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Engine options, speed, acceleration and refinement

On a car that is intended to appeal to a wide audience, the only area where the new Qashqai really frustrates is with its powertrain. For this road test, we have tried the manual 156bhp 1.3 with front-wheel drive. On paper, that makes it 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.

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.

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.

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.

When a car’s gearbox is a joy to use, such defects can perhaps be ignored, but Nissan has a habit of making its clutch pedals feel a bit spongy, with a high bite point – just as it has here. To make matters worse, engine revs drop very slowly when the clutch is disengaged, which makes it more difficult than it need 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.

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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. It’s a shame, then, that wider test experience suggests that the car’s CVT alternative isn’t without fault, either – so whichever way you order the car, it might not end up with a particularly agreeable powertrain.