The greatest British car ever built? Well, without wishing to sound pedantic, it depends what you mean by ‘greatest’.
I suppose the obvious choice would be the Mini, an exemplar in space utilisation and, by happy coincidence, exceptionally agile. But the Mini was never developed and advanced, it was never refined, never became a hatchback and is rumoured to have hardly made any money.
The Austin/Morris 1100/1300 (or ADO16 to the cognoscenti) was closed related to the Mini but was a huge sales success – the UK’s best-seller for a decade. Elegant and class-competitive, it might be argued that this was the greatest British car because it sold in volume. Outright sales successes are rare in the history of the British car industry.
Range Rover? Genre-defining (if not completely original) and a beautiful piece of industrial design, but it was another car criminally underdeveloped and poorly built. The Jaguar E-type? Can I be honest and say I’ve long been in two minds about the styling? I just can’t forgive the ludicrously narrow tracks.
No, if you want a car that defined a new market segment was carefully developed over its life, was solidly engineered, reliable and sold consistently well over many years, you’ll have to look at the Nissan Qashqai. It was designed at Nissan’s studio in Paddington, London. It was engineered by the technical centre in Bedfordshire and it is made – in large numbers – by Nissan’s flagship Sunderland plant.
The Qashqai has even been translated into mildly different models for consumption across the rest of the globe. Production of the car smashed through the one million barrier in early 2011 and it still appears in the top 10 of Europe’s best-selling cars.
Okay, the profits from the Qashqai may show up on balance sheets in Japan, but this is a thoroughly British car, more British than Munich’s Mini. It must also be the fastest-selling British car of all time. The ADO 16 may have shifted 2.1 million units (impressive in a much smaller market), but it was on sale for 12 years.
Britain has never been very good at consistently churning out a big-selling mass-market car over generations like, say, Volkwagen or Renault. A year ago, Nissan-Renault boss Carlos Ghosn went to Downing Street to announce that the next-gen Qashqai would also be designed, engineered and made in the UK.
Moving the metal profitably is what counts in the car industry; if you don’t, the factory lights will eventually be turned off.
Which is why the Qashqai is the greatest British car ever.