Sharpens up its act for Mk3 model
You’ll struggle to find a bigger British automotive success story than the Qashqai. Designed, developed and built in the UK, it has been a three-million-selling smash hit in the sales charts since the original made its debut in 2006 and transformed the family car template.
When that first Qashqai arrived 15 years ago, it essentially existed in a class of one. Now, however, it faces more than 30 rivals offering a similarly Suv-infused shtick. It’s still the number one player in the C-SUV segment, making up 10% of sales in the UK, but Nissan knows it can’t rest on its laurels for this all-new third-generation machine.
Despite what’s at stake, Nissan has gone for bold with the design, its sharp creases, neat detailing and wheel-at-each-corner stance giving it a bolder look than its sober-suited predecessor. Underpinning the car is the new CMF-C architecture that’s 60kg lighter, despite a 48% increase in torsional rigidity and being 35mm longer, 32mm wider and 10mm taller. Using aluminium for the bonnet, doors and front wings has helped reduce the mass, as has the introduction of a composite tailgate.
As you’d expect, the increase in size pays off handsomely in terms of interior space, which is likely to be a big draw for potential Qashqai custodians. There’s an extra 28mm of knee room for rear passengers and a dash more shoulder room for all, while the boot has ballooned to 504 litres, which makes it one of the most capacious in the class.
Crucially, the Qashqai is packed with family-friendly features, such as the two-tier boot floor that now has a wipe-clean flip side, the larger door pockets and countless cubbies. Best of all, the rear doors can now be opened up to 85deg, creating unrivalled access to the back seats. As a car for the rough and tumble of family life, the Qashqai is up there with the Skoda Karoq.
Like its Czech rival, the Nissan has also attempted to push on up the premium pecking order. Some scratchy plastics remain lower in the cabin, but elsewhere inside it’s soft-touch materials as far as the fingers can feel; and although it’s not as bold in its design as the exterior, the cabin is well ordered, extremely comfortable and easy to use. The physical shortcut buttons and rotary dials for the climate controls are particularly welcome and the widescreen, 10.8in head-up display is brilliant in its clarity.
There are also configurable 12.3in TFT dials and a 9.0in infotainment screen that makes up for in ease of use what it lacks in crisp graphics, and offers wireless charging and Apple Carplay. The standard kit count across the range is not to be sniffed at and includes a list of driver assistance safety systems that’s longer than a crash test dummy’s arm.
Yet it’s on the move where the Qashqai really needs to make strides over its predecessor, with cars such as the Mazda CX-30 and Seat Ateca having eclipsed it for handling elan. The removal of mass helps, as does a new, rack-mounted electric power steering system with a faster ratio. Opt for 20in wheels, as on our car, and the standard torsion beam rear suspension is ditched in favour of a multi-link rear axle.
Despite the changes and regardless of driver mode (Eco, Sport and Normal, should you ask), the steering still feels rather lifeless, but the Qashqai does dive into corners keenly, pivoting nicely around your hips and clinging on gamely, resisting any push-wide shenanigans unless severely provoked.
Body roll is well controlled and,
even over bumpy and bucking surfaces, the composed Nissan rarely becomes discombobulated. There’s little emotional uplift for doing so, but the capable Qashqai can be hustled hard when you’re in the mood, the only trade-off being a firm edge and some fidget to a ride that is otherwise laudable in its hushed rolling refinement.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the powertrain. The familiar turbocharged 1.3-litre petrol has been given a mild-hybrid system (a 12V system smaller and lighter than rival set-ups) for added torque-fill muscle, but it feels weakkneed at low revs and breathless when extended. It does its best work in the mid-ranges, where roll-on urge is better than brisk, encouraging you to short-shift through the notchy but precise six-speed manual.
For most buyers, its composed and capable road manners will be welcome, but not nearly as much as the striking looks, that cleverly packaged interior and the lure of some tasty PCP deals (as little as £299 a month, according to those in the know at Nissan). Youthful looks aside, it’s an even more mature machine than before – and one that’s likely to maintain its grip on the top sales spot. If it’s an invigorating drive you’re after, others are more natural entertainers, but as an all-rounder, the original crossover still makes a compelling case for itself.