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Nissan Qashqai Ti

 

Nissan’s new Qashqai boasts more styling character and a whole lot of safety equipment. But what kind of car is it again?

Base price: $43,990.

Powertrain and performance: 2.0-litre petrol four, 106kW/200Nm, continuously variable transmission, front-drive, Combined economy 6.9 litres per 100km.

Vital statistics: 4377mm long, 1595mm high, luggage capacity 430 litres, fuel tank 65 litres, 19-inch alloy wheels on 225/45 tyres.

We like: Sharper style, loaded with active safety equipment, refined.

We don’t like: Petrol engine lacks urge, Active Trace/Ride control tech can feel fussy.

How it rates: 8/10

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? Nissan Qashqai: family hatchback or SUV? Nissan New Zealand has always argued the former, based on the fact that it only offers the model in front-drive form. To the rest of the world, it presents as an SUV, with a two-box body shape, high ground clearance and elevated driving position.

It’s a moot point. What you argue the formula is, it’s been a winning one and now there’s a new Qashqai, with sharper looks, increased quality and more equipment.

The new model brings a diesel-engine option for the first time, but the flagship Ti luxury specification is still reserved for the petrol engine. That’s the model we have on test here.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? The 2.0-litre direct-injection petrol engine has the right credentials on paper, but on the road it’s no ball of fire. It’s refined and delivers its power smoothly at urban speeds, but starts to feel breathless if you try to press on a bit.

The performance will suit family buyers just fine, but those in search of a little more verve might want to look the way of the diesel engine, a 1.6-litre unit borrowed from alliance partner Renault with a healthy 320Nm of torque. It’s definitely the driver’s choice, even if it’s a hard sell on running costs (thanks to Road User Charges) and specification (because you can’t have it in top Ti trim).

Nissan has been fully committed to continuously variable transmission (CVT) for some time now and the Qashqai has the latest version, somewhat grandly called Next Generation Xtronic CVT. This type of transmission technology is not known for being responsive to the throttle, but the Nissan gearbox maintains composure nicely when subject to different driving styles. If you extend the engine to the redline, the gearbox will even simulate gearchanges in order to avoid the drone associated with hard-working CVTs. You can also hand-shift through seven steps on the gearlever.

New features for the chassis include Active Trace Control and Active Ride Control, which actuate individual brakes to help keep the car stable during fast cornering and on bumpy roads. It’s impressive technology for a family car, although Nissan’s claim that neither interfere with driver input is not entirely true. At times – such as a fast downhill corner, on a bumpy surface – you’ll feel the electronics eating into your steering and throttle inputs.

IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? The new Qashqai looks sharp on the outside and so much more classy on the inside now. Instrumentation is clear and the switchgear simple, despite the Ti carrying quite a bit of high-tech equipment.

Stuff like blind spot warning and lane departure alert takes care of itself, but there’s also a novel 360-degree camera system that’s operated by a simple button on the console that allows you to scroll through the various views.

There’s a seven-inch colour touch-screen for sat-nav, audio and Bluetooth. The graphics look a bit clunky but it’s highly intuitive all the same – pairing your phone is about 10 times more simple than the Nissan systems of a generation ago, which ran largely on voice control and frustration.

It’s still a surprisingly compact machine at just 4.4 metres long, but a wheelbase stretch over the previous model has made Qashqai much more occupant friendly in the back. The boot is not massive by mid-size standards at 430 litres, but you do get a flat load floor if you flip the rear seats down and there’s a novel partition in the boot: you can raise a small section of the cargo floor and lock it upright to create a small compartment to stop loose items rolling around. Simple but effective.

SHOULD I BUY ONE? At $43,990 the Qashqai Ti is a compelling family car for our SUV-obsessed market – especially considering the very high level of safety equipment fitted as standard.

It’s not necessarily a driver’s delight, although experience with the diesel suggests that there potential for this new Nissan to be a truly entertaining machine with the right powertrain.

In some sense it’s futile to argue about the Qashqai’s modest dimensions or lack of outright power. If either bother you, it’s an easy step up to the larger X-Trail, which is based on the same platform and shares many styling cues with Qashqai (no body panels through), adding a 2.5-litre engine and more passenger/cargo space.

Both Qashqai and X-Trail are on the New Zealand Car of the Year shortlist for 2014: the best evidence yet that Nissan really knows its SUVs.

EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST

  • Air conditioning: Dual climate
  • Audio: CD, iPod compatible
  • Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
  • Blind spot warning: Yes
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Cruise control: Yes
  • Driver footrest: Yes
  • Head-up display: No
  • Heated/ventilated seats: Yes/No
  • Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
  • Lane guidance: Yes
  • Leather upholstery: Yes
  • Parking radar: Yes with 360-degree cameras
  • Power boot or tailgate: No
  • Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes/No
  • Rear ventilation outlets: No
  • Remote audio controls: Yes
  • Satellite navigation: Yes
  • Seat height adjustment: Yes
  • Self-parking technology: No
  • Split/folding rear seats: 60/40
  • Steering reach adjustment: Yes
  • Stop-start: No
  • Trip computer: Yes

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