Nissan's second crossover album goes platinum, but a light refresh and some added extras have to hold off the Qashqai from the Seat Ateca and Skoda Kodiaq

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The first generation Nissan Qashqai was a platinum smash hit throughout its six-year lifecycle, despite a sharp rise in competition towards the end of its production run.

It wasn’t the first crossover, but was among the first to tap into the concept from a mainstream, family-size and affordable standpoint. That, in the UK at least, it also replaced the Primera and Almera in 2007 shows the extent to which Nissan had bet all its chips on a single hand.

The Mk1 Nissan Qashqai popularised the compact crossover idea

More than a decade down the line, the gamble better resembles a masterstroke - even if it leaves the second generation version with the tough task of carrying on in the tyre tracks forged by its predecessor.

Still, the omens were good. Like Volkswagen reworking its Volkswagen Golf or Ford fettling the Ford Focus, it seemed on paper as though little had been left to chance – or, indeed, dramatically changed. 

Five years and a 2017 facelift later, the second-gen car has remarkably continued the success of the 2007-2014 original Nissan Qashqai and managed to keep the burgeoning competition at bay, with none being able to hold a candle to until the party was ruined by the stylish and fun to drive Seat Ateca.

The facelift saw the Japanese manufacturer focus on improved plushness, with improvements made to the design, finish, equipment and refinement. There are now five trim levels on offer, starting with the relatively well-equipped Visia model, rising through Acenta, N-Connecta, Tekna and the range-topping Tekna+.

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There are two petrol engines: a 1.2-litre, 113bhp four-cylinder and a 1.6-litre 160bhp four-cylinder, plus two diesels: the familiar 109bhp 1.5-litre Nissan shares with Renault, and a 128bhp 1.6-litre unit.

All come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, although the 1.2 DIG-T and the 1.6-litre diesel are also offered with a CVT. Those after four-wheel drive can only choose the highest powered diesel paired with a manual 'box.

Convincingly reworking your best-selling car is the secret of being a successful car maker, and if by the end of this review Nissan has managed it, the triumph is once again indebted to homegrown expertise.



Nissan Qashqai road test review hero rear

Nissan took a huge punt on the original Qashqai, and this time, unsurprisingly, it is being rather more conservative. As such, the new model follows the massively successful formula.

Built on a new Renault-Nissan Alliance Common Module Family (CMF) platform, the new Qashqai is 47mm longer than its predecessor, while being lower and a touch wider. Hence it looks a bit more dynamic and slightly less amorphous than before, with sharp lines and attractive detailing. Certainly, its appearance will do it no harm in a sector that is now thriving with alternatives.

The Nissan Qashqai's engines are transversely mounted and drive the front wheels or, in certain cases, all four

Rather than being a common platform, CMF is a group of modular areas such as the engine bay, cabin and separate front and rear body elements. This allows it to be expanded to cater for a greater range of vehicles of different sizes.

The CMF architecture will provide a home for 11 Renaults, including the closely related Renault Kadjar and the forthcoming Koleos. Nissan, meanwhile, is using it first in the car you see here, followed by the new Nissan X-Trail and, in the US only, the Rogue.

What’s the same as before is that the Nissan Qashqai was designed in London, built in Sunderland and engineered mostly in the UK or Spain, giving it, Nissan claims, suspension ideally suited to European roads.

The Qashqai’s steel monocoque is suspended by MacPherson struts at the front. The rear suspension follows a common modern trend, with some models getting suspension that is more expensive than others. Here, two-wheel-drive Qashqais get torsion beam rear suspension while four-wheel-drive versions get a multi-link arrangement.

When the first Qashqai was launched, a crossover was a radical proposition in itself, without the suggestion that it could have come with low CO2 emissions, too. Yet the two-wheel-drive model emits just 99g/km, equipped as it is with a 1.5-litre, 109bhp turbodiesel engine that drives through a six-speed manual gearbox.


Nissan Qashqai road test review cabin

If any one feature of the new Qashqai testifies to the evolution of the crossover since 2007, it’s the interior.

The previous model was a chunky plastic hutch, still trading on the implied durability of a ’90s-era off-roader as it worked to close the distance to a hatchback’s comfort and convenience. The new cabin is a far more upmarket affair, jettisoning the workaday dash for a sleeker, shinier design clearly influenced by recent rivals from Korea and Germany.

There's no denying that the absence of a handbrake lever frees up space

However, for all the glossy plastic and metallic highlights, any ritz is kept adamantly in check. Nissan has adopted a contemporary appearance, but it has taken few risks on the style front, preferring instead to concentrate on nailing ergonomics and ease of use.

Helped along by a noticeable step up in comfort – the front seats are excellent – and perceived quality, the approach pays off. Although arguably less pleasing to look at than a Kia Sportage or Hyundai ix35, the clarity, location and function of the switchgear and instrumentation is on a Volkswagen Group level of effectiveness. High praise indeed, and appropriate for a car that doesn’t need to turn heads.

Similar good sense reigns elsewhere. A slight swelling in size has paid off in roominess; there may only be a few extra centimetres here and there, but they collude in the impression of a much more spacious prospect. The modest increase in wheelbase means rear passengers’ kneecaps are less likely to bump the seat in front, and while the new Qashqai is lower than before, the roofline is not a concern.

The boot, too, is bigger – by 20 litres, at 1585 litres with the rear seats folded – but more importantly it is better packaged, with a tailgate that opens 150mm higher and two reversible floor panels which can be raised or lowered to permit no fewer than 16 different configurations, including one with a fully flat floor. 

There are five trim levels to choose from, with the entry-level Visia trim providing a decent level of equipment, including all-around electric windows, cruise control, heated door mirrors, LED day-running lights and rear lights, chassis control and 16in steel wheels. Inside there is a 5.0in infotainment system complete with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and four speakers, as well as manual air conditioning.

Opt for an Acenta trimmed Qashqai and you get luxuries such as six speakers, 17in alloy wheels, power folding mirrors, auto lights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, and front foglights as standard.

Choosing a Qashqai kitted in N-Connecta finery gets you a host of technological delights including Nissan's smart vision pack equipped with high beam assist, traffic sign recognition, emergency braking, lane departure warning and parking sensors. There is also 18in alloys, matte silver roof rails, front sports seats, keyless start and a NissanConnect infotainment system complete with a 7.0in touchscreen display, sat nav, DAB radio and a 360-degree camera.

Tekna equipped Qashqais get more niceties such as a part leather upholstery, an electrically adjustable driver's seat, 19in alloy wheels, heated front seats and windscreen, LED headlights and an eight-speaker Bose audio system. This trim includes Nissan's Safety Shield Plus technology, which includes blind spot warning, moving object detection, rear cross traffic alert and intelligent park assist.

Finally, opting for the range-topping Tekna+ model gets a Nappa leather upholstery, electrically adjustable front seats, gloss silver roof rails and wing mirrors and a panoramic roof.


Nissan Qashqai road test review engine

The Qashqai's engine line-up features an entry-level 1.2-litre petrol, a 1.5-litre diesel and range-topping 1.6-litre diesel and petrol.

You may question the logic of fitting a seemingly large crossover with something as diminutive as a 1.2-litre petrol engine, but turbocharging and advances in engineering have permitted compact engines to produce substantial and reliable outputs.

A bit of sparkle to the driving experience wouldn't go amiss

Besides offering more power, the new 113bhp 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol offers up substantially more torque than the old 1.6-litre naturally aspirated engine. It's not fast – Nissan claims 11.3sec to 62mph – but it accelerates smoothly and with ease from a standstill.

The 1.2-litre engine most impresses on the motorway. Noise levels are low and its 140lb ft peak torque output allows for painless overtaking without having to shift gears.

The diesel engines are likely to be the prime movers for many, however. It takes a cold start on a frosty morning to elicit any hint of incivility from the 1.5-litre turbodiesel – and the slight clatter doesn’t last long. The rest of the time, this is a remarkably quiet, well mannered powerplant.

Our noise meter confirmed as much: 62dB of cabin noise at 50mph is impressive. You have to revisit luxury cars such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW X5 to better the result. A Bentley Flying Spur is a decibel louder. It isn’t just that the engine is well isolated, either. The Qashqai’s cabin is equally well protected from wind and road noise. The other petrol - the turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol good for 160bhp and peak twist of 177lb ft, which is enough to propel the crossover 62mph from a standstill in 8.9sec and onto a top speed of 124mph.

You’d expect acceleration to be modest, but in fact it’s perfectly adequate. Pedal response can be poor at very low revs, with pulling power only fully coming on stream at about 1750rpm. That apart, the engine is as flexible as it is willing.

It doesn’t run short of breath until 4500rpm, it’s never coarse or intrusive and it makes enough urge to give reasonable overtaking and motorway grunt. In our experience, you can’t expect more of a 99g/km, £20,000 family car.

It's a similar story with the 1.6-litre version. It's as strong and as torquey as a healthy 2.0-litre, and its noise and vibrations are very well isolated.

Changing gears is made effortless by a perfectly positioned gearlever with a slick and assured action. Control weights are uniform and substantial enough to speak of the distinguishing quality that Nissan wants this car to communicate.

The CVT, when specified, is hardly recognisable as such: there’s no 'rubber band' effect, perhaps because of the 1.6-litre diesel's engine’s deeply impressive 236lb ft (which peaks at 1750rpm). The step-off, too, is as clean and easy to modulate as a normal automatic's.

Braking performance is beyond question, too, in both the wet and dry. If there is a base that Nissan hasn’t covered here, or an everyday requirement this Qashqai misses that it might reasonably be asked to serve, we couldn’t find it.


Nissan Qashqai road test review cornering front

The previous Qashqai’s biggest dynamic gift may have been that it gave interested drivers hope. It showed that crossovers could handle – a bit. And the new one strikes a similar compromise in some ways.

On ride comfort, it errs on the sportier side of the class norm, feeling taut, resolute and occasionally even a little fidgety over bad surfaces. But the secondary ride is very good and there’s seldom any accompanying noise or unwelcome edge to the bumps you feel. We have no reservations about declaring this a very comfortable car.

The Qashqai lapped the track quickest with 'Active Trace Control' on, a stability system that helps tuck the nose into corners

Above all, though, the handling is remarkable for how unremarkable it is – which is meant as a considerable compliment. You can tell that the Cranfield technical centre’s engineers had ‘car-like’ writ large on this Qashqai’s dynamic mood board, because the machine they’ve produced doesn’t feel at all large or cumbersome on the road.

It steers as directly and responds as quickly to the wheel as the average family hatch. It grips just as hard, is just as well balanced and has absolutely no more body roll or pitch than the average Volkswagen Golf-class hatchback, either. It’s Mr Normal, in other words, and at normal speeds it hides its higher roll axis and extra bulk as skilfully as a street magician does your £20 note.

The Qashqai’s unflappable stability in the dry comes at a slight cost, because it could be a little bit more incisive. There’s little charm or engagement to be found in the way this car sweeps around a corner – just an abundance of reassuring predictability and competence. The original Qashqai certainly had a more distinct dynamic character. But still, so much has been gained here that it’s probably worth the trade.

Only on the limit do you begin to see any dynamic trade-off compared with a modern family hatch. The 1.5-litre diesel Nissan proved just a second slower around the dry handling circuit than a Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi and 2.5sec slower than the 1.6 e-HDi Peugeot 308 – but still more than a second quicker than the closest rival crossover we’ve figured.

The car is stable, upright, precise and easy to drive fast. Ultimately, gentle understeer is expertly reined in by the stability control systems.

Should the need arise, Qashqai owners will find their car has some rough road and off-road ability. Its ground clearance and off-road angles put it on a level with the likes of the Honda CR-V and Subaru OutbackThat’s assuming you opt for the range-topping 128bhp 4x4 diesel, which comes with a manual gearbox. The 4x4 system works via an electronically controlled clutch.


Nissan Qashqai road test review hero front

It’s fair to say that the original Qashqai’s success is partly responsible for the strength of competition in the class. When first introduced, its value for money was uneasily measured against hatchbacks and small MPVs; now there’s a range of well known competitors to keep pace with.

That pressure, and Nissan’s inclination to compete despite its household name status, means the new model remains as broadly competitive as the last.

The Qashqai retains more value than most family hatches

A small price bump – reasonable when you consider the 1.2-litre petrol engine is vastly superior to the old 1.6 – means the first of four trim grades starts at less than £18k.

Entry-level Visia models aren't poorly equipped, but Nissan will expect most buyers to start shopping at Acenta level. Most buyers will opt for diesel, too, and the continued refining of the 1.5 dCi means its 99g/km and 74.3mpg claimed figures are class leading. Typically, we couldn’t repeat Nissan’s quotation in the real world, but 55.7mpg on a tour and 48.6mpg overall are impressive figures.

Expect the 1.6-litre diesel to return similar economy in the real world, but don't discount the 1.2-litre petrol. If you've no intention to haul lots of kit around, and won't be covering many miles, its hushed and flexible nature may be well suited to your needs.

If you do want the 99g/km 1.5-litre diesel Qashqai, go for it and keep things simple – but get a higher-spec variant with Nissan Connect if you want DAB radio or sat-nav.

As before, Nissan is likely to place the marketing emphasis on its front-wheel-drive models. All-wheel drive comes at a significantly higher price than elsewhere and cannot be had with the base trim or smaller engines.

The Qashqai’s residual values are expected to remain acceptably sturdy, although buyers of secondhand ones will almost certainly have the luxury of a huge choice a few years out.



Nissan Qashqai road test review static front

The Qashqai has become a hugely important car to Nissan. Replacing it must have been a tough brief.

The company can be forgiven for hedging its bets with the styling, but it’s a shame that this new Qashqai fails to stand out from the crossover crowd as a segment-defining car should. It’s also a shame that it isn’t more characterful to drive. Even the latest round of updates don't lift the Qashqai out of the realms of ordinary, despite improving the looks, quality and refinement.

The Qashqai once ruled the crossover class by a distance, but the gap has closed in recent years

But our reservations end there – and ultimately fade into the background. We have nothing but respect for Nissan’s achievement in elevating this car into a class of its own, chiefly on economy, refinement and ease of use.

On top of that, the Qashqai has the kind of dynamic breadth of ability that will make it easy to adopt for those new to a crossover and will be greatly appreciated by those trading out of less well mannered soft-roaders.

That broad-battedness will be key if the car is to continue to grow in prominence. It certainly deserves to.

Rivals such as the Skoda Yeti have much to offer, but fail to match the Qashqai's all-round competitiveness and appeal. It is a phenomenonally good car in its class, but it has been ultimately eclipsed by the new kid on the block in the shape of the Seat Ateca, and is also threatened by the Skoda Kodiaq and the revamped Mazda CX-5.


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 2014-2021 First drives