REVIEW DATE: 23 Feb 2010
Nissan's Qashqai has caused a few heads to be scratched. The 2.0 diesel model makes things a little clearer. Andy Enright takes a look
Perhaps we should have seen vehicles like the Qashqai coming a while back when Nissan decided not to replace the Almera with anything directly comparable. That was one of the first signs that the Japanese company was ditching the traditional family hatch market and moving into producing more 'lifestyle' choices amongst its vehicle portfolio. The slow-selling Primera wasn't doing much for the company's bottom line and so it has devoted its attention to cars like the Qashqai, the 370Z, the Pathfinder and the X-Trail. Financial reports look like that's been a smart move.
The Qashqai in particular is fascinating, Nissan having produced a car that sits amid a range of big 4x4s yet acts as an articulate riposte to any all-wheel-drive backlash. The diesel version we look at here boasts the ride height of a 4x4 and the same feeling of security allied to a choice of all-wheel-drive or conventional front-wheel drive and a body that's manageably sized. Could it just be too clever for its own good though?
The 2.0-litre dCi engine generates 150bhp at 4,000rpm and a healthy 320Nm of torque at 2,000rpm. Co-developed by Renault and Nissan, the engine is decently refined yet not slow to deliver its mid-range performance. Nissan hasn't skimped when it comes to transmissions, the Qashqai 2.0 dCi being supplied with either a six-speed manual box or a six-speed auto option.
The Qashqai drives in an assured manner on the road and feels more like a conventional family hatchback that a 4x4 with its supple suspension and absence of body roll. The latest cars have revised suspension settings to improve things further in this area and refinement that's boosted by multi-layer insulation in the front bulkhead and a special soundproof windscreen.
The ALL-MODE 4x4 system is available for an extra payment over the base price. This is an electronic system which automatically engages four-wheel drive the moment a loss of traction is detected. It offers more safety and security in extreme weather on the road. Nissan makes no bones of the fact that the Qashqai is anything but an off-roader, citing its lack of ground clearance. What precludes it from tackling rutted tracks makes it a better car on the blacktop, the hunkered down centre of gravity giving the Nissan the driving dynamics of a typical family hatch.
"It's a vehicle that's judged the public mood perfectly"
The Qashqai, in reality, is somewhere between an all-wheel drive-orientated family hatchback and a road-orientated compact 4x4. And, it incorporates MPV-style practicalities as well. Like many rivals, the Qashqai offers the choice of a two or a four-wheel-drive platform, the front-wheel drive model being perfectly adequate for 95% of customer's requirements. In case you were wondering where the wacky name came from, it's pronounced 'kash-kai' and is named after a desert-dwelling nomadic tribe from South Western Iran.
A more aggressive frontal styling treatment marks out the latest Qashqai from its pre-facelift forbear. It wasn't merely an exercise in reshaping the headlights and grille either, bonnet, bumper, grille, headlamps and wings all got the treatment. Around the back, little has changed aside from subtle aerodynamic tweaks and LED lights. The cabin gains a revised instrument cluster with a trip computer display in that illuminates in white and a couple of extra storage options.
For larger families, there's the option of a Qashqai+2 seven-seater model. Here, the doors have been redesigned and the side windows are bigger, as is the rear tailgate window, making the back feel anything but claustrophobic. The middle row of seats splits 40/40/40 and the backrest reclines to no fewer than nine adjustment positions. The back row of seats is designed for kids or adults up to 1.6m (5'3"), the seats fold 50/50 and can be folded away simply by pulling a strap. When folded down there's a massive 500 litres of stowage space, and the rear hatch is both wider and has a lower loading sill than the standard Qashqai model.
Trim levels run from Visia through Acenta to N-Tec and Tekna but there are quite a dizzying range of variants depending on whether you want auto or manual gearboxes, five or seven seats, sat nav or just a dog eared A-Z or whether you want to fork out for all-wheel-drive or stick with power going to the front pair of wheels only. Even the Visia models are well appointed with ESP stability control, 16-inch alloy wheels, a CD stereo with four speakers, Bluetooth compatibility on the audio system, air conditioning and a drive computer. Trade up to Acenta and you get features such as rain sensing wipers, cruise control, rear parking sensors, a better stereo and 17-inch alloys. N-Tec gets you the Nissan Connect sat nav system while Tekna models add leather upholstery, funky interior mood lighting, heated front seats and xenon headlights.
There's little doubt that the Qashqai will find ready buyers when the time comes to sell as it seems to have struck a chord with British customers looking for a socially responsible alternative to the usual 'Chelsea tractor.' The front wheel drive cars are in even hotter demand than the four-wheel drive models as a result.
The front-wheel drive model with the manual gearbox returns 42.8mpg. To give you an idea of how easy it is to dent this once all-wheel drive comes into the equation, the automatic 4x4 car gets a mere 36.2mpg. The same goes for carbon dioxide emissions. Where the 2wd manual car emits a reasonable 174g/km, the 4x4 automatic isn't anything like so saintly at 208g/km.
When it comes to buying a Qashqai, you've got to box clever. Buying the all-wheel-drive variant is, to not put too fine a point on it, a bit of a waste of time. It doesn't possess any real off-road ability, it puts a dent in the fuel economy figures and may be of benefit on the odd snowy day but the rest of the year it'll mean hauling around some largely redundant mechanicals. Save yourself the bother and go for a front-wheel drive model, with a manual 'box for mixed driving and an auto 'box if you're going to be stuck in the city for much of the time.
The Qashqai 2.0dCi is a brilliant city scoot, being tall enough to spot a gap, narrow enough to fit through it and short enough to park once you get where you're going. It's also decently economical and doesn't draw the wrong sort of attention. I can see why Nissan sell every one of the 700 they make per day. It's a vehicle that's judged the public mood perfectly.
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