Updated: January 8, 2014
My first reaction to Nissan Qashqai was one of ever so slight disdain. I am not greatly fond of Crossover Utility Vehicles, or Recent Divorcee Alimony Perk Vehicles, as I like to call them, because they end up being used on asphalt, never seeing one square centimeter or dirt or grass or anything remotely offroad, being driver without any regard to their powertrain or clearing, and mostly beating the same 2-3 km of urban streets to the minimarket and back.
But looking at this car, and knowing there's a proper six-speed manual in there, I had to admit my initial pre-reaction was not going to stand. A fine looking specimen, plus it promises a decent dose of fun, if you can trust the numbers and words on the paper. Well, a friend had me enjoy his purchase for a couple of days, and here's me reporting the experience. Sweet, no.
More details please
White in color, the example before me is Nissan Qashqai, as opposed to Qashqai+2, which means seven seats for occupants, although the last two might be a bit of squeeze. This one comes with a 2.0 liter petrol engine, four cylinders and no turbo, resulting in 140 HP at 5100 rpm and a somewhat modest torque figure of 193 Nm at rather high 4800 rpm. If you think about it a bit, this is not that much, as even Audi A1 with its turbo-boosted 1.4 liter engine delivers more torque into a much smaller chassis. But let's not forget, atmospheric engines are fun and non-laggy, so we will discuss this later on.
At slightly less than 30,000 Euros at the local market, the car delivers fog lights, alloys, dual-zone aircon, parking sensors, and a simple multimedia system with Bluetooth phone pairing, although no navigation. You get some leather and white stitching here and there, but other than that, Qashqai promises to be mostly fun when driven rather than admired by its spec list.
Fun on the outside
Qashqai is not an ugly car, especially not this post-2010-facelifted sample, and it sure tries to project a sporty image. It comes with aggressive headlights and a sleek side line, with a generous strip of tough plastic running round the bottom edge, intended to keep the offroad grit from scratching your bodywork. The car happens to look dynamic and fat at the same time, or rather robust and solid and yet lithe and elegant. It combines these supposedly conflicting idea very well. Now, the roofline slopes sharply, so you might think there would not be enough room for taller passengers in the back row. But we shall address this concern soon enough.
The five-spoke slightly wavy alloys add extra character, and you might envision yourself dashing madly about, which is probably what the designer had in mind. Looking across the range, I must admit Qashqai has more appeal than quite a few other CUV. For example, most of the VW Group range comes with perfectly sane and beautiful and ever so slightly serious cars. Others, like recent Ford or Peugeot models, look way too chunky. Then, you would not really believe that Juke comes from the same house as Qashqai. But such is life.
Fun on the inside
Worry not, rear seat passengers, you get a plenty o' room for your heads. Qashqai is easy to enter and exit, and the seats are very, very comfortable. Surprisingly so. They have a definite French feel about them. Normally, my experience shows Japanese cars to be not very comfortable, but this one is a big exception. While the seats do offer some lateral support, they are not sport-molded, and yet, they keep you in a friendly hug through tighter turns. Not what I expected, and that's great.
On the other hand, the dashboard could benefit from some extra finesse. It is perfectly functional, with simple, clean lines and easy accessibility, but it feels somewhat cheap and harder than it looks. If you like minimalism, this is an excellent cockpit for you, and you will appreciate the way things are sorted, painted and textured. But you will think someone saved a bunch of money by giving you less than high-quality materials, although nothing squeaks or smells or rattles when driving.
The driving position is good, the gear lever is small and fun. The dials are crisp and clear, and everything is within easy reach. Air vents could be classier, although there's a sort of a hexagonal grid inside, but you won't spot it right away, so once again, you might think someone slapped on the cheapest available parts and left it that way, hoping no one will notice. Beware the people with OCD, they do.
What about the ride?
For a tall car with a relatively high center of gravity, Qashqai carried well. It's not exactly a go-cart, but it is composed, safe and the tires grip the road with confidence. The engine is good, despite its low torque figures, but you will have to floor the eco-pedal quite a bit to get the most desired results. In turn, there will be fair share of noise inside, creating a hectic sensation. If you're used to driving turbo-charged engines, having to rev almost to the red line for best effect will alarm you.
Even so, if you're not in the racing mood, you can drive the car without too much fussing. Despite its high-range performance statistics, it can still deliver reasonably at the lower end of the power band, and you can shift up without much noticeable sluggishness kicking in. In general, the downside is increased fuel consumption, which stands at around 8-9 liters per 100 km for highway driving, and about 10-11 liters for urban commuting. The 2.0 liter engine is, after all, a two liter engine, and you can't expect miracles, not without the use of words like super and turbo, which are missing here.
Overall, Nissan Qashqai is a decent vehicle, and it tries to blend comfort with style, good visibility and moderate performance, which is respectable and completely understandable given its typical market segment. Do not be too much worried about the torque and max. power almost overlapping, because you have enough engine and cavalry to do your daily maneuvers without panic, with only a large dose of engine growls. This is far from being your typical 1.4-liter or 1.6-liter petrol family car, then again, it's not a turbo beast. Something in between.
None for me, and if I may believe the owner, none for him. But then, he's only done 18,000 km in two years, with just one annual oil change service, no parts going wonky while under warranty, and no other issues arising. It's a well-packaged and well-built car, made in Europe.
Still, a man must complain, so let me, a little bit. The plastic is a sore visage for me eyes. I think that's the most serious visual infraction, and it stands out immediately, and does an otherwise fine product big injustice. You just can't get around the feeling of the 90s interior, hardened by a healthy dose of UV and then used as the template for the Qashqai modeling. Not that harsh really, but that's what you inner artist would say.
In fact, most of my issues are with the interior. Just as the outside is sleek and good-looking, so is the inside sort of underwhelming and forgotten. But I guess that can be easily remedied in the next version, which would then show up as an immense improvement. A turbo would work out well, too, but it's not a must. And for purists, the feel of the engine immediately following your response might offset the lack of pulling power and the somewhat higher fuel diet. Or for those who are totally clueless, that is.
Early on, I promised bias when it comes to car manufacturers and countries of origin, but I really have little bad to say about Nissan Qashqai in its 2.0 petrol edition. It's a decent, well rounded car, with some good qualities, including really nice looks, a very comfortable if somewhat boring interior, and an engine that is both better and worse than you would expect, but mostly on the bright side of your emotions, sans the fuel bill at the end of the month. Worth it, I guess, and I can't say much for what it does offroad. Should it, actually?
If you like to sit higher than your fellow drivers, enjoy a pleasant, soft ride, and have a bit of muscle under your control, this car definitely meets the requirements, especially if you must have aesthetics, too. Hopefully, Nissan will polish the interior and throw away the cheaper plastic, so the next edition can deliver a whole experience and not just some of it. There you go. Grade wise, probably 7.5/10. Not bad, but I want more. See you around.