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Is the UK's second-most-popular car still the brand's shining beacon? Let's find out

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You will struggle to find a bigger British automotive success story than the Nissan Qashqai.

Dubbed the ‘Cashcow’ by some in industry circles, the crossover finished as the UK’s best-seller in 2022 and was only second to the Ford Puma the following year. 

All cars get LED headlights. Aerodynamic ducts are real, and they’re big enough to make a Honda Civic Type R blush.

All of this follows from the smash-hit Qashqai’s game-changing launch back in 2006, where it’s credited with almost single-handedly saving Nissan’s European operations. 

It popularised the idea that you can have something that looks like an off-roader without needing all the heavy, inefficient hardware to make it capable in the mud – and people responded in numbers.

As well as being a success story for Nissan, the Qashqai is also a shining beacon for UK car manufacturing, having been produced in Sunderland from the start. 

As car maker after car maker closes its UK manufacturing base – Honda made its last Honda Civic in Swindon a few years ago, for example – it is heartening that the third-generation Qashqai continues to be made here.

The previous generation of the Qashqai had been around since 2013 so it’s remarkable that although it lagged somewhat behind the best of the competition, it remained on the pace in sales terms. 

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It makes sense, therefore, for Nissan to tread carefully with this one. Indeed, its strategy of making its pure-electric SUV, the Ariya, a completely separate model leaves room for the EV to be a bit bolder, while the Qashqai remains a crowd pleaser.

Since its launch, though, practically every other manufacturer has followed suit and produced a talented, all-round competitor. Can Nissan’s original champion continue to challenge on the road? Read our in-depth review to find out. 

The Nissan Qashqai range at a glance

For this generation, Nissan has ditched all of its diesel models in favour of a mix of mild-hybrid and full-hybrid powertrains, all using four-cylinder petrol engines. 

The range opens with the DIG-T 140 mild hybrid, with 138bhp and a 0-62mph time of 10.2sec. The DIG-T 158 mild hybrid offers 155bhp and a 0-62mph sprint of 9.5sec. Full-hybrid e-Power models increase power to 187bhp and hit 0-62mph in 7.9sec.

VERSIONPOWER
DIG-T 140 MILD HYBRID138bhp
DIG-T 155 MILD HYBRID155hp
190 E-POWER187bhp

DESIGN & STYLING

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2 Nissan Qashqai 2021 RT hero side

The Qashqai’s design certainly ticks a great many of the boxes expected of a compact SUV today. Sharp LED light signature? Check. Contrasting ‘floating’ roof? Check. Option of massive, bi-colour wheels? Check. Slightly larger in every direction? Check.

In fact, the Qashqai is quite a bit larger than its predecessor, at 35mm longer (20mm of that in the wheelbase), 25mm taller and a rather significant 32mm wider. It clearly retains the family link with the old one, though, particularly at the rear.

Nissan has retained somewhat of a family link with the old Qashqai visually, thanks to the large V-shaped grille, and rear lights that look like stylised versions of the old ones. Slim headlights make it contemporary.

The Qashqai rides on an updated version of the Renault Nissan Alliance’s CMF-C platform and most versions get a torsion beam axle for rear suspension, but all-wheel-drive models (as well as those on 20in alloy wheels) have a multi-link rear axle instead. 

Nissan says the updates to the platform have allowed it to further suppress road noise and improve suspension geometry for a more composed ride. More use of aluminium keeps weight manageable despite the larger body.

Although the Qashqai’s purpose is not to shock, it does receive plenty of distinguishing design features, among them the vertical air ducts in the front bumper, a floating roof design, those new LED headlights and 16 exterior colour combinations from which to choose.

Change is a little more radical under the bonnet, where all of the old model’s diesel engines have been put out to pasture, leaving a completely electrified line-up.

The 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol unit that was introduced with the previous generation’s last facelift is carried over and is again available with either 138bhp or 155bhp, but it gains mild-hybrid assistance. 

Both versions come as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, with a CVT being optional on the higher-power version. The 156bhp engine can also be had with all-wheel drive.

The mild-hybrid system is only a 12V set-up rather than a 48V one, and it can contribute only just over 4lb ft of torque for the car when accelerating, so its value lies more in smoothing out stop/start and powering accessories when the engine is off than in supplying any meaningful torque fill.

Standing in for the absent diesel options is an e-Power full hybrid, which joined the range in 2023 and allows Nissan to plug the gap as more and more manufacturers start to offer their own full-hybrid models. That means a rich variety of powertrain configurations is emerging. 

Toyota’s long-standing hybrid system is a CVT-alike concept, whereas some others use dual-clutch gearboxes, Renault uses a clutchless gearbox and Honda uses no gearbox at all. 

Nissan’s, like Honda’s, uses only the 1.5-litre engine to charge a battery, while the wheels are exclusively driven by the 184bhp electric motor, which should bring some EV driving sensations to a car that is still dependably petrol-powered.

INTERIOR

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14 Nissan Qashqai 2021 RT cabin

The area where the old Qashqai particularly showed its age was in its interior, but this has generation made some big steps in this respect.

That said, it’s avoided taking on digital technology for the sake of it. With a classier dashboard, some horizontal trim strips and a big touchscreen in the middle, it looks right up to date. 

Blocky heater unit is a model of easy usability. Infotainment screen above is also good on that score, but graphics already look a bit antiquated.

All the materials you are likely to touch regularly in the car have a pleasant soft-touch finish, and the plentiful buttons and switchgear have a nice heft. The interior mouldings feel solidly screwed together, too.

This car is extremely easy to jump in and get to grips with because all of the important functions are operated by a physical button or knob. There is a separate panel for the HVAC controls, and even driver assistance features like the steering assist and head-up display can be turned on or off with a button. It’s all remarkably common sense, with not a touch-sensitive panel in sight other than the big infotainment screen.

Continuing the common sense theme, the Qashqai allows occupants to charge their devices in any way they need, with multiple 12V sockets, two USB-A and two USB-C ports, and a wireless charging pad on most trim levels. Here, as elsewhere, convenience is king, and the Qashqai offers plenty.

Accessing the rear cabin is easy thanks to doors that open to 90deg. Once there, leg room is about average for the class, with plenty of head room even with the panoramic sunroof (which is a fixed panel and doesn’t actually open). 

It means tall adults fit without issue but they would be only averagely comfortable on longer journeys. The back seats don’t do anything fancy such as recline or slide, and they fold in a 40/60 split, rather than a more versatile 40/20/40 format. 

Flexibility tricks have been reserved for the boot, which is quite cleverly conceived. It has removable floor panels that can be raised or lowered, or set upright to create a divider that stops groceries from sliding around. The panels can also be flipped over to reveal a wipe-clean surface to put muddy or dirty items on. When they’re all in place, they create a flat load area with some useful extra space below.

The Qashqai’s 504 litres of boot space is average for the class, but far ahead of the Ford Kuga’s 412 litres. However, it is beaten by the Volkswagen Tiguan’s 520 litres and outclassed by the Honda CR-V hybrid, which offers 596 litres. 

Nissan Qashqai infotainment and sat-nav

Visia trim is so basic that it doesn’t even get a touchscreen, but Acenta Premium has a 7.0in screen, and on N-Connecta that becomes a 9.0in screen accompanied by a 12.3in digital driver display. 

Both versions of the touchscreen have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. On the larger version, CarPlay is wireless.

The bigger system found in the Tekna car is the more responsive unit and, thanks to plenty of shortcut buttons (both physical ones below the screen and virtual ones on the bottom), it is fairly easy to navigate. The way the screen is mounted on the dashboard means you also have a small ledge to rest your hand on, so it stays steady when tapping the screen on the move.

It’s a pity the graphics already look dated, the centre screen more so than the driver display. When CarPlay is wireless and there is a wireless charging pad as well, it’s difficult to come up with a reason to use the built-in navigation and audio systems, especially since the smartphone mirroring is integrated so well.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

27 Nissan Qashqai 2021 RT engine

On a car that is intended to appeal to a wide audience, the only area where the Qashqai really frustrates is with its powertrain.

The manual 156bhp 1.3 with front-wheel drive appears, on paper at least, a little stronger than some of its rivals, which all offer just under 150bhp, but in reality, the Qashqai doesn’t quite feel it.

Adaptive cruise control can easily frustrate as it doesn’t anticipate like a good driver would, but the Nissan’s is well calibrated and cleverly handles changing speed limits. I still wish for a way to switch it to regular cruise control, though.

The engine does its best work in the mid-range, but we would like a little more low-end grunt. It needs 2000rpm to really get going, so swift progress requires a bit more effort than you feel inclined to invest in driving a compact family SUV. 

This comes as a bit of a surprise, given that both petrol engines are mild hybrids, where the starter motor can help out at low revs. At least the 12V system offers smooth operation of the stop/start system.

We couldn’t quite match Nissan’s 9.5sec 0-62mph claim during our testing but we didn’t miss it by much. The 1.3-litre four-cylinder remains smooth and, most of the time, it’s admirably quiet. That said, when it speaks up, it sounds a little ‘dieselly’. 

As for the e-Power full hybrid, were it not for a faint thrum emanating from the front end under load, it would do a very good impression of a pure-electric system much of the time. 

Take-up of power is smooth and brisk, acceleration pleasingly linear and – should you turn the e-Pedal mode on – the brake regeneration is extremely (almost too) strong.

The engine only really makes its presence known under greater extremes of load, when it often spins a little vociferously into life and can rev a bit disconcertingly in no particular relation to the demands made by your right foot. Overall, though, the e-Power set-up feels like the best resolved and least compromised powertrain you can have in the Qashqai. 

However, all variants of Qashqai are let down by a choice of disappointing gearboxes. The six-speed manual feels spongy, with a high bite point. 

To make matters worse, engine revs drop very slowly when the clutch is disengaged, which makes it more difficult than it needs to be to change gear quickly and smoothly. The action of the gearchange could be better defined, too. It’s light, with a mildly notchy but longish throw.

The X-tronic CVT, meanwhile, masks the engine’s off-boost torpor but suffers from an irritating surge in acceleration at more than a quarter throttle that’s disproportionate with your inputs. It also feels poorly integrated with the start/stop system, sending a judder through the driveline each time the engine cuts in and out. 

While Nissan claims to have tuned the variable-compression petrol engine to better match vehicle speed – a response to criticism of the jarring ‘rubber band’ effect of a CVT gearbox – it still produces a fairly monotonous and uninspiring melody. The best course is to be light with the right foot and let it tick away quietly.

Consequently, the Qashqai feels like a car that might be better suited to an automatic gearbox, which could camouflage some of the flat spots in the power delivery.

RIDE & HANDLING

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Nissan Qashqai 202120211122 5215

Even in a segment where an engaging driving experience is hard to find, the Qashqai has never been the most dynamic car to drive – and things haven’t changed much in this regard. Nissan has done a good job prioritising ride comfort, though.

A car in this class is unlikely to benefit from the most sophisticated suspension, but potholes tend not to be too intrusive in the Qashqai and the body is kept under control pretty well on longer-wave undulations.

The steering weights up in fast corners, but not in a natural, predictable way. Under continuous hard cornering, the system does settle on one weight, but it varies with speed. More consistency would be better

At town speeds, there can sometimes be a little jiggle in the car’s ride when the dampers occasionally fail to deal with small imperfections in one go, but overall this is a very comfortable car.

Handling is tuned for safety, rather than any kind of engagement. Despite having a meaty 235 section, the Continental EcoContact tyres aren’t the grippiest, but they are perfectly adequate for this type of car, and our handling circuit showed that the ESP system is good at unobtrusively managing the car’s on-limit behaviour. The brakes also hauled the car to a standstill from 60mph in a respectable 2.7sec.

The one dynamic flaw is the steering. It’s very light at smaller steering angles and weights up more suddenly as you dive into tighter corners with a bit more speed and lock. That sounds like a good thing – but in reality, it feels artificial and inconsistent, and generally discourages any enthusiasm at the wheel because you can’t be completely confident in placing the car.

The upside of the light steering is that manoeuvring the Qashqai is nice and easy and, with a turning circle of 11.1m, it’s not too much of an oil tanker to park, even if being a larger car than before doesn’t help. 

That fancy floating D-pillar does create a bit of an over-the-shoulder blindspot, but forward visibility is good. The tall driving position and long, flat bonnet mean that it’s also easy to see the edges and place the car in town.

Comfort and isolation

Over our week with the Qashqai, we were impressed with the seats. They don’t look like anything too special, but over long motorway journeys, they proved supportive, thanks to a wide range of adjustments as standard, including lumbar support and variable pitch for the seat base. 

A relatively long cushion means they are well suited to taller drivers. On top-of-the-range Tekna+ cars, they even offer a massage function. There isn’t a lot of lateral support, but then the rest of the driving experience doesn’t encourage high-g cornering anyway.

Combine the seat comfort with the soft but relatively composed ride and you have the makings of a very comfortable long- and short-distance car. It’s a shame, then, that it is let down by the noise levels. The engine is not the issue, as it is quiet unless worked particularly hard. Instead, road roar is to blame.

This is borne out by the 39dBA measurement at idle, which is better than most competitors. However, as the speeds rise, the Qashqai gets louder than average, and it is a good few decibels worse at 70mph than its rivals. It shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but it might just be worth coughing up for the upgraded Bose sound system, as the standard one isn’t the best, either.

Even the most basic Qashqais have a comprehensive suite of active safety features. They can all be turned off through the menu screens in the instrument cluster using the buttons on the steering wheel. It’s a rather cumbersome process, but we found no real need to turn any of them off, other than the occasional unwarranted intervention from the lane departure warning system on twistier country roads.

The car’s ProPilot intelligent cruise control works quite well. It’s smooth when slowing down and tends to do so far enough in advance of traffic slowing ahead, although it can get confused by cars in an adjacent lane. 

A welcome feature is that it will recognise changing speed limits but wait for the driver to confirm before changing the vehicle’s set speed. You can change gear without disabling the cruise control, too. On higher trims, it will steer for you to keep the car in lane if desired, and it does so pretty competently without encouraging you to mentally switch off.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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Nissan Qashqai front lead

The Qashqai range starts at around £27,000 - cheaper than its Mazda CX-30 rival - and it’s offered with five specification levels: Visia, Acenta Premium, N-Connecta, Tekna, and Tekna+. 

Claimed economy levels differ depending on specification, plus your engine and gearbox choice. In its least efficient specification - the DIG-T 158 mild hybrid with the X-Tronic transmission - the Qashqai offers 40.4mpg, while the e-Power is the most frugal choice, with all models offering a claimed 54.3mpg.

Tekna trim starts out quite expensive and loses its value marginally quicker than the Mazda CX-5 and Ford Kuga do

With the manual gearbox, the 156bhp Qashqai has a claimed economy of 44mpg. During our time with the car, low 40s proved to be quite a realistic and achievable figure during mixed use.

As for equipment, the entry-level Visia misses out on a touchscreen infotainment system but comes with 17in wheels and a comprehensive suite of safety features. Nissan usually does well in safety tests, and with most of the active safety kit fitted as standard, as well as a full roster of airbags, including a middle airbag, it achieved a five-star Euro NCAP score. 

N-Connecta trim gets you all the essentials, such as parking sensors and the nicer infotainment system with smartphone mirroring; Tekna adds all the indulgences you might want, such as heated seats and a head-up display; and Tekna+ goes mad with massage seats and 20in wheels (but watch out with those, because wider reviews suggest they have a noticeable, adverse effect on ride comfort).

Buyers might want to bear in mind that Nissan cars in general, and Qashqais in particular, have sometimes fared quite poorly in UK reliability surveys, even if they are affected mostly by minor issues.

 

VERDICT

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Nissan Qashqai 202120211122 5210

The Nissan Qashqai builds on the strengths of its predecessors with practicality, modern styling and inoffensive driving dynamics. 

It steps things up a notch with an interior that is of high quality and comfortable and keeps things simple as regards the usability of its cabin technology. A suite of mature, well-calibrated assisted driving features finishes the package.

Spec advice? Avoid both the Visia and Tekna+ trims because Visia doesn’t even have a touchscreen and the Tekna+ forces you onto 20in wheels. Given the choice between a funny manual gearbox or a wheezy CVT, pick the manual.

In mild-hybrid guise, it ends up short of class-leading status mostly because of its lacklustre petrol engine and a disappointing manual gearbox. Being in the middle of the pack on price, it’s not cheap enough to excuse that flaw, either. 

It’s not quite as practical as a Skoda Karoq, or as keen in the corners as a Ford Kuga. Despite that, the Qashqai remains true to the safe, predictable and rational formula of the models released before it - and it comfortably sits beside more premium rivals such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, Honda CR-V and Audi Q3

Broadly speaking, it’s comfortable, quiet, manoeuvrable and easy to drive. It looks good, too, and it’s well equipped. This is a car that’s been designed with family use at its heart and, for the vast majority of buyers, Nissan’s mix of style and substance will be likely to trump handling elan when it comes to paying  their hard-earned cash.

 

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester
As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

Nissan Qashqai First drives