2014 Nissan Qashqai 2.0 Ti review
Last week I reviewed a Citroen C4 Aircross. I said in my review that it was a pretty good car, but not a great Citroen. That’s because it starts out in life as a Mitsubishi. So it’s a bit like fusion cuisine. It’s a bit like sushi with escargo. Doesn’t sound very appetising does it? It certainly wasn’t the best East meets West mash up that’s for sure. It’s not that it was bad, it just wasn’t as a good a blend as you’d hope for with something that’s French and Japanese. It did the Japanese things well; it was well made; efficient; and verging on clinical. As for the French things, yes it was stylish on the outside but inside it had as much personality as a French politician.
Citroen and Mitsubishi weren’t the first to do this. History is full of attempts at cracking the Euro-Asian fusion and most have resulted in cars far worse than the Aircross. There was the Ssangyong Rexton which used a Mercedes diesel engine. The engines were the only thing sophisticated about it. For some odd reason Vauxhall thought it’d be a great idea to use an agricultural Isuzu Wizard as a rival to the likes of the Honda CR-V by rebadging it as the Fronterra. Which was woeful. But out of all these West meets East collaborations the most successful to date is the Nissan Qashqai.
Okay, at first glance the “Nissan Qashqai” might seem as Japanese as kabuki theatre but in reality its possibly the most fusion car out there. For a start it’s spawned a whole new market we now call the crossover segment. Yes, to be fair cars such as the aforementioned CR-V and Toyota RAV4 did pave the way for the Qashqai but it wasn’t until the launch of the first Qash in 2006 when the market reacted in a huge way. Literally. People wanted taller cars without the cost that usually comes with having a big off roader. Enter the crossover. The Qashqai was essentially a hatchback on stilts and this gave your Average Joe the impression of driving a big car without the big bills. Clever idea. I remember when the Qashqai first came out, explaining the concept of the crossover to my mum - a woman who so fiercely wants a proper SUV such as Range Rover. Since the launch of the Qashqai, nearly every manufacturer, mainstream and beyond, have had a crack at the crossover genre. Cars such as the Hyundai ix35, Ford EcoSport, Mercedes GLA, Audi Q5, and Porsche Macan have followed the Qashqai’s basic template of starting off with a humble hatchback and jacking up the ride height. So it’s a ‘fusion car’ in the sense that it fuses the hatchback body style with that of an off roader. But that’s not the only thing it fuses.
It also fuses cultures. First and foremost it’s a Nissan. Which is a Japanese company. Nissan literally mean “Made In Japan”. Though, strictly speaking, New Zealand Qashqais aren’t made in the Land of the Rising Sun. This is a Japanese car that’s developed, engineered, and made in the United Kingdom. So you’ve got Japanese efficiency and reliability with European design and quality. The Qashqai is made in Nissan’s state-of-the-art Sunderland factory which is the largest manufacturer of cars in the UK. There’s more Euroness too as the Qashqai comes with either a 2.0-litre petrol engine or a 1.6-litre diesel, both of which were co-developed with Nissan’s partner Renault. However, looking at it and you’d be hard pressed to see its European connections. Yes, this is an example of the Japanese and French working successfully together on a car. Styling wise, the Qashqai looks very Japanese… If that makes sense. It’s certainly more anime than Jane Austen. Actually, to be perfectly honest it looks suspiciously like a Nissan X-Trail. That’s because both cars share the same platform, only the X-Trail is a bit longer, a bit taller, and has an extra row of seats. The X-Trail also has the advantage of having the option of 4WD and a larger 2.5-litre engine.
That said, for most people I think the Qashqai’s size would be enough. I prefer the Qashqai’s design as well. It’s a striking looking thing in an anime/manga sort of way. It looks like it was styled not with rulers and pencils but with ninja stars and samurai swords. It has lovely lines and creases here and there, which remind me of the battle scars on a Japanese fighting fish. It takes the X-Trail’s design and sort of squashes it. It’s wider, tauter, and sportier and this colour is just amazing. It’s called Ink Blue and would definitely be my pick. The front looks similar to the X-Trail except it sports a more aggressive face. It features thinner swept-back headlights with shorter daytime running lights compared to the the X-Trail. The headlights on the top of the line Ti spec are LED. In ST, ST-L, and TS trim the headlights are HID projectors but the daytime running lights are still LED.
From the side the lower, more squashed roofline gives it the look of a hatchback but the raised ride height makes it stand tall above normal hatchbacks. More on that later. The large 19-inch alloys on this Ti spec car look fantastic. They set the Qashqai out from the rest and are a real head turner. The alloys and paintwork were two most popular things people pointed out when they saw it. I like the lines and creases on the body work too. It’s not too over the top like some of its rivals but it’s enough to give it a great mix of sporty and classy styling. Few cars in this class manage to do combine both as effortlessly as the Qashqai. It’s not trying too hard.
The rear is a mishmash of styling cues. From some angles I can see the Nissan family styling continuing here, but from certain angles it reminds me (and we’ll whisper this) of a Ford Kuga. No? Just me then. But either way, it looks good. Oh yes, the silver roof rails. I love those. I mean I’d probably be too worried about scratching them to use them but phwoar, they way they contrast with the Ink Blue paintwork does wonders for me.
Inside it’s… it’s a lot like every other Nissan to be perfectly honest. Not that that’s a bad thing as it means everything is logically placed and easy to use. I’ve driven a fair few cars from the same brand and sometimes you get a car that has a different infotainment system as another car. Or a new version. The good thing with Nissan is they’re consistent with their switchgear and infotainment system. Which means if you jump from say an Altima or even a Leaf and into the new Qashqai you’ll immediately be able to find where everything is. For example, pairing my iPhone via Bluetooth was quick and painless as it was just the same as it was in the Altima, X-Trail, and Leaf.
The 7-inch touchscreen display on this Ti spec is great and clear. It’s easy to read and is not at all distracting when you’re on the go. It’s quick to respond and there aren’t too many sub menus to go through - unlike in some European rivals. The things the screen shows though, are another story. For a start you get sat-nav as standard on Ti models. The sat-nav system is one of the best I’ve seen in a mainstream car. It even gives you points of interest such as restaurants and car parks. There’s a feature which can warn you of traffic delays too. The audio display is pretty good too, it mirrors the information of your iPod onto the screen. You can skip tracks via buttons on the steering wheel or on the touchscreen. Of course audio and sat-nav info can also be shown on the smaller driver information screen in the instrument cluster. Back to screen and I came across an interesting feature hidden away. Deep in the crevices of the infotainment’s sub menus you’ll find a Facebook feature. Obviously as a social media addict and out of sheer curiosity I pressed it. Unfortunately I need an app to link my Facebook account on my smartphone to the Nissan but it’ an interesting feature that I must try out next time.
Along with all these fancy infotainment trickery, the Qashqai also boasts one of the best parking aids I’ve ever used - the Around View Monitor system. It has a run of the mill reversing camera - a feature a few cars in this segment need to have - but in conjunction with the rear camera it also has a front and side cameras. The AVM not only make parking easy but it almost turns it into a game. I found myself going for the most awkward parking spots just so I could utilise those cameras. However, for parallel parking the Qashqai has something called Intelligent Park Assist which takes the effort out of manoeuvring into a spot. The system does the steering while all you need to do is control the gears and the pedals. That is intelligent. As well as showing parking aids, the screen also has a Moving Objects Dectection system which does what it says on the tin - it detects moving objects such as humans, animals, and cyclists.
The Qashqai is so packed full of these clever driving assistance systems it’s easy to be overwhelmed by it all. But in truth they work so brilliantly in the background you don’t really have to think about them that much. For example in normal driving conditions the Blind Spot Warning and Lane Departure Warning systems only come on when they’re required. Then there’s the Hill Start Assist. I didn’t even know the Qashqai had it until I parked it on an incline to take photos. As I put it into Drive, I was expecting the car to roll back a bit. But like magic, the HSA system held the car and prevented it from rolling back. That’s a great feature and one that’d be extra useful in Wellington.
I liked spending time inside the Qashqai. I felt like it cocooned you more than the X-Trail. The dash is lower and gives off the impression of wrapping around you. You sit in the Qashqai as opposed to sitting on an X-Trail. It’s a nice looking interior with decent lashings of piano black trim, chrome, and silver plastics. The leather bound steering wheel and leather gear stick give it a touch of class but in this Ti model the leather extends to the seats and door inserts. It’s nice leather too, not the nasty fake stuff you sometimes get. It smells nice inside too, it smells more European than Japanese. The quality of the materials used inside are great. There’s nice soft touch plastics at the top of the dash and even in the lower parts of the interior the plastics aren’t too bad. The buttons have good damping which means they feel quality to touch and press.
Space is good too. The driving position was spot on (but of course, it’s a proper right hand drive car). Seats are electrically adjustable and the steering wheel has reach and rake adjustments. The raised driving height is great. It’s not too high that it gives you vertigo but neither is it too low that it puts in with lesser cars. It gives you good visibility over the front of the car and can help with seeing what’s ahead. Visibility out the side is good too, the large wing mirrors with BSW are are blessing for weaving through weekend traffic. Rearwards visibility was a lot better than I expected. Despite the tapered rear quarter light, the C-pillars weren’t too intrusive. Usually cars like these have shocking C-pillars. In the back, space is pretty good too. The front seats are raised so there’s space for you to put your feet. Legroom is good too, almost as good as it was in the X-Trail. The middle seat also useable making this a proper 5-seater family car.
As with its rivals the rear seats fold down flat with a 60/40 split. This expands the boot from 430L to 1585L which right up there with the best in class. The boot is actually pretty good. Not just in terms of size but usability too. The opening is a good shape and allows for easy access into the boot. The height of the boot is perfect too, it makes loading things easy. You don’t need to break your back bending over. There’s even a false floor for hiding cheeky things, copies of 50 Shades of Grey or something of the sort. Underneath the false floor you’ll find a spare wheel. It’s only a space saver but at least it has one.
Inside, the cabin is well insulated from outside noise. You get very little in wind and road noise which is impressive for a car with big wheels. There’s an air of solidity about it too, another European trait. It feels like it could last a lifetime, or at least survive the challenges of carrying children and pets. Only the engine noise can be heard but that’s only if you work the throttle quite aggressively. In most situations its quite muted, which is good because that gives you the chance of appreciating the decent speakers. Though, it has to be said the best thing about the cabin isn’t the “air of solidity” but more the airiness inside. Despite the dark colour scheme the Qashqai’s interior manages to feel light. That’s thanks to the huge panoramic sunroof fitted as standard on the top-spec Ti models. It’s superb. It has an electronically retractable blind which takes a while to retract because the sunroof is huge but its worth the wait. It brings a lot of light into the cabin and makes it feel very special inside. It’s one feature I think children will especially like. It certainly brought out the child in me.
Unlike the X-Trail which comes with 4WD, all Qashqais in NZ, for the moment, only drive the front wheels. Nissan is aware most Qashqai buyers use their car for the urban jungle rather than the Bolivian jungle. Which is good because it makes deciding between a Qashqai and a X-Trail easier. Get a Qashqai if you live in town, get a X-Trail if you live in the country. As a car for doing shopping trips in and doing the school run the Qashqai is hard to fault. The raised driving position, as mentioned before, gives good visibility out. Another plus for having a raised car is its ability to absorb bumps and bruises on the road a lot better than something low slung. I was very impressed by the ride quality of the Qashqai. I was expecting, with large 19-inch alloys and a sporty design, that it would crash and shake over every imperfection on the road. But it didn’t. Okay, it wasn’t as smooth as Citroen C5 but for a car like this it did pretty well. In fact, I’d say its ride is the best in class. It made effortless work of going over speed bumps and even on roads which I know to be quite rough, it simply glided over them. That may be thanks partly to the Active Ride Control which uses clever systems to monitor and see changes on the road and adjust the engine’s torques and the brakes.
So it does all the sensible stuff well but how does it fare if you want to have a bit of fun with it? Well, it’s not too bad actually. The steering is light and precise. There’s decent feedback through the wheel and it grips beautifully on the road. It may only be front-wheel drive but it holds the road like it was driving all fours. Mind you, Nissan’s clever Active Trace Control which applies individual brakes to make cornering easier and tighter might have a hand in the way it corners. It works in a similar way as the VDC system but for everyday driving conditions. There’s also very little lean into the corners which is good, it gives the impression of a smaller car. In fact, couple the wraparound-effect interior and the little lean through the corners and the Qashqai almost feels sporty. Almost. It’s not up there with the likes of the Ford Kuga but it’s not a bad compromise of ride and handling. Very few cars are able to “fuse” these two characteristics as well as the Qashqai, and it’s even more impressive at this price range. The handling isn’t sleep-inducing like some of its rivals but it’s not exactly a hot hatch rival either. It does a great job of riding on the fine line between sporty and sensible.
Performance wise you get a choice of a 2.0-litre petrol or a 1.6-litre diesel. I sampled the petrol which develops 145bhp and 200NM of torque. Those numbers might not seem like much but it didn’t feel like it struggled shifting the Qashqai around. I didn’t feel like it was lacking in power and despite having a 5bhp deficit from last week’s Aircross, the Qashqai was more effortless in its power delivery. It didn’t sound as strained as the Aircross and it was more responsive. However, like the Aircross the Qashqai uses a CVT auto. Nissan’s CVTs are some of the best in the business, Nissan pioneering the system many years ago. CVTs are great for fuel economy but they don’t have a reputation for sportiness. There aren’t any “gears” as such, since it’s constantly variable, but it does have 6 “programmed” gears for which you can go through via tiptronic controls with the gear stick. No paddle shifters here - which I like. It doesn’t pretend to be sporty, it know it’s not sporty. It’s not some pretentious crossover trying to appeal to cash cheques it can’t write. I like the Qashqai’s honesty.
That honesty continues with its spec. Prices for the Qashqai start from a very reasonable $35,990 for the entry-level ST spec. That comes equipped with all the essential stuff such as a 5-inch display screen, USB and bluetooth audio, and a reversing camera. Step up to the ST-L which starts from $39,990 and that adds that awesome panoramic sunroof, keyless start and entry, auto lights and wipers, and larger 19-inch alloys. The Qashqai diesel only comes in one trim level which starts at $42,990 and comes with the same features as the ST-L plus stop/start tech. The top-spec Ti starts from $43,990 and adds all the clever electric aids such as AVM, BSW, LDW, MOD, LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors, Intelligent Park Assist, and sat nav on a larger 7-inch screen. All Qashqais get a 5-star Euro/ANCAP safety rating, Active Ride an Trace Control, VDC, EBD, Brake Assist, a rear-view camera, and LED daytime running lights. There’s a lot more equipment as standard, a good 2 pages worth to be exact, which further emphasises the Qashqai’s value. It’s more or less on par with similar sized hatchbacks which makes stepping up to the bigger and more practical crossover body style a no-brainer.
After a short time with the Qashqai, it quickly became apparent why this car became a huge success not just in terms of sales but also as carving out a new niche. There’s no doubting the popularity of these sorts of cars and if you look online, in magazines, and even out your window I can guarantee you’ll find a crossover or SUV of some sort. A full market can be good, it gives customers a choice. Nothing wrong with that. However, it can sometimes mean there’ll always be some more equal than others. I mentioned last week in my review of the C4 Aircross how many of these sorts of cars are more or less the same. The way they feel, the way they drive, and the way they look are so similar most people would be hard pressed to notice any difference - other than the badge.
Luckily the Qashqai manages to feel different. Not just in the way it looks and drives but it has an intangible quality about it that’s hard to describe. I guess it’s a bit like the BMW 3-Series or even a Range Rover. These are the benchmark cars of their respective segments - the cars on which everything else is judged by. I can confidently say the Qashqai is the best of these sorts of cars I’ve driven. I’d even go as far as to say it’s not just the best in class but I have a sneaking suspicion, in our contemporary world, it could very well be the best realistic family car. It does everything you could want from a car of this size and price and some on top. At this point I’d mention some of the faults of the Qashqai but I couldn’t even find much to criticise. Okay, the option of 4WD would’ve been nice, even the Juke gets a 4WD option but 99% of people will never take these things off road anyway. It also won’t steal sales from hot hatches which might take away some of its all round ability. In all honesty, though, the way the Qashqai drives will be more than acceptable for most. It’s composed, responsive, and smooth. It is, and I really don’t use the term lightly, faultless.
Pros: Style, ride and handling, safety, practicality, decent economy, great spec, competitive pricing, panoramic sunroof, awesome tech
Cons: No option of 4WD, Not an alternative to a hot hatch…
A car that can do anything and everything you’d want and expect from a family car. Simply the best car in this segment. It’s pretty much faultless. This is the quintessential crossover which makes it the quintessential family car.