Last year in the UK, Nissan sold more of these high-spec “n-tec” trim-level Qashqais than Ford did Mondeos. Consider that for a moment. This one trim level of the Qashqai now outsells the entire range of a car that just a few years back was Britain’s favourite.
It’s a signifier of the changing shape of the car industry and of car buyer preferences generally. Launched in 2007, the Qashqai was a unique, segment-busting "crossover" product that many journalists thought would fall on its face. “Why would anyone want a hatchback-sized car that’d been jacked up and given a dose of SUV flavouring?”, they asked. How Nissan has had the last laugh. Buyers have taken to the Qashqai in droves as it proved big enough for a growing family, small enough to manoeuvre and an SUV feel many people wanted but without the bad attitude that characterises the breed and makes people hate you if you’re driving one.
Nissan also recently introduced this higher-power, but downsized-capacity 1.6 diesel engine, so we thought it was a good opportunity to have a look at the Qashqai again. Six years on, and with a host of new competitors, does it deserve to be selling in the droves it still does?
Key to the Qashqai’s appeal is looks. Designed in Nissan’s British design studios in Paddington, the design has stood the test of supremely well. It’s been helped on its way by a smart facelift a couple of years back and some clever trim and equipment upgrades by Nissan along the way.
It occupies little more road space than a Golf, physically. But it looks bigger and has a robust, sub-off-roader look. This is the clever bit – it looks tough and handsome but without the vast size and wanton aggression of many an SUV that puts some buyers off.
Its lower body cladding makes it look like it might have half a chance on a rutted track, while the large, 18-inch wheels of this N-Tec model really fill the arches and give it a great stance on the road.
Step inside and the good news continues. The key appeal here is that it combines a high driving position with a spacious interior – including a boot that’s bigger than your average Focus. Unsurprisingly then, many of those Qashqai sales are because it has become a good option for families. It’s not gormless and mumsy like an MPV so dads are happy to be seen in them, but it’s not massive, thuggish and difficult to park, which meant Mrs Pocket-Lint grew fond of it too.
Only in the dashboard plastics is it showing its age – with some what you might call non-premium mouldings up front and a "leather"-covered steering wheel that had clearly never so much as seen a cow. Still, Audi charge you well in excess of £30k for a similarly sized Q5, whereas this top-of-the-line Qashqai with all the kit you’ll ever want is just over £20k. Which makes our small grumbles seem unfair.
It’s easy to see why so many buyers are going for this high-spec model too. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a model called “n-tec+” this Qashaqi is full of useful connectivity tech and equipment.
You get a standard touchscreen sanav, a 360-view camera system which gives you a birds-eye view of the car when manoeuvring, along with a reverse camera, plus Bluetooth and USB-music capability.
Bluetooth and USB connectivity may now be standard on most cars and have you thinking "so what", but few cars at this price give you satnav as standard – less still one with real-time traffic information and speed camera alerts. The surround view/birds-eye camera system meanwhile, is the kind of kit we’ve only previously experienced on Range Rovers and BMWs costing well in excess of double what this car costs. It works exceptionally well – we’ve a very tight drive at Pocket-Lint towers, which involves slaloming the car backwards off a busy main road between walls, wheelie-bins and parked cars all while going up hill. Let’s just say the camera view helped us keep the wing-mirrors in one piece and that wheelie bins are still where they were - they don’t always escape that lightly.
Add to these a standard panoramic roof, 18-inch wheels and keyless start and the only thing we found truly missing off the spec list was a DAB radio.
Granted, it’s not perfect – the screen’s only a 5-inch unit and the graphics are slightly blocky and unsophisticated. But it works well and is intuitive to use, which can’t be said for many of the other systems on the market.
We’ve said it before but it bears repeating that if you’re looking to get your kicks on the A66 in a car like this, something has gone badly wrong. But the Qashqai in the most part drives well and is extremely well judged for the target audience.
The steering’s light, the controls well weighted and it’s nicely refined. Best of all, even on the cool-looking 18-inch wheels, it rides well – especially around town and over speed humps where we’d expect most Qashqais to spend the majority of their lives. Given Nissan’s "Urban Proof" tag line, perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised.
But the real reason we were driving this Qashqai is its engine. A 1.6-litre turbo diesel producing 130bhp, it gives the Qashqai a real extra lease of life. Previously, we’d tried only the smaller-engine 1.5 diesel, and while fine, you could tell it was pushing around quite a lot of car. When loaded up we wanted a bit more power. The 1.6 engine transforms things, fairly storming from the line and having so much mid-range torque that you often end up travelling 10mph faster than you thought you were. That might seem like a bad thing, but it makes progress relaxed and overtaking easy.
The good news is that it comes fitted with a stop-start system and. in our hands, returned what we thought to be a pretty exceptional 48mpg. It produces only 119g/km of CO2 too, so it’s just £30 a year to tax. Given how we typically drive, and the kind of (worse) economy figures we’ve got from some much lighter, smaller cars fitted with similarly sized engines, you can colour us impressed.
Spend a week with a Qashqai and it’s easy to understand just why you see so many of them on our roads. It has become the default modern family car for very good reason. Riding higher than the average hatch or saloon it affords everyone on board a better view out and is easier to get into if you’re carrying a child seat or have a bad back.
It’s a pleasant space to spend time in too, with room to spare inside, decent seats and a boot that’s as big as many a mid-sized MPV.
It looks good without resorting to an aggressive appearance and it will happily bat through 300 miles on a motorway without wearing you out. Meanwhile its car-based underpinnings mean that despite that higher ride height it’s not going to have people in the back puking when you’re on a country road.
Unlike other mid-sized SUVs we’ve tested recently such as the Kia Sportage and Honda CR-V, this model isn’t a four-wheel drive, so the one mark down is that while it might look capable of some light off roading, it probably isn’t. Given the snow and cold we’ve had recently, this might be a critical point to some people. The good news is that you can get your Qashqai with optional four-wheel drive. Our advice would be don't bother - buy this one instead and with the money you’ll save, get a set of winter tyres, which will keep you going when other soft-roaders get stuck.
In summary, the Qashqai might not be all the car you’ll ever lust after, but it is all the car many people will ever need. And even in the face of newer competition, it begs the questions, just why would you spend several thousand extra, just to get a "proper" or - dare we mention - premium, SUV? You can even spend a bit more if you need two extra seats, and get a Qashqai+2. So six years after first appearing, the Qashqai remains largely without peers. Given the value, looks and tech it delivers, it more than deserves its place in the bestsellers' list and comes highly recommended.