Test mules for the Nissan Qashqai, Britain’s largest volume production model, have broken cover for the first time ahead of launch in the middle of next year.

The new Qashqai has been styled by Nissan’s European design studio in London and engineered at its technical centre in Cranfield. It will improve on its existing brief to mix soft-roader desirability with Golf-class pricing.

The theme has been such a success that more than 350,000 Qashqais are now built each year in Sunderland, more than four times the original number planned.

The new Qashqai is based on a similar footprint to today’s model and is understood to feature a new platform with limited carry-over.

The mule caught testing here is said to incorporate the new platform and powertrains built inside a fake body made out of panels borrowed from today’s Qashqai.

Given the Qashqai’s success, Nissan isn’t tinkering with its successful formula. Instead, the focus has been on refining the styling, adding more quality to the interior and improving economy and emissions.

The structure is understood to be lighter, helped by the fact that designers don’t need to over-engineer the platform to underpin a heavier +2 model.

The seven-seat +2 is understood to have been dropped. It will be replaced by a seven-seat version of the next X-Trail, shown at Geneva as the Hi-Cross concept. The new Qashqai’s styling is unlikely to be influenced by the Hi-Cross.

Inside, the new Qashqai will feature a little more cabin and luggage space, but the main improvements will focus on higher-quality trim, plastics and switchgear.

Engineers at Cranfield are also understood to be packing connectivity technology into the electrical architecture in line with the high percentage of buyers opting for top-spec N-tec+ trim, which features sat-nav, Bluetooth and the ‘Around View’ 360deg reversing camera system.

The powertrains will be upgraded with downsized petrol engines drawn from the Renault-Nissan range and new Euro6-compliant diesels.

Today’s best-selling 115bhp 1.6 petrol is likely to be replaced by a 113bhp 1.2 turbo, while a 1.6 turbo is tipped to take the place of the 140bhp 2.0-litre petrol.

The relatively new 1.6 dCi diesel will carry over unchanged but will have to be upgraded to Euro6 spec, probably with urea-injection NOx after-treatment, a few years after launch.

The ageing 1.5 dCi will eventually be replaced by a  new small-capacity diesel that is under development with Mercedes-Benz.