FLASH THE QASH - Nissan Qashqai

Independent Car Review - overall score 76/100

Performance 7
Handling 8
Comfort 7
Space 6
Styling 8
Build 7
Value 9
Equipment 8
Economy 8
Depreciation 8
Insurance 8
Total 76

When is a 4x4 not a 4x4? When it's a Nissan Qashqai. June Neary reports on the improved version.

Will It Suit Me?

In the current environmentally-conscious climate, all of us - even those who really do need to struggle up half a mile of rutted track to reach their front doors - are being forced to think long and hard about the ethical implications of SUV ownership. Completely unjustified though much of the criticism heaped on the trusty off-road vehicle may be, it has still had an impact on public opinion and 4x4s, particularly larger ones driving in towns, are now routinely frowned upon by the populace at large.

If only SUV fans could get the undoubted benefits of an offroad vehicle in a friendlier, less controversial package. That's the idea behind the current breed of so-called 'Crossover' models, family hatchbacks with SUV hormones and the option of AWD. The car that started the trend for models of this kind is the one we're looking at here, rejuvenated in MK2 guise and further improved in the updated form I thought I'd look at this week. Say hello to the latest version of Nissan's Qashqai.

As ever, the Qashqai looks well-equipped to do a great PR job for the SUV. It has the chunky styling that people warm to, the high ride height that aids visibility while helping you tackle high kerbs or speed humps and you can get it with four-wheel-drive for added grip in slippery conditions. On the other hand, the Qashqai is light, economical and nimble. It's also similar in size to a conventional family hatch and most models come in front-wheel-drive form. Nissan certainly have an interesting proposition on their hands here.

Practicalities

The Qashqai in no way pretends to be a 4x4 that's capable of besting difficult off-road terrain. This is sensible because even the compact 4x4s that do make such claims tend to get stuck or damaged pretty quickly when put to the test and most owners would never dream of getting them seriously muddy anyway. Think of the Qashqai more as a high-riding family hatchback, a jacked-up Volkswagen Golf if you will, and you'll be on the right track.

Most models come in two-wheel drive form only, with 4x4 mechanicals only offered on pricey variants at the top of the range. The interior yields plenty of headroom for a spacious feel and leg room for passengers in the back is unlikely to cause complaint - it certainly beats most family hatchbacks. With three adults across the rear bench, it is a little snug but smaller children won't have a problem fitting in and there's a big boot behind to take luggage or shopping.

As part of this model's mid-term package of upgrades, it gets a smarter look featuring a completely revised front end, including the latest Nissan 'V-motion' grille. The headlamps have also been revised with a new version of the 'boomerang' Daytime Running Light signature. At the rear, the car's instantly recognisable 'boomerang' light motif is extended across the whole lamp, and now includes a contemporary 3D lens effect to enhance the signature shape.

There are changes in the cabin too, where an improved layout, higher-quality materials and more advanced technology feature. The 'NissanConnect' infotainment system features a smarter user interface and also new is a D-shaped multi-function steering wheel with premium satin-chrome inserts. It features a new four-way controller for the combimeter display, for more intuitive use and less 'eyes off the road' time.

Behind the Wheel

High kerbs and rogue traffic calming measures are all taken in the Qashqai's stride thanks to its increased ride height and tough suspension. You also get a good view around the front end for parking and driving in areas where space is tight. Rear visibility isn't as good with the window line rising up at the back making for a smaller glass area and thick pillars down the sides of the tailgate.

The Qashqai is really comfortable on the open road, with the suspension soaking up the bumps in a measured manner. When cornering, you'll experience more lean in the body than in hatchbacks that sit much lower to the road but at sensible speeds, the difference is pretty slight. The steering is quite hefty and this may not be to everyone's taste but it's also accurate and there's none of the twitchiness you can get at speed in cars with lighter set-ups.

I tried the 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine with 115PS and it had plenty of guts for getting the Qashqai up hills and smartly away from the lights. I suspect that those seeking a really sporty drive will feel a bit short changed by this engine and may want to upgrade to one of the diesels - there's a choice between a 1.5-litre dCi co-developed with Renault, good for 110PS, and benefiting from a recent revision of the engine's internals to improve refinement. Or the 130PS 1.6-litre dCi unit that is offered in either two or four-wheel drive guises. This engine is also sold with the Xtronic transmission, a stepped CVT gearbox.

My 1.2 DIG-T variant sounded a little strained on occasion but when it returns over 50mpg on the combined cycle, you can't really complain. Besides, that kind of economy and the 129g/km emissions give you the perfect retorts when people see you in what appears to be a 4x4 and question your environmental credentials. My Qashqai pumped out less carbon than my old 1.4-litre Ford Focus and used less fuel than some citycars. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! On second thoughts, don't. You'll only contribute to the greenhouse effect.

Value For Money

At prices starting from around £19,000 for the entry-level 1.2-litre petrol model or £1,800 more for the small 1.5-litre dCi diesel, the Qashqai is competitive when compared to equivalent family Crossover models like Peugeot's 3008 or Kia's Sportage. And of course it compares very favourably to compact 4x4s like the Toyota RAV4 or the Honda CR-V on price: expect to save around £5,000.

Could I Live With One?

If you value those 4x4 looks and the advantages that the higher ride height affords in urban areas, the Qashqai makes a very good alternative to a run-of-the-mill hatchack. It's an original but very well-conceived product that isn't quite as tidy on the road as the best hatches but comes close and represents a much more individual choice. If you're considering a fully-fledged compact 4x4 but never plan on using its offroad capabilities, the Qashqai makes a very attractive compromise.

We currently have 55 used Nissan Qashqai Cars