- Published: Sunday, 20 July 2014 13:12
Nissan’s small SUV, the Qashqai, was debuted in 2007 and always required more saliva to successfully pronounce the name, than its competitors. But the excess Qs didn’t stop it from being a popular SUV, both here and abroad.
Well built, okay-looking and relatively cheap to run - 2.0-litre engine aside - the Qashqai even expanded sideways into the seven-seat Qashqai +2 model. While the original didn’t sear any retinas, it’s aged quite well too.
Seven years on, Nissan has wrought large-scale changes on the Qashqai: It retains the 2.0-litre engine and obviously its platform, but everything else is quite obviously different. Between the wheels there’s 16mm more space - 2,646mm - which points to wheel mounting differences rather than a true stretching, although overall the car’s 50mm longer, probably thanks to that new, shovel-faced front, while also being slightly lower. Nissan also claims it isn’t just about looks, as the new lines have made the Qashqai more slippery too with the coefficient of drag lowered from a container-truck 0.36 to a more fishy 0.32cD.
And it’s a pretty nice front too, all purpose and sharper angles, less like the revised Murano and more like a 370Z. Really, it sounds weird, but that’s what it looks like. Good thing that the whole car looks different, it’s now more extroverted the way SUVs are required to be nowadays, like a high-riding Mardi Gras of pretend off-roading.
Segment sniggering aside, fashion-conscious buyers will be glad to know the car packs striking LED mainbeam headlights as well as LED daytime running lights for a suitably high-tech feel.
In other places, the model’s been pared down. For one thing, there’s only the plain Qashqai, with the +2 variant being now considered an evolutionary dead end (Nissan may do a seven-seat bigger SUV X-Trail soon) and the Qashqai sold here has only in a singular ‘Premium’ trim level and engine choice. Still, the boot’s been upsized by 20-litres (to 430-litres) and there is still plenty of space all round.
Incidentally the focus on five seats it does seem to sum up where the car’s going. The interior has a noticeably improved build quality: The plastic is less plastic, there’s more emphasis on interesting curves and features without compromising on practicality. Like in the armrest there’s a deep storage space that has a 12V and USB socket, with little nooks to tuck your 12V plug into, and you can stow your phone in the upper shelf while charging.
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Like other new Nissan models, the Qashqai comes with the NASA-inspired ‘Zero Gravity’ seats which are supposed to hold you in a netural seating position and help with blood flow. While they look like normal, well-made leather units, they really are quite comfy, given we didn’t have to adjust them constantly on our 150km test drive, unlike in many other cars.
The driver gets a colour display nestled between the two instrument binnacles (like on the Teana) and you can diddle settings using the steering wheel controls. Everything feels nicer, although the aforementioned controls are a bit wayward. It all works well enough, but the directional buttons seem mis-labelled.
Like many SUVs, the Qashqai generates noticeable tyre noise, although it doesn’t bluster through the atmosphere at high speeds either. What’s also significant is the stiff ride quality - it’s certainly on the busy side, but is not uncomfortable. The upside of this is that the body control is uniformly excellent. Nissan touts two new suspension advancements - double-piston shocks (basically a piston in a piston for more delicacy of damping, coincidentally also available in the Infiniti Q50) and Active Ride Control. The latter uses minute brake applications to help control pitch (see-saw-type movements) as the car moves over bumps.
Added to this is Active Trace Control, which works like Volkswagen’s Electronic Differential Lock (EDL) by braking the inside wheel to reduce understeer or vice versa. The result of all this elec-trickery is that the car feels quite fun to pilot. It’s easy to drive but not staid, and feels refreshingly adroit at high speeds.
With a nominally gruntier engine (from 138bhp up to 144bhp) the car’s slightly quicker to 100km/h than before, but it’s obviously nothing to write home about. 10.1 seconds though, is decent, and paired with a newly-revised CVT gearbox that has an Active Lock-Up that helps to reduce the rubber-band feel and imbue more directness in gaining speed.
In the singular ‘Premium’ trim, you do get quite a few amenities as standard too - LED headlights and DRLs, a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry and start, a Bluetooth equipped infotainment system. Like the previous Qashqai though, the car is built in the UK, and that means a lot more now with the big overall improvement. As our cover story from last issue said, the Japanese aren’t on the back foot any more and the Qashqai is a great example of that.
NEED TO KNOW
Engine 1,997cc, 16V, inline 4,
Power 144bhp from 6600rpm
Torque 200Nm from 4400rpm
Gearbox 7-speed CVT
Top Speed 184km/h
0-100kmh 10.1 seconds
Fuel efficiency 6.9L/100km
Price $135,800 with COE
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