Car wars 2014: The return of the Qashqai
When George Lucas followed up his ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, it was a disappointment; Nissan, however, has followed up its successful Qashqai with a dynamic, delightful sequel
Sci-fi style: For the Qashqai’s 2014 update, Nissan apparently asked Nasa for help in the design
Date Reviewed: February 24, 2014
When George Lucas set out to create his epic sci-fi tale, it didn’t have an especially catchy name. The man behind the moderate cinematic hit American Graffiti wanted studios to give him money to make The Adventures of Luke Starkiller, Taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga One; The Star Wars . Doesn’t sound particularly promising, does it?
Journey with us then from Lucas and his production team anxiously awaiting the debut of their new movie in cinemas in 1977, and hop 30 years into the future, to 2007 when Nissan, the company best known for the diminutive Micra, the chunky Patrol and the deeply underwhelming Almera hatchback was ready to set its new creation free amongst the stars. It too had a name that few would think auspicious: Qashqai, the name of a tribe of nomads known for roaming the Arabian desert. Few could spell it, fewer still could pronounce it, and Nissan wanted to sell 100,000 of it a year? C’mon . . .
100,000 turned out to be 140,000 too few. The idea of a taller hatchback with pretensions to being an SUV may have sounded like pure sci-fi
to most car nuts, but a combination of pleasingly chunky styling, decent space and Nissan’s reliability and robustness made the Qashqai a runaway success, to the point where it was essentially bankrolling the whole company for a time.
Nissan’s engineers, marketeers and accountants must have been nervously awaiting the arrival of 2014 and an all-new Qashqai. How do you recreate an unexpected success? How do you catch lightning in a bottle?
In 1977 Lucas had done just that, creating a space opera epic that entranced the world’s eyes and ears as easily as it hoovered their pockets. By 1999, though, and the arrival of the Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace , Lucas showed even he could trip up, with a turgid, dull, confusing movie that turned fans off and is still the subject of much fan-boy ire and angst to this day.
Nissan, however, has avoided that difficult follow-up trap, and by such a significant margin that you suspect Lucasfilm will shortly be dropping into the Qashqai’s Sunderland factory to ask for help.
Let’s start with the styling. At the front, the previous Qashqai’s almost apologetically under-designed front end is gone, replaced with something much more pleasingly brash and just a touch American (but in a good way). It does get a bit more quiet and generic around the back, but this is a far better-looking Qashqai than what went before it. Inside, the story is similar. The new dashboard is handsome and beautifully crafted from pleasingly high-end materials. The front seats are terrifically comfortable, apparently a legacy of Nissan asking NASA for help in their design (the space connections apparently run deep) and it’s only when you get in the back that you find cheaper, harder plastics and a lack of design flair.
Further back again, though, things improve, with a decent 430-litre boot that uses a false floor to allow you to divide and separate your luggage whites from colours, if you’ll excuse the laundry metaphor.
Core Qashqai engine
Once again, the core Qashqai engine will be the familiar 1.5-litre dCI diesel engine shared with various Renault products. It’s a fine engine, reasonably refined and punchy, but its star turn this time around is its emissions rating. At 99g/km, the core Qashqai will cost its owners just €170 a year to tax, and that could create a massive showroom advantage.
Nissan could have stopped there and gone home – job done and the phantom menace of underperformance banished. Thankfully it didn’t, though, because the Qashqai’s trump card is that it’s also terrific to drive. You can feel the tautness in the structure that comes from its high torsional strength, while the steering is hugely impressive – light and accurate but with some actual, real road feel too.
It may seem a backward step that this Qashqai bins the old one’s multi-link rear suspension in favour of torsion bars, but the fitting of twin-tube shock absorbers bucks up the suspension’s ideas and gives the Qashqai a very Ford-like feel of firmness with supple bump suppression. It’s quite simply a delight to drive, a feeling heightened by the way you look, Range Rover-style, across and down the bonnet as you guide it through corners.
Honestly, the new Qashqai is so clearly carefully and diligently honed and perfected that it’s hard not to be impressed. Where George Lucas took a risk on expanding and explaining his created universe, to disastrous effect, Nissan has taken no such risk and instead concentrated on making better what was already there.
The result is probably the most impressive new family car since the 1998 Mk 1 Ford Focus.