What is it?
You’re looking at the latest, smallest-capacity version of Nissan’s all-conquering Qashqai SUV; designed, developed and built right here in the UK.
This is a two-wheel-drive model, conceived in the knowledge that many more soft-roaders are employed to collect kids from school than to climb mountains, so their owners are happy to avoid paying for a lot of heavy all-wheel-drive paraphernalia strapped underneath, a saving that amounts to several thousand pounds and 60-80kg.
A few years ago, an SUV with a 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, even if turbocharged and able to muster a healthy 113bhp and 140lb ft of torque, would have been laughed out of court. Not enough grunt, people would have said. It’ll rev its head off and probably wear out before the rest of the car has lived half a life.
But times have changed. Modern customer demands (and modern engine design theory) have shown that small engines can deliver top-class durability while saving mass, space and internal friction, to the benefit of the total vehicle’s agility, performance, fuel consumption and braking performance.
This is why Nissan has chosen to offer its lightweight 1.2-litre 16-valve four-cylinder turbo petrol engine in Sunderland’s super-successful SUV, providing an entry-level alternative to the 108bhp 1.5-litre dCi diesel, already one of the range’s best-sellers. The petrol model is expected to gain altitude rapidly as customers discover its virtues.
What's it like?
A scan of the specifications sheet shows what close competition it poses for the similar-performance, somewhat more conventional 1.5-litre diesel (which we tested at the start of the year).
The 1.2-litre petrol, which comes with a standard six-speed gearbox, undercuts the diesel’s price by a handy £1260 and despite its lack of cubic inches it provides slightly brisker performance: 11.3sec 0-62mph acceleration against 12.4sec for the diesel.
The trade-off is fuel consumption 8-10mpg behind the 1.5dCi’s day-to-day figure in the late 40s, but a real-world figure of 38-42mpg is still impressive for any SUV, and some buyers will doubtless prefer the quietness and smoothness of a petrol engine (not to mention the lower price of four-star) to somewhat messier, pricier diesel fuel.
Best of all, there’s a comparative nose-lightness about the petrol model that adds delicacy to the Qashqai’s already excellent steering: repeatedly on test we’ve found remarkably little difference between the agility of this well-developed SUV and the better-class C-segment saloons.
The Qashqai’s ride comfort is especially impressive: it’s quiet, well damped but well controlled and never wallowy. You quickly come to appreciate that this suspension has been developed with the UK’s widely varied (and frequently rutted and uneven) roads in mind.
All the usual Qashqai virtues are present in this lower-end petrol Acenta: impressive trim, convenient and easily read instruments, a pervading aura of quality, comfortable seats and better rear space than both opposition models and the previous Qashqai. The UK-built crossover already sells in huge numbers, and this new economical petrol model well deserves to share the success.