by Lem Bingley
Despite the Japanese badge on its nose, the new Nissan Qashqai is a surprisingly British affair. Designed in London, engineered in Bedfordshire and built in Sunderland, the car is more deserving of a Union Jack on its roof than any modern Mini.
I doubt patriotism will figure very highly among reasons to buy the new QQ. The incoming crossover should sell well enough on its merits, as my colleague Antony Ingram argued when awarding it a resounding five-out-of-five review last month. However, at least we can assume that the new Nissan has been built with local needs in mind.
Jump straight from the outgoing Qashqai to the incoming one, as I’ve just done, and you’ll certainly be struck by the improvement. For example, the departing car’s dashboard was home to air vents as charming to behold as a cat’s backside. The replacement oblong ventilation grilles stake a much stronger claim on restrained good taste. The quality of materials is also a clear improvement over the old interior, now within touchy-feely distance of VW rather than lagging miles behind.
The 2014 Qashqai’s road manners are also a pleasant surprise. You still sit tall, despite a modest 15mm drop in roof height over the old car, but there are never any sensations of teetering on tip-toes. The suspension provides an admirable combination of fluidity and agility, calmly smoothing over bumps but resisting the urge to go all flippy-floppy through a difficult corner.
At a mechanical level, the suspension is improved, now fitted with dual-circuit dampers that respond differently to the high frequencies of a rough and rutted road, versus the lower frequency lumpiness of smooth and undulating tarmac.
But there’s more up the new Nissan’s sleeve than tweaked shock absorbers. By European mandate, ESP must be fitted to every arriving model of car, to help in the business of remaining the right way round and the correct way up, especially when elk are apt to cross the road. But in the new Qashqai, those same sensors and actuators have been co-opted to serve up a smoother ride. By carefully braking or releasing individual wheels as the car thumps over lumps, it’s possible to rein in the car’s up-and-down motions. It’s called Active Ride Control, and it works rather well.
On the test circuits at MIRA, where surfaces are patched, broken and uneven by design rather than neglect, I’m able to experience the contribution of ADC. First, I’m driven over a series of big bumps at 40mph with the car in normal mode, and it bounces and wallows a little but generally holds itself together with aplomb. Then we loop back and try it again – the same bumps, at the same speed – but with the ESP switched off and thus the ADC disabled. This time the Qashqai does a passable impression of a kangaroo on a space hopper. Inside the cabin, it feels as if the difference in suspension travel might be measured in feet. As the test demonstrates, electronic intervention allows a softer ride, for comfort, without the consequent loss of body control.
I also witness the Forward Emergency Braking system in action, which scans the road using radar, alert for unwelcome solid objects. It beeps loudly before braking very sharply indeed if it thinks an impact is imminent. Nissan’s inflatable test car, towed along gently as we close in at 40mph, survives unharmed but I can’t say the same about my nerves. This is one safety measure I’d be happy to take on trust. All told, the complete batch of safety systems including blind-spot alerts will contribute to a drop in insurance rating of 3 to 4 points, according to model.
The handbrake has gone electronic too, with a three-second hill-hold function and one of the least troublesome drive-to-release mechanisms I’ve yet come across. It works well, and as one of Nissan’s engineers pointed out the loss of the old lever means one less rigid metal object to worry about in a side impact.
My first encounter with the new Qashqai is a petrol-powered 1.2 DIG-T, in above-average Acentra Premium trim, which is the grade but perhaps not the engine that’s expected to prove most popular in the UK. The 1.5 DCi diesel, which comes with a 99g/km CO2 rating, looks set to become the best seller.
Both engines feel like good options. The turbocharged four-cylinder petrol is relatively quiet and smooth, offers 115PS and 190Nm of torque, but does need to be revved for reasonable progress. At an indicated 75mph in sixth gear, the engine is turning at 2,500rpm, for example. My tests suggest 40mpg is feasible with care, while the official combined cycle result is 50.4mpg, coupled with 129g/km of CO2. Rest to 62mph requires a reasonable 10.9 seconds.
The 1.5 diesel is also decently refined and a lot more relaxed in providing its 110PS and 260Nm. It needs 11.9 seconds to reach 62mph, and boasts official combined scores of 74.3mpg and 99g/km.
I’m told the CO2 benchmark holds irrespective of wheel and tyre choices – alloys of 16, 18 or 19 inches are fitted according to trim level – which means Nissan must have had the car tested with the worst-case wheels. Going for less ostentatious alloys will no doubt trim consumption a little.
Also helping to keep the car frugal are improved aerodynamics. The new car has a drag factor of 0.32, down from 0.35, aided by a noticeably more raked windscreen. A flat underbody also helps, as does an active grille on some models, smoothing airflow at the front of the car until cooling is actually needed.
A four per cent reduction in weight similarly contributes to the improved consumption, though with a kerb weight the wrong side of 1.3 tonnes the new Qashqai is no featherweight. Compare with Citroen, which will bring the similarly sized C4 Cactus to market at under a tonne, though to be fair the French car will offer a more back-to-basics approach than the well-specced Nissan.
On first acquaintance, quibbles are few. The central touchscreen is positioned too low within the centre stack to be properly useful to the driver. Consulting the screen on the move requires head movements on a par with navel gazing. No brief flick of the eye will suffice here, though to be fair Nissan has fitted an iPhone-size colour screen between the two instrument clocks, which provides navigation prompts as you drive plus speed limit reminders.
Customers upgrading from the old Qashqai will notice the usual host of changes both large and small. The tailgate now opens wider, which will be a boon if you’re tall and clonked your noggin on the old one, but may not be so welcome if you struggle to reach things in cupboards. Boot arrangements have also clearly been thought about afresh, with the easy-to-unclip parcel shelf stowing neatly under the false boot floor, for example.
Prices start at £17,995 for a front-wheel-drive 1.2 petrol in basic Visia trim, rising to £27,845 for a 4x4 diesel in top Tekna guise. The 1.2 Acenta Premium I tested costs £20,995 before options.
Smooth operator: testing the new Nissan Qashqai
17 February 2014
by Lem Bingley