THE HARD-FOUGHT bat­tle­ground of the small SUV is lit­tered with cars vy­ing for your at­ten­tion, and it’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to offer a unique en­trant, es­pe­cially at the lower end of the price spec­trum.

The UK-built Nis­san Qashqai ST does things dif­fer­ently, though, pre­sent­ing more like a medium SUV that ma­jors on prac­ti­cal­ity while also of­fer­ing the drive ex­pe­ri­ence of a more sub­stan­tial cross­over.

Each Qashqai in the range comes with a nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 2.0-litre four-cylin­der en­gine that pro­duces 106kW/200Nm. The $29,490 ST we have on test in­cludes a CVT, which is im­pres­sive in how it step­lessly ar­ranges the ap­pro­pri­ate revs to keep things near the mod­est sum­mit of the power curve. Even then it’s the equal slow­est-ac­cel­er­at­ing car on test, high­light­ing the fact that – in this 1375kg cross­over at least – there just aren’t enough herbs in that 2.0-litre unit to go around. On the flip­side, al­though it’s one of the big­ger cars here, the Qashqai re­turned a re­spectable 8.6L/100km fuel con­sump­tion av­er­age, aided by the un­doubted ef­fi­ciency of that CVT.

De­spite be­ing one of the larger SUVs in this par­tic­u­lar class, the ST still offers a keen change of di­rec­tion and is easy to ma­noeu­vre about town thanks to light (though life­less) steer­ing and a fairly wide track. How­ever, there’s not much in the way of a fun steer to be had and the Nis­san dis­played a par­tic­u­larly late ESC in­ter­ven­tion a num­ber of times on test, es­pe­cially over gravel where we rated it as the worst.

Its lack of dy­namic prow­ess is com­pen­sated by a well-pack­aged and prac­ti­cal in­te­rior with qual­ity touch­points. A quite lovely flat­bot­tomed, leather-wrapped steer­ing wheel fea­tures clear con­trols, and the in­stru­ment clus­ter con­tains a neat colour dis­play show­ing driv­ing data and a dig­i­tal speed read­out (un­like the Suzuki Vi­tara) be­tween the speedome­ter and tacho.

There’s a com­mand­ing driv­ing po­si­tion and the ride qual­ity is fairly sup­ple, even with four adults on board. Those sit­ting in the back are also well catered for in terms of space, with de­cent leg and head room, as well as space to tuck in feet, but some­thing that may an­noy taller peo­ple is the low-mounted seat base which has knees wav­ing about in space. Plus, while road noise is mostly kept in check, there’s a de­gree of re­ver­ber­a­tion in the sec­ond row which can grate on longer drives.

The rear pews aren't quite as lux­u­ri­ous as those up front, ei­ther. The door cards are hard and the black plas­tic door han­dles aren’t the nicest to use. There's also a gap­ing hole in the cen­tre con­sole bin where rear air vents would re­side in higher-spec vari­ants.

The in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem on our base Nis­san strug­gled to con­nect to a phone through Blue­tooth and the sys­tem it­self is far from the most in­tu­itive of this group thanks to clumsy menus and poor graph­ics.

While the Qashqai is not as clev­erly pack­aged as the Honda HR-V, there’s no short­age of space. The boot which is a ca­pa­cious 430 litres – one of the largest in this seg­ment.

Con­sid­er­ing its $29,490 spend, it’s hard to ex­cuse some of the Qashqai’s weaker points, such as the in­fo­tain­ment, and the drive it offers is not suf­fi­ciently en­gag­ing to com­pen­sate. How­ever, its roomy in­te­rior and the bold state­ment its ex­ter­nal di­men­sions make on-road en­sure it re­tains ap­peal as an own­er­ship propo­si­tion.

Qashqai’s small-big SUV pro­por­tions will res­onate with val­ue­seek­ing con­sumers

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