What is it?
That’s the very question we’ve been knocking around the office. During the past few months, Qashqai has been the new Almera. a small sport utility vehicle, a replacement for Primera revenue, has contained a hint of MPV, and more. It is, Nissan says, none of the above.
Get this: ‘It is a car of contrasts for a world of contrasts…
It is tough and compact for the city but sleek and agile for journeys away from the town… It reflects our personalities, our imagination… It is very different to every other car currently on sale… It should be seen as an urban nomad.’ What a load of old cobblers. It’s actually a hatchback the size of a Golf/Focus, only a bit taller.
It’s mostly their size inside too, but has a bigger boot, quite a nice interior and a higher price. It’s the new Almera in search of a niche that doesn’t label it a small family hatchback - because a Nissan small family hatchback can’t get close to Focus, Golf or Astra volumes in Europe.
What's it like?
Beyond the smoke and mirrors, the Qashqai’s actually not bad. It has far and away the best-feeling interior that Nissan has produced at this money (from £13,499 to £23,249).
Soft-feel plastics abound, the front seats are big and comfy, the rear seats short on headroom but otherwise fine. The cabin’s slickly designed, while the window line is high and the centre console beefy to create a snug, ‘I’m safe, me’ atmosphere that works.
It’s a feeling enhanced by a 20cm higher driving position than the lowest in class and a ride height 10cm above the class norm. The 410-litre boot the only dimension that’s class leading. And when Nissan says class, what it’s talking about is the Golf, Focus, et al, not little SUVs.
You can have a Qashqai with four-wheel-drive if you want, but only one in every four buyers will. This is a tall hatch. And it drives like one. The steering weight is good, accurate if a touch unresponsive just off straight-ahead. The ride seems fine on the (mostly smooth) roads we’ve tried.
Body control is looser than a typical hatch’s, and roll more pronounced in corners, but these movements are at least linear and predictable. Its worst dynamic characteristic is across sharp bumps, particularly mid-corner, when the body occasionally shimmies laterally (which may be because the suspension is mounted on subframes in turn attached to the chassis via rubber bushes), these kick back mildly through the steering too.
It’s otherwise a quiet and refined drive and, while it can’t match a Focus, Golf or Astra for fun, the Qashqai’s weightier, more positive steering makes it preferable to cooking Meganes, whose platform the Qashqai shares.
It also shares its engines with the Renault. There’s a 1.6 petrol, 1.5 diesel, and 2.0-litre petrol and diesel. We’ve tried both 2.0-litre cars and both engines are very good. The 147bhp turbodiesel is quiet, has good low-end response yet revs well to 5500rpm; the 138bhp petrol engine delivers a nice linear zing and both get automatic gearboxes. One was 2WD, the other 4WD and most of the time you won’t notice the difference.
The X-Trail-derived 4WD system makes pulling away easier when it’s wet or worse, but in normal driving the Qashqai is a 2WD car and feels it. Of the other engines, we’re fans of the 1.5-litre 105bhp diesel engine in the Megane, but can’t help thinking that pulling the wrong side of 1400kg is asking quite a lot of it here.
Should I buy one?
Perhaps, but it ain’t cheap compared to traditional C-sector hatchbacks – the (admittedly well equipped) top-spec, two-wheel-drive Tekna variant costs upwards of £20,000.
So when compared to the Golf, Focus, Megane, Civic, Astra, etc, this doesn’t look like great value. But then, the Qashqai is no ordinary hatchback, is it? Umm…maybe you have to buy into the concept. I’m afraid I don’t.