Nissan Qashqai 1.2 DIG-T, motoring review: Families will go wild for hatchback/SUV mix
Price: from £17,595
Engine: 1,197cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, turbo, 115bhp
Transmission: Six-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: 114mph, 0-62 in 11.3 seconds, 50.4mpg, CO2 129g/km
To describe a car as a "crossover" is to suggest it is some sort of mongrel, and neither one thing nor the other. Yet these amalgams of family hatchback and something looking like a 4x4 are extremely popular despite barely existing a couple of decades ago. It's as if buyers needed such a car all along, but neither they nor the car-makers realised it.
While some brands dipped toes, Nissan jumped right in. No one seemed to be buying the company's dull hatchbacks, so Nissan abandoned them and instead launched the Qashqai in 2007, reasoning that the family car was increasingly going to be a crossover.
So it proved. The Qashqai has been a roaring success, selling at twice the rate Nissan expected. This has been good news for the UK, because the Qashqai emerges not from Japan but Sunderland, and moreover is the UK's most-exported car. It was engineered in the UK, too, and mostly designed here. Last year was its most successful yet.
It's always good to leave on a high, so the arrival of a brand-new Qashqai range is timely. Again created and built in Britain, it has a bold, bulbous nose intended to impart extra assertiveness but which makes it look more like a generic 4x4. The lightness of design touch that marked out the old model, making it friendlier and less aggressive-looking than a proper SUV, seems to have gone. That is a shame, and it makes the Qashqai play the charlatan game more than ever because most of the cars sold have been, and will be, front-wheel drive only.
The new car is longer and wider than its predecessor, but also a little lower despite offering more headroom. Various driver aids are offered: automatic headlamp-dipping, moving-object detection and low-speed collision avoidance, this last usefully reducing insurance costs. There's a bird's-eye view of nearby objects for use when parking – handy, given the Qashqai's very high waistline – and the camera which creates the image of what lies behind gets cleaned automatically by the rear wiper's washer jet.
Nissan made much of the previous Qashqai's interior quality, likening it to that of coveted German brands; now it stresses how much better the new one is – and for all its complicated curves, the new car's cabin is indeed a welcoming place. My only gripe is the electric parking brake, so much less controllable than a conventional lever.
The 1.2-litre turbo engine with 115bhp is a smooth, quiet unit with enough urge to move the Qashqai briskly, although brisk driving will use rather more fuel than the official figures lead you to expect.
Where the Qashqai really excels is in the way it tackles curves and bumps. It steers accurately, keeps the driver in the picture as dynamic forces ebb and flow, and does an excellent job of filtering out poor road surfaces. Electronics help here by subtly tweaking the brakes in unexpected circumstances: a nip on an inside front wheel stops the nose from drifting wide, a nip across the rear axle helps stop the Qashqai – a world first, this – from pitching over wavy surfaces by helping to pull the body down when it wants to bounce up.
Could this be the ideal family car of 2014? The old one sold in zillions. And many people, unlike me, like the craggy look of today's cars. So that's probably a yes, then.
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