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The Nissan Qashqai is short on cabin flexibility next to newer rivals but offers a comfortable, fuss-free drive

It's not so easy to appreciate now, but when it first appeared back in 2007, this Nissan Qashqai was regarded as an 'extreme' example of a new trend in the car market.

At the time, car manufacturers were trying to find ways to be as flexible as possible with their models. Forced by the collapse of the traditional class structures to look at design in a whole new way, they found themselves being pushed, pulled and manipulated by their customers’ often opposing needs and desires, not to mention political pressure to produce cars with a foot in every camp.

Front seats are good, offering adjustable height and lumbar support

The Nissan was at the forefront of the class of vehicles that we now call crossovers; vehicles that meld a high-riding driving position with the dimensions of a family hatch and smidgen of rugged, ready-for-anything attitude.

There's a inherent danger of trying to be all things to all motorists. Then, as now, any car that could truly master all these arts would clearly be something to behold. But the looming spectre of the jack of all trades is equally visible and perhaps the more likely outcome for a car trying to spread itself so thinly into so many different disciplines.

Can it be that the Qashqai really is all these things to all those people? Or is it really neither one thing or the other?

 

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DESIGN & STYLING

Nissan Qashqai badging

Its ground clearance suggests that it’s an SUV, but its rounded shape smacks of MPV design. Nissan itself claims the Qashqai to be a new take on the family car and cites the Volkswagen Golf as its nearest rival while, at the same time, going on to claim that it has the image of a coupé. Honest.

The Qashqai has a 20cm-higher driving position than the lowest in class and a ride height 10cm above the class norm. The 410-litre boot is the only dimension that’s class leading. And when Nissan says class, it’s talking about the Volkswagen Golf, Ford 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.

A sign of an efficient engine — if a slightly inconvenient one — is a heater that takes ages to warm up, as the 2.0 dCi’s does.

Nissan also offers a seven-seat Qashqai+2 version, adding 135mm to the wheelbase and 75mm to the rear overhang. The car is also 40mm higher. That provides enough space to enable the middle bench to slide back and forth, allowing legroom trade-offs between rows two and three, as well as allowing access to the back row. Seats six and seven are small, and the footwell ahead of them shallow – the need to accommodate the fuel tank eats into the space. But the seats are big enough for small kids, and medium-sized adults can be accommodated for short journeys.

From the front, the Qashqai and Qashqai+2 can be identified by their own separate grilles, the contours of the ridges in the bonnet of the +2 continuing into its horizontal bars.

Being bigger, the Qashqai+2 weighs about 100kg more than the standard car. As a result, the spring and damper settings have been altered, the electric power steering has been retuned and larger front brakes are fitted.

INTERIOR

Nissan Qashqai dashboard

The Qashqai has far and away the best-feeling interior that Nissan has produced at this money. The cabin is slickly designed. The window line is high and the centre console beefy to create a snug, ‘I’m safe’ atmosphere.

Although the interior is cleanly designed and robustly finished, some may find its spare lines lack a little bit of luxury. Space up front is good and the view out excellent, in part because the Qashqai rides higher than the average hatchback.

Slightly pallid graphics apart, the optional sat-nav is one of the better examples of the breed, beginning with its high-mounted, easily visible location

Despite the positives up front, put bluntly, there’s not enough room on board overall and little effort has been made to make the most of what there is. Those in the front will be comfortable, but you won’t need to be freakishly tall to find the rear cabin less than generous with legroom and headroom. These issues are exacerbated by the fact that the rear seat doesn’t slide, recline or tumble.

The boot area is well shaped and larger than average for the class, but that raised ride height causes you to lift your luggage a long way before you can drop it in the boot.

The +2 is more spacious but still not perfect. Consider the Qashqai+2 as a part-time, short-trip carrier of seven on the one hand and as an excellent load-carrier on the other, and you won’t be disappointed. But if you want space for seven adults, look elsewhere.

Accommodation in the third row can be improved by sliding the middle bench forward, either whole or in 60:40 portions, but these are best regarded as jump seats for carting kids to a football match. The resultant tiny boot (150 litres) is just about big enough for six pairs of football boots.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

2.0-litre Nissan Qashqai turbodiesel engine

Nissan offers 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre petrol models with the Qashqai, plus the more popular 1.5-litre, 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre diesels. Both 2.0-litre engines are very good. The 148bhp turbodiesel is quiet and has good low-end response yet revs well to 5500rpm. Power is delivered in the slightly constricted manner sometimes characteristic of diesels, which demands that you keep on sinking the accelerator to keep the revs climbing.

The latest oil-burners are more free-revving than this. So you must be quite deliberate with the throttle when moving off if you’re to avoid a sluggish getaway that disguises the substantial pull actually available. The 138bhp 2.0 petrol engine delivers a nice linear zing and both this and the 2.0 diesel get automatic gearboxes, plus a manual option for the petrol car.

Multi-featured satellite navigation can be controlled from the steering wheel

Of the other engines, we’re generally fans of the 108bhp 1.5-litre diesel engine in its other Renault-Nissan applications but can’t help thinking that pulling the wrong side of 1400kg is asking quite a lot of it here. The 1.6 petrol engine, although smooth and quiet around town, feels strained on the motorway and would benefit from a sixth gear to improve refinement and economy. But there are no such problems with the stop-start system it can be mated to, which operates in the background without intrusion and delivers noticeable benefits to the headline economy and CO2 figures.

Most of the time, you won’t notice the difference between the 2WD and 4WD offered on the Qashqai. 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.

RIDE & HANDLING

Nissan Qashqai cornering

Nissan has produced some clean-handling family cars over the years – the Primera and some versions of the Almera, for example – and the company’s European engineering arm has worked hard, and succeeded, in providing the Qashqai with decent manners.

Look at the Qashqai and you’d not mark it down as being one of the more engaging cross-country hatchbacks this kind of money will buy, but that is how it transpires. First, and perhaps of greatest importance to most customers, it rides really well. Suspension comes from struts at the front and a multi-link rear axle. Like the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus, which both use not dissimilar arrangements, the Qashqai flows over really quite poorly surfaced roads with an equanimity someone swapping from an Almera will scarcely credit.

Optional reversing camera is helpful for small objects

Where the Qashqai differs from its more mainstream rivals is that it actually allows quite a considerable degree of body roll. It is not so much the amount of body roll that a car can generate but the actual rate of that roll that causes discomfort, and the Qashqai’s strategy is clear to see. It might allow considerable wheel movement, but each one is terrifically well damped. As a result, you gain the benefits of quite soft springs without the disconcerting roll and pitch that accompanies a less cleverly configured car. It even helps the handling, because well-marshalled body movements are a key component of chassis feel. Add electric power steering that’s surprisingly low geared but adept at keeping you informed of conditions underfoot, and you have all the ingredients for a rewarding driving experience.

The +2 version presents a greater challenge, though. Unsurprisingly, the springs and damper settings have been firmed for more arduous tasks, the front brakes are more substantial and the electric power steering has been retuned to suit. And one-up, you feel the difference in a ride that’s occasionally a little bouncy over bumps, although it rarely turns uncomfortable.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Nissan Qashqai 2007-2014

Although the Nissan Qashqai can offer much more space than conventional mainstream hatchback rivals for a similar cost, it’s not able to match them for economy and CO2 emissions. Its extra size and weight prohibits a super-frugal low-CO2 version that’s becoming a mainstay of the segment. The lowest-emitting model is 1.6-litre diesel equipped with stop-start, which emits 119g/km.

Those wondering which grade of Qashqai to buy should steer towards the Acenta model. You can have the higher-spec Tekna for more than £3000 extra, but since all that will buy you is full leather, bum warmers and some meatier-looking alloy wheels, it’s hard to see the point. But if instead you save £1500 and go for the base Visia, you’re going to miss properly useful items like the Acenta’s automatic lights and wipers, parking sensors, climate and cruise control and a six-CD autochanger.

Owners who carry heavy or large loads may be frustrated by rear seats that don't fold completely flat

All Qashqais come with six airbags and Bluetooth connectivity. Fans of two-pedal transmissions can choose between a conventional six-speed auto for the 2.0-litre diesel or a continuously variable CVT for the 2.0-litre petrol. Both are £1300 options. Four-wheel drive is a £1550 option and available only on the 2.0-litre diesel and petrol models.

Upgrading from a Qashqai to a Qashqai+2 costs £1400, which is an identical premium as that which Citroen will charge you for going from a C4 Picasso to a C4 Grand Picasso. With the Nissan, you do get the glass roof as standard, and with the rear row folded, the boot is bigger than the standard Qashqai’s.

Service intervals are at 12,500 miles, even for diesels, but the three-year warranty is limited to 60,000 miles.

VERDICT

3.5 star Nissan Qashqai

Nissan wants you to see the Qashqai as part-SUV, part-coupé and part-MPV. It is none of these. Even Nissan says that the optional four-wheel drive is for on-road use; it lacks the image of a coupé; and as an MPV, it’s no S-Max.

However, the Qashqai is a capable, likeable and interesting hatchback with excellent levels of refinement and offers a refreshingly different approach to family transport. We’d have no hesitation in recommending a Qashqai, which remains an interesting and well-executed crossover alternative to mainstream rivals such as the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf.

Transformation into a seven-seater works, but an S-Max does it better

No question, the +2 element of the Qashqai widens its ability, not only for carrying humans but also for luggage if only five seats are used. However, against this must be balanced a price that takes it into S-Max territory, and the Ford offers decisively more room in that third row, although not the Nissan’s four-wheel drive option. At least the packaging of the third row and essentials such as the parcel shelf and the spare wheel are well engineered.

Dynamically, the Qashqai suffers little for becoming a seven-seater, but the additional weight does some damage to its economy and emissions. Countering this are the well-designed interior, the fact that it goes harder and handles a little better than you might expect, and the excellent optional sat-nav. But if you want a serious seven-seater, you need an S-Max.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Nissan Qashqai 2007-2014 First drives