First drives with Paula Sward

Paula Sward test drives the new Nissan Qashqai and finds it stands with quiet confidence in the crowded small-size SUV market.

In a crowded market, it can sometimes be difficult to make yourself heard. This is particularly true in the small-size SUV market, one of the most crowded segments in Australia. Some manufacturers have used bright ‘look at me’ tactics to get noticed, others have added many bells and whistles to attract a second look. And some, like the new Nissan Qashqai, are just quietly, confidently standing in the background, waiting to be discovered.

With only three spec levels and few variants, the new Qashqai is a more refined version of the original, which was first brought to Australia in 2008 as the Dualis before being rebadged as the Qashqai in 2014.Having driven several of its competitors in this segment, I was curious to see what would set it apart from the others.

The first thing that struck me was space. The Qashqai boasts a roomy interior cabin and 430L rear boot (increasing to 1598L with the rear seats folded down), making it one of the largest in its class. This results in a 4394mm overall length, slightly larger than most competitors, but not noticeable enough to turn off city drivers looking for something easy to maneouvre and park. In fact, having missed one of our scheduled turn-offs during our launch drive, I was easily able to spin the car around in a tight circle to retrace our steps and return to our path.

The chosen destination for this launch was the picturesque township of Daylesford in country Victoria. This had long been on my bucket list, along with the famed Lake House, where we were privileged to stay. The land was first bought by Alain and Alla Wolf-Tasker three decades ago, where they set about transforming what was a disused mine site filled with gorse, blackberries and dumped car bodies into a stunningly beautiful lakeside retreat. I am definitely planning to return to explore further, but my first look (and taste!) certainly lived up to expectations.

Anyway, back to the road. The Qashqai is targeted mainly at young couples living in the city, who may or may not be planning to fill the back seat with baby capsules, nappy bags, soft toys, squished teething rusks, spilled drinks and all manner of ‘essential baby stuff’ in the near future. As an experienced (read: slightly jaded) parent I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of space this small-size SUV affords. The rear seat could easily cater for a couple of car seats or capsules, and the rear boot had plenty of room for prams, portacots, portable high chairs and the like. Could the Qashqai knock off Nissan’s flagship X-Trail SUV as the family car of choice in the future? Well, only if you’re planning to stop your children growing after about age three… As with any growing family, you may need to upgrade to a larger option in the future, but if you’re just starting out in the couples/cohabiting/babymaking space the Qashqai will most certainly meet your needs.

While the interior isn’t flashy, it is comfortable and serviceable (and wipeable – a definite advantage with little ones), with leather accented ‘D’ shape steering wheel, gear shift knob and boot; one-touch and remote open/close windows; and 5” Advanced Driver-Assist Display in the base spec ST, moving up to 7” colour touch screen in the higher variants. The higher variants also benefit from Sat Nav, Around View Monitor with moving object detection, six-way power driver’s seat adjustment and heated front seats. The top spec Ti, which won’t be available in Australia until mid-2018, will also have Nappa leather interior, driver’s seat memory, power front passenger seat and intelligent cruise control.

Exterior styling is also smooth and understated, with the introduction of a vibrant Vivid Blue a definite attraction for those wanting a little more flash. Nissan QASHQAI_Web_848 x 294.jpg

All variants get the new Nissan Intelligent Mobility technology, which features intelligent emergency braking with forward collision warning as standard across the range. Moving up to the higher variant N-Tec (a special launch edition) and Ti you also get blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and intelligent park assist and driver alert, with the Ti also coming with ‘intelligent lane intervention’, which essentially keeps you within your selected lane and prevents you from veering off-course.

In the entertainment department Nissan hasn’t gone overboard, but iPod compatible USB port and Bluetooth audio streaming are included across the range, along with digital radio in the ST-L variants and above.

All variants are powered by a 2.0L four-cylinder engine, delivering 106kW @ 6000 rpm and 200Nm of torque @ 4400 rpm. Fuel economy is quoted as 7.7L/100km for the manual (only offered in the base variant ST) and 6.9L/100km for the Continuous Variable Transmission (CVT). I found the CVT engine a little slow to respond when accelerating, which was surprising given the starting price tag of more than $29K and the target demographic. I would want a little more oomph for my money.

The other surprise was the suspension, or lack thereof, considering the focus it Nissan says it was given during development. Interestingly, it was very springy over the sealed sections of the drive, but when off-road it was more than comfortable. And considering there is no AWD option, the steering handled very well in the looser gravel sections. Actually the steering all-round was on-point, with the improvements resulting in better precision and a feeling of overall control. Adjustable steering also allows the driver to select between sport and normal modes, dependent on your preference.

The other impressive improvement is less road noise – a common complaint in the SUV market. The new Qashqai has more sound insulation material inside the front doors and behind the rear wheel arches, along with additional sealing around the front doors and increasing the thickness of the rear-door glass by 0.5mm to 3.85mm.

Starting from $29,490 drive away for the manual ST variant, it will be interesting to see how these improvements stack up against its competitors.