.
The Qashqai's ownership program is another area where it remains average for the class. Nissan's three-year/100,000km warranty just can't match the five or seven years offered by companies like Hyundai, Honda and Kia.
Servicing is required every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever comes first, with the first three visits asking for $224, $298 and $224 respectively. Nissan's capped-price servicing scheme covers owners for the first six years or 120,000km.
All told, the Qashqai N-Tec reiterates why Nissan's small SUV is a sales favourite. It offers smart looks, a decent amount of kit, class-leading practicality and a more upmarket interior than its mainstream competitors.
On top of that, it has looks that appeal to more conservative types, is a capable highway tourer despite its relatively meek outputs, all while offering decent economy and running costs.
However, the top-shelf Nissan is let down by its expensive pricing, compromised ride quality, average powertrain and a temporary lack of certain driver-assist technologies.
We'd recommend waiting for the Ti to arrive in mid-2018 if you're willing to shell out on a top-spec Qashqai. But if that doesn't faze you, swapping the N-Tec's 19-inch wheels for the ST-L's 18s and chubbier tyres will give you a comfortable and practical all-rounder with most of the latest safety tech.
Is it the pick of the range? No. Pick of the class? Again, no. But, the Qashqai features a nicer cabin than its Japan-built X-Trail sibling, should you not require the extra space, and outdoes the majority of its rivals by legitimately being able to fit large humans and their stuff in the back.
While it may not be our pick of the range, the top-spec Qashqai remains a competitive and sensible offering for small SUV buyers who want something a little fancy.
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