Nissan hasn’t been sitting on its hands with the Qashqai, which remains quite popular with buyers in the highly competitive small-SUV/crossover segment. Part of the 2020 touch-up for the now six-year-old generation is the introduction of a new variant in the 2020 Nissan Qashqai N-Sport.
The N-Sport is based off the mid-spec ST-L version and, as its name suggests, brings a sportier twist to the Qashqai stable, and it does so almost entirely in fresh aesthetics.
While we’ve covered off the wider 2020 range updates here, the crux of this N-Sport version is that it adds larger 19-inch wheels (against the ST-L’s 18s) together with body-coloured bumpers, wheel arches and side skirts, plus it brings a smattering of silver-painted highlights outside, as well as black headlining inside the cabin.
Yes, it’s almost wholly an appearance pack. There’s nothing else bar, perhaps, one-inch-larger wheels and 10mm-wider (225mm) tyres that looks as if it might impact the on-road experience.
The new look isn’t complimentary. At $35,000 list, the N-Sport effect will dip $1000 further into your hip pocket than the current ST-L ($34K) does.
There’s also exclusivity as a dangling carrot of sorts. Nissan Australia is only offering 600 examples of this 'limited edition', making it a rare bird in a range menagerie that found 11,600 homes in 2019. That said, given there’s a new-generation replacement due next year, the entire current-range life expectancy could be viewed as somewhat limited.
No, it’s a bit early for final run-outs just yet, and the N-Sport sweetener isn’t a case of offering more gear for the same money to improve value. It hopes to be a better looking, more appealing Qashqai that you’ll pay extra for, within a range that remains handsomely priced for its advancing age.
Looks and appeal are both highly subjective. They ordinarily don’t – and some argue, shouldn’t – figure in critical review. But when a new variant asks for a premium for only styling changes, surely that overarching pitch is tantamount to the assessment process.
The 19-inch rims, with their appealing bevelled-edge spokes, are quite upmarket. Meanwhile, the body-colour wheel arches, in lieu of the usual black stuff, are a design trick to make any body style appear to sit relatively lower.
The combined upshot is that the N-Sport appears a little more ‘crossover’ and slightly less ‘jacked-up SUV’ in net visual effect. Add to this the other subtle exterior styling tweaks and the N-Sport is, arguably at least, the freshest-looking version of a range that was already refreshed, nip-and-tuck face-lift style, at the end of 2017.
But it’s a mixed bag in overall effect. For a start, the low-profile rubber does make the 19-inch rolling stock appear strangely undersized, at least to this observer’s eyes. The jacked-up ride height and gaping wheel clearance seem at adds with the look those big rims and painted arches are trying to achieve.
It’s not a bad look, but the styling is no more convincingly cohesive and well integrated than you’d expect a lick of paint and bolting on a set of wheels would be. Beauty. Eye. Beholder. I imagine a good many buyers will consider the N-Sport fetching and well worth the thousand-buck splurge.
The rest of the package is surprise-free. The Qashqai’s appeal has long been anchored off decent spaciousness and favourable practicality, with external proportions that look substantial on the outside and feel equally so from behind the wheel. Its impact is larger than its actual size, which brings with it a certain feel-good factor in perception of worth and safety in heft.
It’s not unusually large for its class, and no physically bigger than key competitors such as the Kia Seltos – give or take a few millimetres here and there.
On the topic of size, it’s worth noting that if size is a priority, then it’s a $3700 step up to the ($38,700 list) mid-sized X-Trail five-seater in similar N-Sport grade.
The Qashqai’s $36K ask is quite handsome money for a small SUV adopting front drive and the Nissan range’s modestly outputted 106kW and 200Nm 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder powertrain.
There are plenty of options out there with more advanced and torquier turbocharged engines, as well as all-wheel-drive alternatives on a similar budget. The flipside to this is that, given the 2.0-litre/CVT/front-drive powertrain format, perhaps the equipment list should be a little more fulsome at this pricepoint than it is.
So, you get halogen rather than LED highlights, regular air-con instead of proper climate control, passive rather than active cruise control, and you miss out on gear both instrumental (no lane-keeping intervention) and incidental (no electric front passenger seat adjustment).
You’ll need to fork out an extra $3490 for the flagship Ti version to get all the bells and whistles, though the N-Sport does cover off most essentials, which includes safety kits such as AEB, lane-departure and blind-spot-alert systems.
Inside, the N-Sport has decent appeal, if in a design that’s really starting to show its age.
The real highlights are the neat, leather-bound, flat-bottom steering wheel, the soft double-stitched touchpoints on the armrest and centre console, and the impressively comfortable cloth and leather-accented seats. All with a nice sporty vibe that, seats apart, doesn’t depart from other range variants by much measure.
Presentation and material choice are good in conspicuous areas, and all of the controls and switches, while hardly the last word in slickness, are clear and easy to use and navigate. Ditto the driver’s instrumentation, including a large digital speedo in the central screen. And while there are numerous storage cubbies along the console, they are small, pokey and not terribly useful for large phones, wallets and other personal addenda you’d want to use them for.
Infotainment, too, is packaged inside a 7.0-inch touchscreen that looks a little undercooked in 2020, though it does bundle a decent variety of content such as rudimentary sat-nav, DAB+ and CarPlay/Android smartphone mirroring.
While the inclusion of a 360-degree camera system is admirable, the display view is so small and fish-eyed to render it virtually useless. Thankfully, the N-Sport fits front and rear sensors to serve as primary parking aids.
Row two is less convincing in execution and effort than row one, if mostly because it features little in the way of convenience beyond a pair of armrest cupholders.
There are no rear air vents – a big markdown for any family hauler – and no available power source for devices. Head and shoulder room are fine, and knee room is adequate as a four-adult prospect, though it’s generally quite dark and with its high window line it’s almost claustrophobic accommodation.
At 430L with the second row in play, the Qashqai mightn’t have the largest numeric boot space in its class, but it’s generously proportioned in practice and features a nice, deep floor area in spite of the fitment of a full-sized spare wheel underneath. The 60:40 split-fold rear seatbacks convert to a maximum cargo capacity of 1598L, which is pretty handy indeed.
Not great, not terrible, then. And this just about sums up how the Qashqai performs on-road.
Of the Nissan/Renault-sourced powertrains available on the global menu, this 106kW and 200Nm naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder paired with a CVT and front-drive only, adopted throughout our local range, isn’t the finest, smartest or lustiest option available.
We’d love to try this crossover with one of the torquier, small-capacity turbocharged heartbeats offered elsewhere, but for this generation at least, we’re stuck with the current make-do format and the Qashqai feels hamstrung too often because of it.
At times, the on-tap verve seems fine enough. Too often, though, you get short-changed when you want more. On a flat road pedalled without much vigour, this powertrain can be quiet, refined and willing enough to keep wheels in motion. But when faced with a hill or getting a move on, the Qashqai suddenly and quite vocally struggles to get the job done with much dignity.
The CVT regularly attempts to spin the engine in the direction of its 4400rpm torque peak. It’s always a monotonic ruckus doing so, yet only returns the desired shove some of the time. Even one-up, without passenger or luggage.
It takes well over 10 seconds to reach double figures – leisurely acceleration that’s mildly frustrating at best, but more concerning if you need some decent thrust to get you and your loved ones out of harm’s way. Most frustrating, though, is that there’s virtually no correspondence between how much throttle you use and actual change in on-road velocity.
Needless to say, this powertrain certainly doesn’t put the ‘sport’ in N-Sport. Consumption-wise, its 8.9L/100km average we saw during mostly urban driving is respectable, if nothing like the advertised 6.9L/100km combined-cycle best, though one plus is that it happily drinks cheapo 91RON fuel.
The entire Qashqai range fits a trio of 'intelligent' chassis control systems: Trace Control, Engine Brake and Ride Control. The first two systems use individual wheel braking and deceleration through engine RPM control to facilitate smoother, more natural cornering with less driver effort. Their tangible effects are perhaps too subtle to detect from behind the wheel, as perhaps they should be, but there’s certainly nothing strange or hamstrung about how the Qashqai negotiates the curves.
Intelligent Ride Control isn’t, as you might presume, adaptive suspension damping smarts, but instead a feature that controls engine torque and wheel braking pressure to enhance ride comfort… Somehow. And it does so, apparently, at speeds above 40km/h.
The tangible reality is that the ride is decent if unremarkable. There’s quite a bit of pliancy to the chassis, and the suspension does absorb big hits, but it’s just a bit too fidgety at all urban speeds, complete with a little too much ‘knock’ or noise across the front axle. It’s not firm, per se, just busy.
Nor does it return much in the way of control, be it how the suspension handles the body mass or how it responds to driver inputs, to warrant association with the word ‘sport’ in its namesake. There’s certainly nothing, technical or otherwise, to suggest the ride and handling balance is any different to that of the flagship Ti (which also rides on 19-inch wheels and 225mm tyres).
Ownership-wise, the five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with five years of roadside assistance is quite enticing and, at the time of writing, Nissan is offering three years of complimentary servicing thrown in for good measure. Servicing is on a 12-month/10,000km schedule with intervals priced between $226 and $467 per visit, averaging out to just over $308 (including mandatory brake fluid changes) per year when calculated across the entirety of Nissan’s six-year price-capped schedule.
Is the new N-Sport worth a look-in? As an aesthetic and therefore emotional pitch, it’s really down to the buyer as to whether this appearance pack warrants an extra thousand bucks outlay.
But whether you look up (Ti) or down (ST-L) the range, the Qashqai is beginning to look a little overpriced and somewhat undercooked against newcomers such as the Kia Seltos, as we saw in our recent twin test. You could, and should, drive a harder bargain than the list pricing suggests, and it’s worth keeping an eye out for drive-away deals on any variant.
There’s still enough goodness in the Qashqai to maintain its relevancy in small-SUV circles, but its advancing age is becoming ever more conspicuous. It could do with more of a pricing haircut, or a boost in the equipment-value quotient, to make it a properly desirable bargain in the year or so interim before an all-new generation is slated to arrive.