When the Nissan Qashqai debuted in 2007 it caused a bit of a stir. "Is it an SUV? Is it an overweight hatchback? What do we call it?" we joked. Its strange name quickly became the default braai time 'one liner'; "Have you heard about the new Nissan CASHCOW?" Cue sniggling and generally juvenile 'LOLs'.
Ironically, the joke is on us and other manufacturers, though, because not only did Nissan introduce us to a market segment which would effectively spark a 'War of the Worlds' between manufacturers, the Qashqai has actually become somewhat of cash cow for Nissan, who have managed to sell more than two million since its 2007 debut. Why, you might ask? Because, simply, it is very good Crossover.
So, what should a very good compact Crossover accomplish in the hearts and minds of the buying public? Well, visually it needs to aspire to something along the lines of its full-size SUV siblings, but not be overly macho. It should be manageable on crowded streets, motorways and tight parking lots, yet still command presence on the road, with a smidgeon of off-road ability. Inside it needs be flexible and spacious enough for a growing family, with a good mix of quality materials and ruggedness needed to stand up to the rigours of said family. By doing so, it also shouldn't make you pine permanently for the usual luxury offered by most premium full-size SUVs.
It's stunning to look at! This is an all-new model, right?
Indeed. Now in its second incarnation, Nissan has literally chosen their sacred cash cow as their platform to introduce the new modern day Nissan corporate styling, which has subsequently rolled through to the new Juke and X-Trail. The latter effectively an enlarged Qashqai from a design perspective.
Certainly, the new Qashqai is one of the best-looking vehicles on the road today, not just within the Crossover segment in which it competes. From the curvaceous clamshell bonnet, striking new front end (now incorporating requisite LED running lights) and taught side panels, the Qashqai is a design triumph.
Chromed grille and fog lamp accents, window surrounds and roof rails, combine with just enough black plastic cladding to hint at the Qashqai's SUV pretensions, without straying into the gaudy. As is the case, the bigger wheels the better the look, and in the Qashqai's case, the optional 19-inchers definitely look the part.
However, even in relative base Acenta specification, and riding on standard 17-inch alloy wheels, the Qashqai is strikingly handsome proposition.
So what's new under the hood?
The big news is that for the second generation of Qashqai, all engines are now turbocharged. Gone are the asthmatic 1.6 and 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engines, replaced by a smaller and more efficient 1.2-litre turbocharged unit. It is the sole petrol engine in the range and produces 85kW and 190Nm of torque.
For those who prefer the torquey characteristics of diesel power, you have two options available, a 1.5 DCi capable of 81kW and 260Nm or a more powerful 1.6DCi which produces an impressive 96kW and 320Nm of torque. The latter also doing duty in the new X-Trail SUV.
Back to the 1.2T Acenta petrol (R327 700.00) engine which I had the pleasure of sampling for a couple of days. While the 160Nm of torque is impressive for such a small capacity engine, it must be noted that in a vehicle the size of the Qashqai, in real world conditions, it does battle somewhat.
Not cruising, though, when up to speed the little 1.2-litre is a willing performer and has plenty of torque to keep you moving at freeway speeds, only necessitating a downshift from sixth to fifth gear for overtaking manoeuvres - which is pleasant enough via the precise six-speed manual gearbox.
It's at lower speeds and pull away from stationary where the 1.2-litre engine battles. Fail to give the engine enough revs and you'll bog down barely moving as you wait for the turbo to wake up. Give it too many revs and you’ll very easily bunny-hop your getaway a la learner drivers everywhere.
Similarly, if you short-shift into second without the requisite engine speed, the fairly heavy bodied Qashqai will sit motionless as you both wait for the revs to reach 2000 marker. It's frustrating, yet increasingly commonplace as manufacturers rush to replace inefficient bigger displacement engines with efficient turbo'd smaller units. In heavier SUVs though, the dreaded turbo lag is all the more obvious and in the cut-and-thrust of city and congested motorway driving it can mean the difference between a quick getaway from a crowded junction or that terrible feeling of wondering if you might meet your maker via the front end of an 18-wheeler lorry who is uninterested in your turbo lag woes.
Certainly, the extra torque produced from either diesel engine on offer would fix that, and in that regard I'd recommend choosing either over the sole 1.2-litre petrol in the Qashqai range.
In all other aspects the new Qashqai and its drivetrain is a gem. From your elevated ride height you get excellent visibility all round, and although it is not a small vehicle by any means, it is small enough to nip in and out of gaps in traffic, and in town centres. In parking lots, you're never left wondering if you will or won't fit into a gap, or that sole parking lot space, whose limits are usually tested by other full-size SUVs.
Considering that the blacktop will be the Qashqai’s main hunting ground, in all but top-of-the-range form, new Qashqai is front wheel driven. And, ultimately, unless you're spending an inordinate amount of time on unpaved roads, I'd question the point of an all-wheel drive Qashqai. But, alas you can have yours in faux 4x4 spec if you're willing to part with nearly R400k!
And what about the interior?
The Qashqai is a revelation if all you're used to is previous generation Nissan. Time certainly has moved on, and fortunately so too has the Qashqai, with a fit and finish and overall quality now befitting its place as the consummate Crossover.
There is a good mix of materials inside which all feel premium to the touch, certainly in this price bracket, and while there are still cheaper plastics around if you look hard enough, they are few and far between and never dominate or detract from the overall feeling of quality.
There's plenty of space too. The second row easily accommodates two adults comfortably and is able to seat a third in the middle for shorter journeys. Bulky child car chairs are swallowed up easily as are prams and shopping in the 430-litre boot. Fold down the second row seatbacks and you have 1 585-litres of loading space.
Apart from the ascetically pleasing 17-inch alloy wheels which take the place of 16-inch steel items on bog-standard Qashqai's Acenta spec models gets you automatic lights and wipers, front fog lights, electric folding door mirrors, a leather steering wheel and gear lever. Graphite cloth trim with leather as an option, an electric anti-dazzle rear view mirror, six speakers, dual-zone climate control, driver and passenger seatback pockets, and an extra two cup holders round off quite a stacked standard specification list.
Giving you further customising ability is the option of either a Design Pack or Tecno Pack, or a combination of both. Design Pack consists of silver roof rails, privacy glass and 19-inch V-design alloy wheels while the Techno Pack includes Around View Monitor, heated door mirrors and the new NissanConnect system.
Okay, let's wrap this up
As far as sequels go, the new Qashqai has managed to take what was a very successful first-go and make it that much better in every regard, cementing its reputation as all the Crossover you'll ever need.
With stunning looks, great dynamics on the road, plenty of interior space without suffering from the awkward bulk of larger SUVs, and with a starting price of R287 500.00, I'd go so far as to say that it kind of makes the X-Trail redundant.
|1.2T Acenta Xtronic||R327,700.00|
|1.2T Acenta Xtronic with TECHNO Pack||R344,500.00|
|1.6T Acenta ||R357,700.00|
|1.6T Acenta TECHNO Pack||R374,500.00|
|1.6T Acenta 6MT with TECHNO Pack and Leather||R385,500.00|