First Drive: Nissan Qashqai

The Qashqai has been a spectacularly successful vehicle for Nissan, selling nearly three times more than expected, with the Japanese firm shifting an ever-increasing number every year.

Single-handedly responsible for inventing the C-segment crossover, the Qashqai has attracted competition from no less than 14 rivals since it came along in 2007, outselling each and every one of them.

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That success creates huge expectations for the new model, but Nissan has wisely chosen evolution rather than revolution, avoiding alienating their loyal customers while also trying to entice new buyers to the brand.

This means that the new model gets a new look to the exterior, with bolder lines and sharper edges sitting behind a ‘V’ grille surrounded by distinctive headlights with integrated LED running lights.

The second generation Qashqai sits on a new platform that stretches the car by 47mm (4379mm), adds 20mm to the width (1800mm), but reduces the height by 15mm (1590mm), leaving the Qashqai with a smarter, more aggressive stance.

Under the bonnet lies the new 115PS 1.2 litre turbocharged petrol, revised 110PS 1.5 litre diesel or currently range-topping 1.6 diesel, producing 130PS. A 163PS petrol engine will join the range in September to offer a little extra performance for those after a bit more grunt.

Nissan Qashqai 2014 Front FrontSeatDriver.co.ukPower goes through a six-speed manual gearbox across all models, with an Xtronic CVT gearbox available on the larger diesel. This tries hard to hide the traditional CVT rubber-band effect by introducing gear change-replicating steps under hard acceleration. The effect masks the droning rise in engine revs found in many CVT cars, but the whine remains on slight inclines and gentler acceleration.

The 1.6 litre engine option can also be mated to a four-wheel drive system for when conditions get a little rough, but this is certainly no off-roader. It also comes with a weight penalty, with the placement of heavy driveshafts under the car also requiring a change to bulkier multi-link suspension at the rear.

Four trim levels are available, with even the entry 1.2 Visia model (£17,995) coming fitted with Bluetooth connectivity, air conditioning, cruise control, tyre pressure monitoring and a 5-inch entertainment screen.

Rising through Acenta and Acenta Premium, the range is topped by the 1.6d 4WD Tekna at £27,845, which adds goodies such as bi-LED headlights, full leather interior and Nissan’s Safety Shield pack to the mix.

Nissan Qashqai 2014 Rear Right FrontSeatDriver.co.uk

The safety pack adds a 360-degree camera pack to the car, with moving object detection alerting the driver to hidden pedestrians walking by. Blind spot warning adds to the lane keeping assist fitted, while a driver alert system monitors you behind the wheel and suggests when it might be time to take a break.

Step inside and you’re greeted with an interior that could have been lifted from any of the so-called premium manufacturers, such is the quality of materials and construction. Seats inspired by NASA prove incredibly comfortable over a few hundred miles, while the seating position and switchgear layout makes life behind the wheel easy.

The touchscreen works well for controlling the sat-nav and other ancillary functions, but Nissan hasn’t fallen into the trap of shifting everything to a multiple level menu system, so the fascia still has simple dials for temperature control and audio volumes. Steering wheel mounted controls add an extra degree of ease, with clear and simple buttons for the radio, telephone and cruise control.

Nissan Qashqai 2014 Interior FrontSeatDriver.co.ukImpressively, despite the reduction in height of the vehicle, there’s actually more headroom available front and rear while the boot grows an extra 20 litres from the outgoing model. The boot itself is an engineering marvel, with hidden shortage, multiple floors, cubby holes and dividers all available to create the perfect storage space.

All of this counts for nothing if the car is a poor drive though, but fortunately Nissan’s engineers have been working hard there.

Thrashing round the roads of Madrid, it’s clear the Qashqai is not a car to set the pulse racing, with the 1.6 diesel engine offering the swiftest 0-62mph time (10.5s).

However, the 1.5 diesel strikes the best balance of just-enough power and impressive 74.3mpg economy and 99g/km CO2 emissions. Progress is just about acceptable rather than exceptional, but the relaxed style of driving the lack of power forces on you shows off the chassis to its best.

Trick suspension damping separates and isolates different road surfaces, allowing the Qashqai to almost float over rough B-roads as well as it does across smooth motorway tarmac, feeling as refined as anything coming from Germany.

Nissan Qashqai 2014 Rear Cornering FrontSeatDriver.co.ukIt’s an impressive feat that underlines the work that’s gone in to this car. However, while the 19-inch wheels fitted to the Tekna spec models fill the wheel arches nicely, it is at the expense of some ride quality.

It continues to inspire confidence at all times though, gripping tenaciously when asked to, despite overly assisted steering, and always keeps the sounds and sensations of the outside world well isolated. Upsetting its road manners is difficult, and requires a level of heavy-handed abuse it’s unlikely to experience in the real world.

That the Qashqai offers a first class driving experience, with top-notch quality and design combined with healthy fuel economy and tax avoiding CO2 figures is impressive. The fact it does this at a low price and while well equipped is remarkable.

What few flaws exist are easily overlooked in a car that offers such competence in every area. The original Qashqai was the clear market leader throughout its lifetime, and there’s no reason not to expect its successor to repeat that success.

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Phil Huff

Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, DAD.info and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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