New Qashqai retains its lead with latest tech

Nissan refreshes the flavour of a firm favourite without ruining the recipe


From out of the fog cloaking the French sector of Geneva come a trio of Nissan Qashqais. Even in the mist they are instantly recognisable. This is the second generation of the crossover whose popularity in Ireland seems to know no limit.

The VW Golf may have been the best-selling model in Ireland in 2013, but the fact a run-out Nissan Qashqai finished second speaks volumes about the fondness Irish motorists harbour for the diminutive SUV-styled family hatchback.

When the Japanese brand launched the Qashqai back in 2007, it received lukewarm reviews from the media. It was basically a two-wheeled family hatchback with SUV pretensions and we couldn’t quite see the fit.

However, Nissan did: take SUV styling and match it with hatchback pricing and efficient engines. So what if it wasn’t a real mud-plugger? This was the sort of SUV crossover demanded by the mass market suburban set. It flew off the forecourts and Nissan blossomed as a result.

In the lean years that followed, and with a very mixed bag of models on offer, the Qashqai often seemed to be the lifeline for the brand. There were months when the crossover was outselling its fellow Nissan models by the order of multiples. Globally two million have been sold – 1.5 million in Europe – many to customers who had previously never set foot in a Nissan forecourt.

The success was not missed by rivals, and it now faces off against 14 direct rivals. However, Nissan has kept ahead of the game for now.

This month sees the arrival of the second generation Qashqai that created a serious conundrum for the firm: how do you refresh the flavour of a firm favourite without ruining the recipe? The answer is to add fresh technology, a few new creases, more efficient engines and then leave well enough alone.

This new Qashqai epitomises evolutionary engineering. Even the engineers who worked on the new car admit they were often daunted by the task of repeating the success of the first launch.

Stronger stance
The design team, based at the firm’s European centre in London, were tasked with creating the new look and giving the car a stronger stance. In that they’ve succeeded. Driving through towns well used to seeing Nissan’s current crossover, the new model looks different enough to turn a few heads. It’s a really tidy package.

Up front is the new grille styling that will feature on all future models. Width is increased by 47mm, while length is up 26mm. Headroom has been increased, although one notable omission is the ability to adjust the height in the driver’s seat.

It seems a bizarre feature to leave out, particularly if taller owners don’t want to slouch. A more impressive feature is the ability to have a wet and dry area in the boot.

In terms of new tech, many of the controls are operated via the firm’s latest colour touchscreen and engineers at the launch were eager to talk up future app developments in conjunction with the likes of TripAdvisor. With these you can set your Sat-Nav to bring you to the nearest Franco-Japanese fusion restaurant rated four stars by app users, or suchlike.

Other features – many common to rivals – include forward emergency braking, driver attention alert, traffic sign recognition, land departure warning and high beam assist. Nissan’s new Park Assist system also steers the car into parking spaces, while its helicopter view reversing camera system – using multiple small cameras around the car – has already garnered public interest.

Overall, the interior has been improved, while the new colour screen on the driver’s instrument binnacle is smarter than many rivals. Rear seat legroom can cope well with adult occupants .

Amongst the revamped engine line-up is the firm’s well-established 1.5-litre 110PS diesel, developed with sister brand Renault. This remains the best of the bunch, offering steady power and fuel economy, well matched to the size of the vehicle.

Competitive in its class
This is actually the sixth generation of this engine and emissions have been brought down to 99g/km, while there is an extra 20Nm of torque, which helps mid-range acceleration. It’s also quieter, while official fuel economy figures of 3.8 L/100km (74.4mpg) makes it very competitive in its class.

Of the rest the 1.6-litre diesel on offer packs more power with 128bhp and is fitted to the four-wheel-drive versions and can be mated to Nissan’s latest constantly variable automatic transmission (CVT). Like all CVTs, however, it has severe limitations in delivering power at the right time, so unless you must opt for an automatic then give this a miss.

Nissan is also offering a 1.2-litre 114bhp entry-level engine, which mated with the six-speed manual is surprisingly competent, given the size of the Qashqai. It’s not as impressive as Ford’s 1-litre EcoBoost petrol engine, which has reawakened interest in petrol powertrains amongst mainstream buyers, but it doesn’t leave the new Qashqai lagging behind the pack.

Petrol engines never sold in large numbers on the outgoing model but Nissan reckons that will change, with this new engine managing 129g/km and 5.6 L/100km (50.4mpg). They reckon it could make up 20 per cent of sales, particularly with interest from urban and suburban buyers.

Nissan has opted for a variable steering system where you can choose a sports mode that adds greater weight to the steering feel, albeit with no change to throttle response.

It’s a token gesture towards a more engaging drive, but worthy nonetheless. On the roundabout-riddled back roads of Geneva the new Qashqai sits nicely on the road, soaking up the bumps and handling like a regular hatchback. The 1-5-litre diesel remains our favoured powertrain and we would certainly forsake the CVT for manual transmission.

The good news for Nissan is that first impressions are of a car that has lost none of its allure, merely updated its look and caught up with the latest technology features – in safety and infotainment . Those who opted for the outgoing version sacrifice some of the latest gadgets for a slightly better price, but I suspect they won’t feel too aggrieved.

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