Qashqai a clever crossover

Andy RussellANDY RUSSELL joins the growing fan club for Nissan's Qashqai which now has even greater all-round appeal.I'm not a great fan of 'one-size-fits-all' because it always seems to be a compromise - how can one thing be all things to all men… or women.Andy Russell

ANDY RUSSELL joins the growing fan club for Nissan's Qashqai which now has even greater all-round appeal.

I'm not a great fan of 'one-size-fits-all' because it always seems to be a compromise - how can one thing be all things to all men… or women.

So a few years ago I greeted Nissan's plan to replace the Almera, Primera and Almera Tino with just one model - the Qashqai (pronounced 'cash kai') - with some cynicism. How can a crossover that blends the qualities of a sport utility vehicle and a hatchback replace three separate ranges that offered hatches, estates and a multi-purpose vehicle?

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How wrong could I have been? Though popular, the Almera, Primera and Almera Tino were hardly exciting and that wasn't the image Nissan wanted for its range.

It wanted something youthful and distinctive that would appeal to a younger market and the Qashqai has certainly fitted the bill. Originally launched in 2007 and later joined by the longer seven-seat Qashqai+2, it's been a runaway success.

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It's the fastest-selling model in Nissan Europe's history with more than half a million sales in less than three years - no mean achievement in a tough economic climate.

I'm now a great fan of the Qashqai, especially the more compact, well-proportioned five-seater version and Nissan has just freshened it up which gave me the excuse to drive this cracking little crossover again.

A smart frontal makeover sees it get a new bonnet, bumper, wings, grille and headlamps, while the back end gets new aerodynamic lamp clusters featuring LED lights.

What I really like about the Qashqai is it brings SUV qualities, such as a raised seating position and higher ground clearance, in a good-looking package that takes up no more space on the road than a Ford Focus hatchback.

And further boosting its appeal are two and four-wheel drive versions, so you pay for the extra traction only if you need it.

It keeps the 117PS 1.6 and 140PS 2.0-litre petrol engines and the 110PS 1.5 and 150PS 2.0-litre turbo diesels.

It was my first time driving the 1.5-litre turbo diesel. I had expected it to feel underpowered, but it's far from it. It's a little gruff at low revs when accelerating, but smooths out once cruising and proves to be punchy enough in the mid range to keep up with traffic if you use the slick six-speed gearbox. For a small engine it's surprisingly flexible, picking up cleanly in top gear which contributed to 53mpg in mixed driving. There's also a Pure Drive version which cuts emissions and gives a few more miles per gallon.

The suspension has been tweaked and for a tall car with high ground clearance and chunky tyres it impresses in the way it rides and handles making it at home on twisty country roads or long motorway hauls with low noise levels.

The supple suspension is biased towards comfort - it takes a really poor road surface to even mildly upset the Qashqai's composure and it rides as well as most family hatchbacks. Through the twists and turns there is some body roll but it builds slowly at speed, so the Qashqai feels well-mannered while the steering is well weighted and responsive.

For a compact SUV there's a lot of space inside the well-finished cabin. It will seat four big adults with ease with two sculpted side seats in the back but a third passenger in the back has to sit perched on the raised centre section.

Cabin space has not been at the expense of the boot -with a more than useful 410 litres - and it's well shaped so it's all useable space.

Rear seat backs split 60/40, but slope upwards when folded on to the cushions, more than doubling space to the window line and giving a maximum load capacity of 1,513 litres.

The dashboard is more functional than flash with a logical layout and user-friendly controls with big buttons and rotary knobs that are intuitive to use while the redesigned, cleared dials and trip computer are easy to take in at a glance.

Good adjustment for the steering column and driver's seat mean you can find an ideal set-up but chunky rear pillars hinder visibility, so I was glad of the big door mirrors and rear parking sensors.

Full marks though for the huge amount of storage space with big doorbins and glovebox and a large lidded locker between the front seats. The new model also gets some added thoughtful cubbyholes in the fascia for nick-nacks like mobile phones and MP3 players.

Four trim levels are offered - Visia, Acenta, n-tec and Tekna - and all come with generous equipment.

Even the entry model gets anti-lock brakes, front, side and curtain airbags, stability control, four electric windows, electric and heated door mirrors, Bluetooth phone connection and ambient interior lighting. The Acenta is even more tempting, adding dual-zone climate control, six-CD autochanger, cruise control, automatic headlamps and wipers, bigger 17in alloy wheels, parking sensors, electric folding mirrors and metallic trim highlights in the cabin.

The Qashqai is a good-looking alternative to the traditional hatchback that's fun to own and fits families' needs. And with its sales success, it's not difficult to see why it's proved the cynics wrong.


Price: �18,495 (range from �15,395)

Engine: 1,461cc, 110PS, four-cylinder turbo diesel

Performance: 0-62mph 12.2 seconds; top speed 110mph

MPG: Urban 47.9; extra urban 60.1; combined 55.3

Emissions: 135g/km

Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 19pc

Insurance group: 16 (out of 50)

Warranty: Three years/60,000 miles

Will it fit in the garage? Length 4,330mm; width 1,780mm; height 1,615mm

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