Improvements to Nissan's second generation Qashqai Crossover make like even more difficult for this model's host of imitators. The experts at Car & Driving take a look
Ten Second Review
The latest Nissan Qashqai is sleeker, feels more expensive inside and offers some of the most sophisticated electronic safety technology in the mid-sized Crossover segment. As before, there's a choice of two diesel and two petrol engines, front or all wheel drive and manual or Xtronic automatic transmissions. Make no mistake, this is a much improved version of Nissan's hugely popular contender.
Some automotive success stories are easy to predict. We all knew that the Audi R8 was a winner as soon as we drove it. Likewise, the Fiat 500 couldn't possibly fail once it made it to the showrooms virtually unchanged from the fantastic Trepiuno show car. But the Nissan Qashqai? That this unprepossessing vehicle should rack up some huge sales came right out of left field.
Its predecessor, the Almera, could have been a synonym for mediocrity. Nissan played a really smart move though. They tore up the established supermini/family hatch/family saloon rulebook and started flooding the market with crossovers and SUVs. Some, like the Murano and the Pathfinder, never gelled with the public. Others, such as the X-Trail and the Juke, hit the targets. Then there was the Qashqai, which in 2007 found itself challenging the biggest-selling hatchbacks in the sales charts. A second generation version was launched in 2013 and this car has since been tweaked and upgraded to keep it competitive against an army of mid-sized Crossover rivals. It's these updates that we're going to consider here.
On the face of things, not much has changed in terms of drive dynamics, though Nissan insists that under the skin, modifications to the suspension, damping and steering systems have resulted in a more refined on-the-road experience, plus refinement's better too. As before, buyers can choose between front and four-wheel drive versions. The front-wheel drive cars get a cheaper torsion beam rear suspension set-up, while those with All-Mode 4x4 get a more sophisticated independent rear suspension. The calibration has been performed in Europe to suit European tastes. Whether you choose front or rear wheel drive, the Qashqai benefits from Active Trace Control which monitors the behaviour and trajectory of the car, and applies subtle braking to deliver a function similar to a Limited Slip Differential, providing the best traction and the least understeer. There's also a dual mode steering system which changes the weighting of the electrically-assisted rack when you select the Sport setting.
As ever, buyers get the choice of two downsized petrol engines and two turbodiesels. The petrol units comprise an 115 PS 1.2-litre DIG-T powerplant that drives through a six-speed manual box or a 1.6-litre 163PS DIG-T engine. Most customers will doubtless be drawn to the diesels and here, there's a choice between a 1.5-litre dCi co-developed with Renault, good for 110PS, and benefiting from a revision of the engine's internals to improve refinement. Or the 130PS 1.6-litre dCi unit that is offered in either two or four-wheel drive guises. This engine is also sold with the Xtronic transmission, a stepped CVT gearbox.
Design and Build
As part of this model's mid-term package of upgrades, it gets a smarter look featuring a completely revised front end, including the latest Nissan 'V-motion' grille. The headlamps have also been revised with a new version of the 'boomerang' Daytime Running Light signature. At the rear, the car's instantly recognisable 'boomerang' light motif is extended across the whole lamp, and now includes a contemporary 3D lens effect to enhance the signature shape.
There are changes in the cabin too, where an improved layout, higher-quality materials and more advanced technology feature. The 'NissanConnect' infotainment system features a smarter user interface and also new is a D-shaped multi-function steering wheel with premium satin-chrome inserts. It features a new four-way controller for the combimeter display, for more intuitive use and less 'eyes off the road' time.
The new range-topping Tekna+ grade includes new seats trimmed in high-quality soft nappa leather and a new option for music fans is a BOSE seven-speaker premium sound system. Practicality is as good as ever, with reasonable space in the back and decent headroom thanks to a relatively low seat height in the back. Boot space is 430-litres and load space flexibility is enhanced by a dual-floor system designed to provide a flexible and versatile load space.
Market and Model
Prices start at around £19,000 and stretch to almost £30,000 for the range-topping all-wheel drive version. Upon closer inspection of this improved Qashqai, most would agree that this is a reasonable ask given the higher quality finish. The trim walk-up shouldn't spark too many surprises either, starting with Visia grade and finishing with a new, plusher Tekna+ variant at the top of the range. Even the entry-level model gets a decent bash at the equipment list, being furnished with cruise control, a stereo with USB and Bluetooth, heated body-coloured mirrors, air conditioning, stop/start and hill start assist. It also gets the usual safety features like ESP stability control, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and front, side and curtain airbags.
Safety-wise, there's an 'Intelligent Emergency Braking' system that features Pedestrian Recognition, plus 'Rear Cross Traffic Alert', to mitigate the risk of low-speed impacts when reversing out of a parking space, is now available on Qashqai for the first time. The car continues to be offered with Traffic Sign Recognition, Driver Attention Alert, Intelligent Park Assist, Intelligent Around View Monitor, Blind Spot Warning and Lane Departure Warning. And buyers will now be offered the option of 'ProPILOT' autonomous drive capability. Controlling the steering, acceleration and braking in a single lane on highways, this will provide consumers with more control of their vehicle and a more confident drive, plus greater freedom when they want it, whether during heavy traffic congestion or high-speed cruising.
Cost of Ownership
The 1.2-litre DIG-T petrol engine manages 129g/km and 50.4mpg while the more powerful 1.6-litre DIG-T petrol unit also records 50.4mpg with emissions rated at 132g/km. The 1.5-litre dCi diesel is the engine to choose if you feel that fuel station pasties and chocolate bars are sabotaging your fitness regime. This gets 74.3 miles per gallon - and the 1.6-litre diesel isn't that much worse. Here you get 119g/km and 61.4mpg if you go for a manual front-wheel drive version, with an equivalent four-wheel drive car registering 129g/km and 57.6mpg.
As well as fitting stop/start systems, reducing engine frictional losses, optimising gear ratios and reducing weight where possible, Nissan has also devoted a great deal of attention to the Qashqai's aerodynamics. With a drag co-efficient of 0.32, it cleaves the air very well for a relatively high vehicle. From the elements on show such as the roof spoiler with winglets, to those hidden away like the flat floor design, there's some clever thinking at work here. Another innovation is the Active Grille Shutter system. This closes off airflow through the radiator when not needed. The grille shutter automatically shuts at speeds over 20mph and only opens if sensors detect that the engine needs cooling.
We think Nissan has judged this one perfectly. Time and again the company has been correct in predicting customer demand and having a product right there. That's not about to change.
It's worth noting that of all the Qashqai variants that are being offered to the UK public, only two feature all-wheel drive. This is a car that no longer purports to be anything remotely off-road at all. Instead, it's a model that plugs in to what buyers want, offering lifestyle looks, cutting-edge technology and an efficient ownership proposition. Even in these hard times, Nissan realises that a new car purchase needs to come with a dose of feel-good factor - perhaps now more than ever in fact. Given that reality, this Qashqai looks set to cash in.