A much-improved car in most of the ways that matter. It’s lower than the car it replaces, but roomier inside; more refined and more efficient; better finished and better equipped. Less distinctive, perhaps – but much better executed than before.
Before it does anything else, the new Qashqai gives you an impression of spaciousness when you climb aboard. There’s head-, knee and elbow room to spare, even for larger occupants – and that’s not something you’d necessarily have said about a Qashqai before. The cabin materials aren’t spectacular but they’re tactile, very consistently finished, and just plush enough for an understated aura of quality. The indicator stalks, for example, are hefty and grained, while the seats are very comfortable indeed. Nissan borrowed ergonomic design principals from NASA when it commissioned them, apparently. Who’d have thought seats needed to be supportive in zero-gravity?
The attention to detail extends a long way into the Qashqai’s driving experience, too. That 1.5-litre turbodiesel is as quiet as they come, and while it’s a little bit slow to respond at very low revs, at medium and high revs it's keener and generally serves this oversized hatchback with more-than-adequate acceleration. Very good real-world economy, too; 55mpg comes up on a mixed cruise without any serious commitment to driving efficiently.
The striking impression of rolling refinement also flows from a remarkably quiet secondary ride. Most versions of the new Qashqai retain a torsion beam rear suspension layout, but all of them get innovative double-piston dampers as standard. Distinct from ‘twin-tube’ shocks which work differently, these dampers allow for two separate damping rates for high- and low-frequency lumps and bumps, and they deliver a very flat, controlled ride for the Qashqai at one moment, and quiet, smooth bump absorption the next. At times, the car’s body control can feel a little bit too muscular, but it’s generally quite pliant and all-but-impervious to things like grates, drains and small potholes.
The Qashqai’s handling isn’t particularly athletic or exciting. The steering has several assistance settings, but even the lightest has plenty of weight, and grip is ultimately balanced for stability. So while the car doesn’t roll much, it also doesn’t have much of an appetite for corners. It’s manageable at low speeds, though, as well as secure on the motorway, and very competent on a cross-country road.