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OFF-ROAD TEST

Road Test: Nissan Qashqai 1.6 Acenta AWD M/T





10 September 2014


Nissan’s Qashqai might not have been the first true crossover, but it certainly played a major part in popularising the segment. The outgoing model was a tremendous success, so there was a lot of pressure on the manufacturer’s engineers and designers to create a worthy successor. Have they succeeded?

Although it is difficult to imagine now, the original Qashqai crossover was a bit of a gamble for Nissan. With a decidedly on-road bias, tempered SUV looks and the underpinnings of a passenger car, the Qashqai was something new in the vehicle market — an urban runabout that managed to trade on the desirability of an SUV while still offering excellent frugality and practicality.

The recipe was, of course, a tremendous success. Not only has the Qashqai become one of Nissan’s most consistent sellers but it has also inspired a host of imitators.

So the prospect of an all-new Qashqai generates both excitement and trepidation. Creating a new version of such a winner could quite easily have led to disaster. All the things that made the previous model such a success needed to be retained, but the formula also had to be updated. Has Nissan succeeded? Has the company managed to design an even more attractive package?

EXTERIOR ***

Although reasonably modern and attractive, the previous Qashqai’s looks were a bit on the dull side. There was a lack of visual interest – too little to capture one’s attention.

With the new model, Nissan has attempted to add some visual flair. Nothing too dramatic has been done, but the new Qashqai definitely isn’t as amorphous as its predecessor. Some sharp lines have been added to the front, bonnet and sides to give it a sportier appearance.

Overall, the design is stylish and attractive, though somewhat generic. It can still be identified as a Qashqai at a glance, but no big risks were taken in the styling. It looks similar to many other crossovers out there. It definitely doesn’t boast the funky yet polarising design of the Nissan Juke.

There’s some black cladding around the bottom of the vehicle that gives it that distinctive crossover look, but this is definitely a vehicle designed largely for city dwellers. Proof of this can be found in the 19-inch wheels fitted to our test model. They look good and work well on tar, but they can spoil the ride on ugly surfaces. More on that later.

Notable design flourishes include snazzy LED lights at the front, attractive roof rails and a sloping roofline that adds a sporty edge.

INTERIOR ****

The interior of the Qashqai is both stylish and comfortable. Its cabin is certainly far more refined than that of its predecessor. The top-spec model we tested boasted plush (optional) leather seats, loads of soft-touch materials on the dash and solid controls that seemed built to last.

It also has all the mod-cons one would expect from a vehicle in its class, including climate control, cruise control, electric driver’s seat, Bluetooth, USB jack, height/reach adjustable steering, steering-wheel-mounted controls, auto wipers and auto lights.

It has plenty of oddment storage spaces, four cup holders and two 12-volt jacks.

The only real omission is the absence of air conditioning for rear seat occupants — something that is always handy during hot African summers.

However, accommodation is impressive. Despite that sloping roofline that suggests a cramped rear, the Qashqai can easily accommodate four adults.

Finally, it is worth noting that our test model featured Nissan’s Techno Pack, which adds the NissanConnect infotainment system with satellite navigation and reverse camera. The package costs R16 700.

PERFORMANCE AND HANDLING ***

The Qashqai Acenta AWD is fitted with a 1,6-litre oilburner that generates 96 kW of power and 320 Nm of torque. That might not seem like a lot of oomph, but it is more than enough to make this crossover pleasant and even engaging to drive.

Thanks to that healthy dollop of torque and virtually no turbo lag, the Qashqai sprints off the mark with astonishing aplomb. Send the revs too high, and you’ll even detect some torque steer!

The Qashqai feels wonderfully eager. It has no problem reaching 120 km/h, and can accelerate quickly at highway speeds to overtake slow-moving traffic.

Compare the power output of the Qashqai with its competitors, and it might seem underpowered, but that impression won’t last once you slide in behind the steering wheel. Not once did we feel that  the vehicle lacked power.

The AWD model we tested is available only with a six-speed manual transmission (and the 2WD Acenta is mated only to a CVT ’box). The gearbox is smooth and works well, but the clutch is a touch finicky. We stalled once or twice while still getting used to the action.

When it comes to handling, the Qashqai is impressively agile and sure-footed for a crossover. There’s less body-roll than in the previous model and grip levels are excellent. To be sure, this isn’t a sporty SUV, but driving it on a twisty road can be fun and involving.

On tar, ride quality is excellent. Although the vehicle does not wallow, the ride isn’t overly firm either. There’s a good balance between sporty handling and a comfortable ride.

On gravel, the Qashqai didn’t perform quite as well. Although it felt stable and inspired confidence with its AWD system, the ride was harsh. This could be attributed to the 19-inch rims and 225/45 R19 tyres fitted as standard to the Acenta models.

Entry-level models are fitted with smaller rims, and these would be preferable if you will be doing a lot of travelling on gravel.

Of course, the Qashqai isn’t really designed for loads of dirt driving. This is a vehicle built for the urban environment, and the choice of 19-inch rims reflects that.

Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels were good, even on gravel, although more noise and vibrations leaked into the cabin from the engine than we would have expected.

SAFETY FEATURES ****

The Qashqai has no shortage of safety features. Inside the cabin, it has driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags, as well as Isofix points for car seats.

Electronic safety features include ABS with electronic-brake-force distribution, brake assist and vehicle dynamic control.

The crossover doesn’t have a traditional handbrake. Instead, there is a simple switch that is pulled to engage the brake. Since the Qashqai has manual transmission, this might seem like a problem when you pull away on an incline, but the vehicle has something called Hill Start Assist, which prevents the vehicle from rolling backwards when you set off.

A final safety feature on our test model was an around-view monitor that formed part of the optional NissanConnect system. Using exterior cameras, the system creates a virtual top-down view of your vehicle, helping the driver negotiate obstacles when reversing. It’s useful, but not a necessity.

PRACTICALITY AND VERSATILITY ***

The luggage space is somewhat underwhelming.  The boot size is 430 litres, which is on a par with the RAV4 (476 litres) and the Mazda CX-5 (403 litres), but significantly less than the Hyundai ix35 (591 litres) and the Kia Sportage (740 litres).

However, with the second-row of seats folded the down, the luggage area swells significantly, offering 1585 litres of space – more than most of its competitors.

The Qashqai’s towing capacity is 750kg unbraked and 1500kg braked, which is perfectly respectable. Some versions of the RAV4, Sportage and ix35 have tow ratings of up to 2000kg for braked trailers, so the Qashqai isn’t class leading, but it will get the job done.

Something else worth considering if you plan on using the Qashqai as a leisure vehicle is that the diesel model requires 50ppm diesel. This might be a problem if you plan on venturing north of our borders, but not otherwise.

The vehicle has a fuel tank of 65 litres, which should give it a range of around 860km if you average 7,5 litres of fuel per 100km. So no need to fill up with 50ppm too often, then.

Nissan claims a consumption figure of 5,3 litres per 100km for the model we tested, but we averaged around 7,5 litres during our test. On the open road, however, the figure should dip below seven litres quite easily.

VALUE FOR MONEY ****

At R383 800 for the 1.6 Acenta AWD model, the Qashqai is well priced against its competitors. It is also well specced, and offers a respectable five-year/90 000km service plan and six-year/150 000km warranty.

It is a great vehicle, and we have no doubt that it will sell just as well as its predecessor. It remains one of the best vehicles in its segment.

Overall, the Qashqai is excellent value for money, though we would question the wisdom of paying a premium for the AWD model. Although there will be exceptions, the vast majority of buyers won’t  take their Qashqai’s off tar. This is a vehicle built for the urban environment. Yes, it has AWD (which can even be locked), but its ground clearance is pegged at only 180mm and it has 19-inch rims.

We would suggest opting for the 1.5 dCi Acenta, which is priced at R330 500. Its oilburner, which has been carried over from the previous model, is quite wonderful, despite seeming as if it might be underpowered (with its 81 kW of power and 260 Nm of torque).

If you opt for a Qashqai with a 1,6-litre oilburner, you are forced to choose between a manual version with AWD and a 2WD version with a CVT. The 1.5 Acenta, which is R50 000 cheaper than those two, offers unbelievable value for money, and is arguably the most tempting vehicle in its segment.