HATCH IN SUV CLOTH­ING

QASHQAI EN­TICES WITH SAFETY TECH — AND SPORTIER RIDE

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - CRAIG DUFF

Nis­san is get­ting tough with the Qashqai com­pact SUV as it chases more than 1200 sales a month.

The soft-roader pre­vi­ously known as the Dualis has had a midlife makeover that is more about parts re­place­ment than cos­metic surgery.

Beyond the ex­pected frontal tweaks and a shiny new steer­ing wheel, the en­gi­neers have re­placed ev­ery sus­pen­sion com­po­nent with stronger, less bendy bits. The re­sult is im­proved road­hold­ing at the ex­pense of some of the mild man­ners for which that last ver­sion was known.

The diesel op­tion has been deleted in re­sponse to buy­ers’ dis­like of oil­burn­ers in this class, which ranges from the dy­namic abil­ity of the Mazda CX-3 and Volk­swa­gen Tiguan to the pri­ce­point rel­e­vance of the Mit­subishi ASX.

Newly ar­rived Nis­san Aus­tralia man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Stephen Lester says the Qashqai has to main­tain rel­e­vance as buy­ers’ tastes change.

“There’s not just one com­peti­tor as there was when the Dualis was brought into Aus­tralia (in 2008). There are now 28,” he says. “We’re com­pet­ing with the best of them and this car is a re­sponse to cus­tomer sur­veys that called for more tech­nol­ogy and a sportier ride.”

Nis­san Aus­tralia can’t clar­ify if that global re­quest was mir­rored by lo­cal own­ers. Given the last model tal­lied more than 38,000 sales since 2014, Nis­san can’t af­ford to get it wrong.

The other sig­nif­i­cant up­dates re­late to im­proved noise re­duc­tion and the in­clu­sion of au­tonomous emer­gency brak­ing and blindspot mon­i­tor­ing on the three spec lev­els. Nis­san ex­pects the sales split to be roughly equal.

Prices start at $26,490 plus on-roads for the ST, top­ping out at $37,990 for the Ti ver­sion. The lat­ter is due in the mid­dle of next year with the likes of adap­tive cruise con­trol and ac­tive lane keep­ing, where the car auto-steers to stay be­tween the lines. Re­vised front and rear bumpers add 17mm to the Qashqai’s length but width and height are un­changed.

ON THE ROAD

The steer­ing wheel is the first point of con­tact in the new Qashqai and it feels far more pre­mium than its pre­de­ces­sor. The but­tons are now flush with the wheel and not painted a plas­ti­cised low-rent chrome.

Sub­tle ad­just­ment to the in­te­rior qual­ity in­clude touch points in soft plas­tic. The in­fo­tain­ment set-up uses app-like tiles to make nav­i­ga­tion sim­pler for the smart­phone set.

The con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion has seven pre­sets to em­u­late a con­ven­tional au­to­matic and largely avoids the dreaded drone. It flares un­der hard ac­cel­er­a­tion be­tween 5250rpm-6000rpm but is far more re­served when driven up to city pace or when slow­ing.

Per­for­mance, as with most ve­hi­cles in this seg­ment, is good rather than great. The Qashqai’s nat­u­rally as­pi­rated en­gine gets se­ri­ous at about 4000rpm, which means the CVT has to match those lev­els to un­leash its top torque.

The sus­pen­sion has been over­hauled, from bushes to bump stops. Own­ers of pre­vi­ous

models wanted a firmer ride and Nis­san has obliged.

Roll bars, dampers and springs are thicker and the Qashqai con­se­quently sits like a sporty sedan more than an SUV — ex­ist­ing own­ers trad­ing up to the new ver­sions may need time to ad­just to this.

This car will get the jit­ters at low-speed over slight cor­ru­ga­tions where the out­go­ing ver­sion had a softer, more re­laxed ride that re­duced the bump im­pact but had more fore and aft cabin pitch­ing.

There is an up­side: the big­ger the hit, the bet­ter the Qashqai be­haves. The SUV tack­les big speed humps with aplomb and, even over a stretch of rim-crush­ing pot­holes, rides with­out ef­fort.

Nis­san has sharp­ened the steer­ing ra­tio to im­prove cor­ner­ing re­sponse and it has made the change of di­rec­tion marginally faster. Whether it re­turns to cen­tre any quicker is de­bat­able.

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