Johannesburg - You know what they say about assumptions, right? Well, let’s skip all the profanities because ultimately ‘they’ are right and you just shouldn’t make ‘em.

But this is also a note to self because recently I was guilty of a pre-conception of sorts after taking delivery of Nissan’s new (as in facelifted) Qashqai in top-of-the-range diesel form. Given that it shares a platform and numerous bits and bobs with X-Trail (they look almost identical from the B-pillars forward), I assumed it would ultimately feel and perform just like its bigger brother, which we had recently tested.

But then came a pleasant surprise.

As much as the X-Trail 1.6 dCi impressed us in many respects, we were put off by its notable turbo lag and snappy clutch (making it easy to stall), while the notchy gearbox did little for its overall smoothness of operation.

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And yet the diesel Qashqai felt markedly different. Granted, it has a different engine, in the form of the Renault-sourced 1.5 dCi, with 81kW and 260Nm. Smaller and less powerful it may be, but the whole engine, gearbox and clutch package works more smoothly and the vehicle just feels better engineered. Sure, there is still a bit of a flat spot below 2000rpm, but it’s seldom an irritant, and the Qashqai still launches off the mark quite easily, while also offering better all-round performance than its outputs suggest. Gutsy it’s not, but it’s certainly adequate for a lower-end diesel SUV.

Oh, and it’s really economical too, our test car having sipped around 5.0 litres per 100km on the open road and 8.2 litres per 100km in the city.

Like its X-Trail sibling, the Qasqhai hardly needed a facelift as it was already arguably one of the better lookers in its segment, but it does look somewhat bolder now with its new front end featuring a far more prominent ‘V-motion’ grille, while the stylish, sloping-tailed rear end stays largely as before, apart from new 3D-effect tail lights.

The Qashqai’s cabin design doesn’t look too different to the naked eye, but the 2018 facelift did bring a new flat-bottomed steering wheel - which Nissan seems to imply is more about easy access than being racy, although it does look the business. You’ll find new materials on the air vents and interior door handles, in a subtle attempt to impart a higher-quality ambience, and the 2018 model also comes with completely redesigned front seats with tapered shoulders, and which I found to be comfortable and supportive.

Interestingly, although its dashboard is nearly identical to that in the X-Trail, the Qashqai’s cockpit actually feels slightly better finished. Both have a soft-touch slush-moulded upper section, but the Qashqai also has the soft stuff on the lower panel facing the front passenger - where the X-Trail has hard plastic with synthetic stitching. It’s also got some mood lighting, although nothing elaborate like the systems offered in higher-end vehicles.

What you have to forgo, versus its bigger brother, is some of the interior space.

The Qashqai is 263mm shorter than the X-Trail, although just 59 of those millimetres comes out of the wheelbase. Nonetheless, whereas the X-Trail’s rear legroom is surprisingly vast (you’d swear it wanted to be a Presidential Limo in its next life), the Qashqai’s rear quarters are simply generous. There is still more than enough legroom for larger teens, but headroom could be a problem for those taller kids, and there is a bit less boot space (430 litres versus 550), albeit that’s probably still more than enough to meet most needs.

We tried out the range-topping Tekna model, which comes with a seven-speaker Bose Premium sound system linked to a 17.8cm touchscreen infotainment system with satnav as well as a decent serving of save-your-bacon driver assistance gadgets. These include Nissan’s Around View Monitor with Moving Object Detection, Blind Spot Warning, Cross Traffic Alert and Intelligent Emergency Braking.

The X-Trail offers a reasonably comfy ride, and it feels quiet and refined out on the open road.

VERDICT

Stylish, comfortably sized for a small family, economical and well appointed, Nissan’s Qasqhai 1.5 dCi has a lot going for it, although it is a little on the steep side at R445 500 - and there is no shortage of compelling alternatives in that neck of the woods.

FACTS

Nissan Qashqai 1.5 dCi Tekna

Engine: 1.5-litre, 4-cyl, turbodiesel
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Power: 81kW @ 4000rpm
Torque: 260Nm @ 1750-2500rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 11.9 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 182km/h
Price: R445 500
Warranty: 6-year/150 000km
Service plan: 3-year/90 000km

ALTERNATIVES

Nissan Qashqai 1.5 dCi Tekna 81kW/260Nm R445 500
Hyundai Tucson 1.7 CRDi Executive 85kW/280Nm R454 900
Kia Sportage 1.7 CRDi Ignite Plus 85kW/280Nm R419 415
Renault Kadjar 1.5 dCi Dynamique 81kW/260Nm R397 900
VW Tiguan 2.0 TDi Comfortline 81kW/250Nm R489 900

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