From £23,5658

Nissan refreshes its best-seller. Does this new-generation version regain the class lead?

The subject of this week’s road test has been dubbed the Cashcow by some in industry circles. That’s because the Nissan Qashqai crossover almost single-handedly saved Nissan in Europe when the first generation was launched in 2006.

It really popularised the idea that you can have something that looks like an off-roader without it actually needing all the heavy, inefficient hardware to make it capable in the mud – and people responded in numbers.

All cars get LED headlights. Aerodynamic ducts are real, and they’re big enough to make a Honda Civic Type R blush.

Although practically every other manufacturer followed suit and produced a competitor, Nissan’s original continues to top the UK crossover-class sales. With 52,532 registrations in 2019, it was the fifth-best-selling car in the UK, beating its Ford Kuga rival by more than 10,000. It even managed to maintain its position in the extraordinary year that was 2020.

As well as being a success story for Nissan, the Qashqai is also a shining beacon for UK car manufacturing, having been produced in Sunderland from the start. As car maker after car maker closes its UK manufacturing base – Honda made its last Honda Civic in Swindon only a few weeks ago – it is heartening that the new, third-generation Qashqai continues to be made here.

The second-generation Qashqai had been around since 2013 so it’s remarkable that although it lagged somewhat behind the best of the competition, it remained on the pace in sales terms. It makes sense, therefore, for Nissan to tread carefully with the new one. Indeed, its strategy of making its pure- electric SUV, the Ariya, a completely separate model leaves room for the EV to be a bit bolder, while the Qashqai remains a crowd pleaser.

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Nissan Qashqai design & styling

This car’s design certainly ticks a great many of the boxes expected of a compact SUV in 2021. Sharp LED light signature? Check. Contrasting ‘floating’ roof? Check. Option of massive, bi-colour wheels? Check. Slightly larger in every direction? Check.

In fact, the new Qashqai is quite a bit larger than its predecessor, at 35mm longer (20mm of that in the wheelbase), 25mm taller and a rather significant 32mm wider. It clearly retains the family link with the old one, though, particularly at the rear.

Although the Qashqai’s purpose is not to shock, the new one does receive plenty of distinguishing design features, among them the vertical air ducts in the front bumper, a floating roof design, those new LED headlights and no fewer than 16 exterior colour combinations from which to choose.

Change is a little more radical under the bonnet, where all of the old model’s diesel engines have been put out to pasture, leaving a completely electrified line-up. The 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol unit that was introduced with the previous generation’s last facelift is carried over and is again available with either 136bhp or 156bhp, but it gains mild-hybrid assistance. Both versions come as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, with a CVT being optional on the higher-power version. The 156bhp engine can also be had with all-wheel drive.

The mild-hybrid system is only a 12V set-up rather than a 48V one, and it can contribute only just over 4lb ft of torque for the car when accelerating, so its value lies more in smoothing out stop/start and powering accessories when the engine is off than in supplying any meaningful torque fill.

Standing in for the absent diesel options is an e-Power full hybrid that will soon join the range. As more and more manufacturers start to offer full hybrids to fill that vacant space, a rich variety of powertrain configurations is emerging. Toyota’s long-standing hybrid system is a CVT-alike concept, whereas some others use dual-clutch gearboxes, Renault uses a clutchless gearbox and Honda uses no gearbox at all.

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Nissan’s, like Honda’s, uses only the 1.5-litre engine to charge a battery, while the wheels are exclusively driven by the 184bhp electric motor, which should bring some EV driving sensations to a car that is still dependably petrol-powered.

The Qashqai rides on an updated version of the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s CMF-C platform and most versions get a torsion beam axle for rear suspension, but all-wheel drive models (as well as those on 20in alloys) have a multi-link rear axle instead. Nissan says the updates to the platform have allowed it to further suppress road noise and improve suspension geometry for a more composed ride. More use of aluminium keeps weight manageable despite the larger body.

Nissan Qashqai engine line-up and trim-levels

For the latest generation, Nissan has ditched all diesels in favour of a mix of mild-hybrid and full-hybrid powertrains, all using four-cylinder petrol engines. Pricing for the full hybrid has yet to be announced.

There are six trim levels, with the cheapest of those, Visia, available on the lower-powered engine only. It includes a 7in infotainment system, front and rear LED lights, adaptive cruise control and rear parking sensors as standard.

The step-up Acenta Premium gains 17in alloy wheels, 8in infotainment with built-in satnav and wired smartphone mirroring, rear-view camera and dual-zone air conditioning.

N-Connecta models ride on 18in alloys, and includes privacy glass and front parking sensors as standard. The infotainment system also grows to 9in and gains wireless Apple CarPlay.

Teka models get Pro-Pilot navigation and a 10.8in digital instrument cluster as standard, along with adaptive LED headlights, a hands-free power tailgate, and wireless smartphone charging. It also sits on 19in alloys.

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The most luxurious trim, Tekna+, is reserved for the more powerful engine. It sits on 20in alloy wheels, has quilted leather front seats with massage function, and gets an uprated Bose sound system, among other extras.

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