Time for the Cash Cow Mark II
The first Qashqai has been a success Nissan had barely dared to dream about, but now it’s time for the difficult second album.
Such was the original Qashqai’s success, global sales have continued to increase every year it’s been on sale, defying the expectations and predictions of experts everywhere.
The problem is, there isn’t much room for improvement — in sales terms at least.
There were a few gripes with the car affectionately known as the Cash Cow, most notably the gutless petrol engine and perceived quality. Both of these issues, and many more besides, have been tackled in the new car.
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First impressions: Nissan has taken a bit of a risk, because the 2014 Qashqai looks nothing like the old one. Any first-generation model owners who appreciate familiarity when upgrading (like serial Audi A3 buyers) might have preferred a less drastic stroke of the designer’s pen.
In the metal the longer, wider and lower new Qashqai has a well-balanced stance and a nice weightiness to its shape that hints at a more purposeful intent than before.
Nissan is gunning for the Volkswagen Golf, and it’s not as daft an idea as it might first sound. Climbing into the driver’s seat you’re greeted by a much more upmarket interior than the old Qashqai’s was, and this top-spec Tekna model is packed with kit, too. Sat-nav, internet connectivity and heated, leather seats catch the eye as you buckle your seat belt. Advanced chassis dynamics control and active safety equipment are prepared, but out of sight.
This cabin is a solid piece of design and layout, and the materials are right up there with the class best. The shiny, black, centre console fascia splits opinion, though, with some calling it a prestige feature, while others would rather see it at the bottom of a skip.
Engine options: three engines will be available at first, with two quiet diesels and a new, turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engine in place of the decidedly feeble old 1.6. The diesels, at 1.5 and 1.6 litres, are similar in character but here they use very different gearboxes.
In a rather clever move, Nissan has engineered its continually-variable automatic transmission (CVT) to simulate the ‘stepped’, linear behaviour of traditional gears under hard acceleration. It feels instantly more natural as a result, but it does ultimately dent the 1.6 diesel’s performance.
The engine itself, like its slightly smaller sibling, is amazingly quiet in normal use before high revs make it as rowdy as a bucket of piglets. The 1.5 actually has a slight edge in refinement after significant development, and with new gearing for its six-speed manual shift it sneaks down to a remarkable 99g/km of CO2 emissions. Performance is adequate rather than impressive.
The petrol engine is still too weak for this car. Its battle against tall gearing and weight, which although reduced by 40kg is still fairly high, is best fought in town and suburbs where it copes well. Getting up to motorway speeds is a task it struggles with.
Doing the daily grind: practicality has taken a turn for the better, with more interior storage including a biblically large central bin between the front seats. The boot has a clever arrangement of panels that as standard flatten the load lip, but, with a quick switch, can stop your shopping sliding around or increase the overall boot capacity.
The new Qashqai is massively impressive in many areas, not least the exceptional ride and body control. The overriding feeling to take away from it is one of quality. It feels like the real deal, and it’s not a factor that the slightly underpowered engines can compromise.
It’s bigger than its key rivals, has more boot space and material quality to match anything else for the money.
The price is steep, but the goods are worth it.