Qashqai cashes in on stylish appeal
ROAD TEST: Nissan Qashqai 1.6 DCi Acenta awd
Johannesburg - With the help of a radio ad which humorously toyed with the pronunciation of its name, the Nissan Qashqai quickly established itself as a popular-selling crossover car with over 20 000 sold in South Africa since its 2007 launch.
It had the raised ride height and space of a mid-sized SUV, and while some versions offered all-wheel drive, they never pretended to be anything you could haul through a muddy offroad expedition.
Now that the introductions are over and we know how it’s pronounced (for the record: “kash-kai”), the second-generation Qashqai has arrived to compete for the attention of family buyers in a very competitive softroader market which includes the likes of the Toyota Rav4, Kia Sportage, Ford Kuga, Ssangyong Korando and Audi Q3, among others.
IT’S GROWN GRACEFULLY
The generous space and elevated ground clearance so liked by school-run moms are still there but a restyle, enhanced technology and new engines bring the Qashqai gracefully grown-up into 2014.
Along with being larger, lighter and lower than before, the Qashqai has an all-new design. It’s a safer and more subtle look than the bold (if polarising) Nissan Juke, but there are a couple of styling jewels that stand out, like the new arrow-shaped LED daytime running lights framing Nissan’s signature V-grille.
Head, leg and shoulder room have improved and this mid-sized SUV’s cabin will happily accommodate four or five adults in reasonable comfort. So too their clutter, and there are numerous storage nooks and cupholders.
The boot’s grown by 20 litres but at 430 litres it’s still one of the smallest in class, although it does come with a full-sized spare, not one of those disliked space-savers.
The vehicle has reasonable versatility in that the rear seats can be folded flat to expand the boot to 1585 litres but, unlike in some competitor cars, the passengers can’t adjust these seats for backrest angle nor legroom. The steering has both tilt and height adjustment though.
A revised engine line-up sees the new Qashqai getting a new 1.2-litre petrol turbo to replace the previous normally-aspirated 1.6 and 2.0 versions. The diesel offering comprises a 1.5-litre as before, but in the flagship model a new 1.6 has replaced the 2-litre.
All this may seem like a major power downgrade, but it’s all part of a general downsizing trend towards smaller and more fuel-efficient engines.
The 1.6 diesel version on test here has taken a dip to 96kW from the old 2-litre’s 110kW, but torque is the same at 320Nm.
From behind the wheel there are no unsatisfied power cravings and this Qashqai shunts forward responsively, with minimal low-rev lag and good mid-range urge.
Its easy-driving nature is aided by a slick gearshift action, while hill-start assist also makes life simpler through busy traffic.
The version on test here is the top-of-the-range 1.6 DCi Acenta all-wheel drive, selling for R383 800. This AWD version has six manual forward gears, but drivers with lazy left feet can opt for the CVT automatic which comes with two-wheel drive only and sells for R382 500.
Apart from delivering decent pulling power it’s a very frugal engine, and our test vehicle’s 6.1 litres per 100km town/freeway average was impressively economical for a vehicle of this size, even though it didn’t match Nissan’s 5.3 litres claim. It runs only on 50ppm diesel, but the fuel is becoming more widely available.
The four-cylinder unit is also pleasingly refined. Apart from a mildly agricultural murmur while idling, the car generally wafts along with a hushed deportment.
A system called Active Ride Control is said to improve ride comfort by applying subtle braking to individual wheels when driving over undulating surfaces. The vehicle felt reasonably wafty over most surfaces, although the low-profile 19” tyres did cause some unwelcome jarring over speed humps.
Clean handling comes as part of the package and despite its elevated ride height the Qashqai didn’t feel overtly squishy through tight corners.
DECENT ON ROUGH ROADS
Any attempt to tackle a hardcore offroad trail will quickly render you in need of a tow, but the reasonable 182mm ground clearance and all-wheel drive do give this softroader more rough-road ability than the average car. The All Mode 4x4i is an intelligent all-wheel-drive system which measures wheel slip and diverts engine torque to where it’s needed, or you can lock it in 4x4 mode if required.
The main benefit of the AWD traction, combined with stability control and ABS brakes, is that it gives the vehicle almost foolproof roadholding on slippery roads.
The new Qashqai’s achieved a maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash rating, and all models come with six airbags and Isofix child- seat anchor points.
IMPROVED CABIN QUALITY
The interior has taken a significant leap in quality. The passenger compartment is neat and inoffensive in that typical way of modern Japanese and Korean cars.
The soft-touch dashboard combined with metallic trim accents provide a pleasing ambience, which in our test vehicle was further enhanced with optional leather seats (cloth trim comes standard).
There’s a touch of theatrics when you press the start button and the needles of the rev counter and speedo arc across their dials, while an animated graphic of the car twirls slowly on a screen in the instrument panel.
Gadgets are plentiful and in this high-spec flagship model standard luxuries include cruise control, dual-zone climate control, an intelligent key with push-button start, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, and power-operated driver’s seat.
All the necessary connectivity is there in the form of USB and aux ports, along with Bluteooth phone connection.
To assist with parking, our test vehicle was also equipped with the optional Nissan Around View Monitor which uses external cameras to create a helicopter’s eye view of the car and its surroundings on the 7” LCD monitor.
Another fitted option was NissanConnect, which makes its debut in the new Qashqai, an infotainment system operated via the 7” touch screen which incorporates navigation, Google search, smartphone integration for iOS and Android devices, and a Facebook app.
With its 1.6 engine this Qashqai loses out on a bit of power compared to its rivals which all have gutsier engines of 2-litres or more (see below). It’s also a little smaller than the opposition. But the Nissan feels neither underpowered nor cramped, and its practicality and all-round appeal come with a price saving over most of the competition.
It has impressive fuel economy too, and a class-leading 6-year/150 000km warranty, which comes with roadside assistance and a 5 year/90 000km service plan.
Nissan Qashqai 1.6 DCi Acenta awd
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Power: 96kW @ 4000rpm
Torque: 320Nm @ 1750rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 10.5 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 190km/h
Consumption (claimed): 5.3 litres per 100km
Price: R383 800
Warranty: Six-year/150 000km
Service plan: Five-year/90 000km
COMPARISON VS RIVALS
Nissan Qashqai 1.6 DCi Acenta awd: length 4377mm, outputs 96kW and 320Nm, price R383 800.
Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi awd: Length 4445mm, outputs 130kW and 382Nm, price R413 995.
Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCI Trend: length 4443mm, outputs, 120kW and 340Nm, price R413 900.
Ssangyong Korando D20T 4x4 deluxe AT: length 4410mm, outputs 129kW and 360Nm, price R394 995.
Toyota Rav4 2.2 D-4D AWD VX: length 4570mm, outputs 110kW and 340Nm, price R385 600.
Audi Q3 2.0 TDI Quattro: length 4385mm, outputs 103kW and 320Nm, R477 500.
Honda CRV 2.3i-DTEC Elegance awd: length 4570mm, 110kW and 350Nm, R459 900.