With good looks and feel, the new Nissan Qashqai offers an appealing alternative to the traditional hatch
Nissan hopes that launching five new cars will revitalise sales. But it's Qashqai (pronounced cash-kai) on which its hopes are really pinned.
For the prohibitively pricey GT-R may stir the blood but sells from just two dealers.
The 350Z's sporting derring-do is hardly practical.
Maxima may be worthy, but it's still a tad dull while Murano's sporting SUV format is a tad too thirsty for most drivers.
But Qashqai ticks a lot of boxes. It's based on the same platform as X-Trail and Renault's Koleos, here available in two-wheel-drive only with a 2.0-litre petrol engine and CVT transmission, at two specification levels, and pitched at families wanting a practical hatch and liking the high driving position. Those folk don't need four-wheel-drive grip or the added thirst it brings, but like the look and practical format a soft-roader delivers.
It shouldn't work. After all, that soft-roader driving geometry usually comes with handling compromises. But on our extensive south island launch drive we discovered Qashqai handles well, delivers comfy ride, and proved a pleasure to travel about in. The seats are comfy, the cabin well laid out, and really we had just two quibbles.
The Dueller tyres more suited to four-wheel-drive applications are too noisy; Nissan aims to change them. And the engine sounds a tad thrashy under hard acceleration - common with CVT transmissions, and only a niggle if you've got a lead foot.
Otherwise this is a fine uber-hatch that's also priced well, line-ball with the Corolla, Focus and Mazda3 cars it's likely to compete with.
Qashqai sells a tad above Tiida, with a raft of extra features - more airbags, stability control, bigger motor, safer crash test rating - and a nudge below the bigger, Mondeo-sized vehicles, while injecting a little character to your daily drive.
Meanwhile Nissan's Maxima and Murano have had an update.
Maxima gets another engine choice, a 134kW/228Nm 2.5-litre V6 joining the 185kW/326Nm 3.5-litre V6. It also gets slightly edgier lines while the cabin loses the plastic wood. The 2.5 aims to suit those wishing to downsize, and it does a decent-enough job but it is working harder than the 3.5, so thirst does suffer.
Meanwhile Murano shares Maxima's platform and CVT. Its engine is mounted lower and the driveshaft is flatter to drop centre of gravity and reduce torque steer, while specification is up with a reversing camera, leather, keyless start and an electronically opening tailgate all fitted.
Murano gets even stronger visual character, slightly better on-road performance and better pricing than before, albeit well above Mazda's similarly focused CX-7.
Nissan's sales are down 42 per cent this year, in a passenger car market that's dropped 33 per cent. These vehicles should arrest the slide.
Maxima may struggle to compete with the Aussie rear-drive sedans in a shrinking large car class, and Murano still appeals to a niche bracket.
But despite its odd name, expect Qashqai to do well.
It looks good, it feels good, and it genuinely offers a practical and characterful alternative to the traditional hatch.
See Nissan Qashqai for sale on Auto Trader here.