It's been less than a month since we attended the unveiling of the new Qashqai variant, trumpeted as "the most powerful Qashqai ever made". The problem is that testing a car with a couple of hours to spare, only one of which you can spend behind the wheel, sometimes leaves you with more questions to answer than answers.
The presentations are carefully chosen on their route by their organizers, so that you appreciate "what's good about the car" and "what's not so good" is overlooked. The thing is that with the Qashqai, as you may remember, we got the impression that the engine was fine, on the road it was comfortable, but it had a fifth and sixth gear too long, designed to save fuel, but that sometimes lacked utility.
At the same time, the fuel consumption figures obtained during the test were not very close to those announced by the manufacturer. We had to test the car again, now with more kilometers, different types of tracks and time. This way we learned a lot more about the "most powerful petrol Qashqai ever".
It would be extremely redundant to talk about the aesthetics, design or technical specifications of this Qashqai. After all, Dani described it to perfection in his long test of the 1.2 DIG-T, and the technology of this 163 hp variant was also explained to you in the previous contact of this model, so I'll focus on the experience of living with the car, after reminding you a few details as a summary (if you want to know more, you'll have to read the previous tests through the side boxes that we have placed for you).
The Qashqai 1.6 DIG-T 163 hp starts at £22,750, is offered in front-wheel drive only, with a six-speed manual transmission, and in different trim levels. The test model had practically all possible options, including the infotainment system with navigation, glass roof, active driving aids... This is the "Tekna Premium" finish and goes to 28,950€.
In the city
Inside, there's no shortage of space for four adults, but there are more spacious and capable conventional compacts.
Let's say you choose a Qashqai to do your daily route, take the kids to school, go shopping... Let's say, the typical functions of any car in any home. Fitting or removing children in the back rows, pulling the Isofix or using the seat belts, is easier than in a traditional compact, because you have to bend down less. Crossover advantages.
The front seats are very spacious, the second row, although they are suitable for two adults to go comfortably, are not to shoot rockets (I would say that in that wins a Pulsar). As for the trunk, the 439 liters available are divided into a main plane plus a small tray that acts as a double bottom, and that allows lowering the height of the trunk platform to gain a hair of space.
The reality is what it is: there are rivals with more trunk, and compacts that offer not only more space, but more cargo comfort. I'm thinking, for example, of the stroller for the little ones in the house. In the Qashqai you have to lift it more, which is tiring. And if you have to carry shopping... If you don't "spend that" on trolleys, the boot is adequate for four people to go on holiday without problems, but if you're looking for something more versatile or with more capacity, I'd go for a compact with a family body, now that there are so cool. My wife was surprised (and it is something that usually happens) that being a car that "looks bigger" than her compact, then inside, in terms of space in the seats or in the trunk "is smaller". Again, things of crossovers.
Starting the engine means opening up to silence. The petrol engine is much (much) quieter and smoother than the diesel. The driving position is well suited to any size, while the over-elevated viewpoint and the set of A-pillars, coupled with the famous "360 degree" camera make controlling city driving child's play. Pulling impressions from my missus again "I like cars with these cameras, and that it looks outwards like this".
Despite the feeling that it is a "big" car, it is not clumsy in town. The engine is very smooth and progressive, although for my taste the clutch pedal is very long, with the bite quite high. In the diesel you don't have to play so much with the engagement.
Consumption in this environment is 7.4 litres, Nissan says, but we've been close to 8.8. It's clear that here the Qashqai diesel wins by a landslide, as it can stay in the area of 6.5-7 liters. Of course, amortizing the difference in price based on consumption will be complicated if you drive all your kilometres in the city, as it will take you a while to get it.
On the road
On the open road is where the petrol Qashqai has surprised us the most, with a quiet engine and a smooth ride.
The best surprise of the Qashqai comes when you get out on the open road and start driving. Comfort far exceeds that of the first generation model (and its subsequent restyling). Having learned the lesson of the original contact, the trick to moving the Qashqai with ease when overtaking is to stay in fourth gear, and always downshift to launch the car.
Knowing that, one can end up getting used to the game of gears and gains in return the silence and the fineness of an engine that in this aspect is better than the diesel variant. Consumption on this type of routes can leave them in 6.5 liters per 100 kilometers, even six if you do not spend with the right pedal.
The rolling silence is really remarkable, only clouded by the aerodynamic noise of the rear-view mirror, which reaches our ears more pronounced as there are no other noises to cover it.
The suspension, being on the side of the "hard", eats with total diligence the bumps, does not decompose trajectories. The car doesn't sway excessively on conventional roads either, if we don't play Colin McRae.
In all this, the Qashqai is fully equivalent in ride comfort to a traditional compact, and is among the best of its kind.
The only odd surprise I found had to do with the gear ratio. I complained so much in the contact that I don't want to bore you with it, but going up a country road at 90 km/h, in sixth gear, I found that the car started to lose speed. I took it out of gear, and in quitan it was still losing speed. Had the engine broken? No, I needed to put it in fourth gear to pass a slope that I usually do in the highest gear of any test car with more than 100 hp.
Yes, I remember again: This car has too much development in the last two gears, and it screws up the driving experience in favor of containing consumption, especially in the homologation process.
By the way, the "bi-led" lights with LEDs for long and short, illuminate wonderfully by occupied size and density of the beam. What the Qashqai has, like other Nissan's, is a problem with the indicator-light control. The distance between the steering wheel and this control (which is somewhat longer than normal, to allow the installation of paddles in the automatic variants) makes that making certain movements (throwing bursts to an absent-minded driver who crosses, or act quickly on the indicators to change lanes to avoid another who also crosses) you can end up turning off the lights or leaving them in "position". Interestingly, this has happened to me in the 370Z, the Qashqai and the Juke, but I thought I was the only one to blame until I shared it with other colleagues from other publications (thanks David, it's on you).
Attacking the curves
It's clear that a crossover isn't the ideal toy for attacking corners on a Sunday morning. But the question is not so much to see if it makes our hair stand on end, but to what extent a Qashqai is clumsy on roads with a lot of curves, braking and changes of support.
The reality is that it passes the test with flying colours. Compared to the previous generation, the suspension manages to coordinate completely different needs at the same time. The car avoids excessive pitching (Nissan offers an active control in the stability control system that brakes the wheels on one axle to avoid unwanted nose or rear end dive), while when you put the steering wheel in, the car doesn't sway too much either. It also avoids that "fluttering" sensation typical of tall off-road cars, where the car doesn't quite find a frank support in the suspensions and it moves around, penalized by an unrestrictive damping.
No, it's not a GT-R or a 370Z, and if we look for the tickle we'll quickly realize that in the same place, with a Leon we could not only pass faster, but also with a more positive feeling.
What's important here is that the Qashqai, despite its height and handicaps, is neutral, predictable, and no matter how much you "mishandle" it, it won't make a nasty gesture. The Mazda CX-5 that Dani brought here the other day is probably more dynamic in these tasks, despite having lost firmness in the suspension (the original version of 2012 was probably the king of the category in dynamism). Dani told me that the car from Hiroshima could be "maybe even more comfortable", in addition to the fact that "it goes into the corners with more desire".
Making a mess of things off the tarmac
It may look like an off-roader, but attempting any movement off the conventional track will make things very tricky.
Knowing the car's attributes on tarmac, I wanted to get adventurous with the Qashqai. We were able to test drive an X-Trail off-road on launch day, but the track was simple, and we didn't move around the route with the Qashqai.
Nissan has always said that its cars are "still capable of tackling off-road off-roading". And you see it there, the Qashqai, tall, athletic and with black plastic underbody protection, and you tend to believe it.
That's how I got into it, with less care than I usually take with cars "that weren't born for this", on a broken dirt road and stones. The firm suspensions for asphalt here mean that off-road driving isn't exactly comfortable.
But the worst came on my daughter's birthday, when I ventured to my in-laws' house in the village. After a good rain while we were celebrating the party, I decided to go down from the house, which has a ramp access on grass, somewhat complicated, to go to the main road.
Normally, with a "non-off-road" car, what you have to do is to get out "very sideways" to protect yourself from taking the nose with the angle of inclination of the slope and the abrupt change when accessing the road.
I misjudged the Qashqai after the experience with the X-Trail, and with the lesson badly learnt I set off, in the dark, in reverse too straight. And the car went down, down, down, until I crossed the road and went to go forward to continue the manoeuvre and I found myself with the nose stuck. It was just a little, very little, but just enough to screw it up. The angle of attack, the front overhang... OK, the car looks cool on the outside, but it destroys your off-road plans at the drop of a hat.
The angle of attack and the overhang... I'm sorry, Edu.
I started to give gas to see if it would go forward, but with completely asphalt wheels, wet grass and the nose a bit hooked, the traction control cut any attempt to move. No forward, no reverse (the road was over). For barbaric me, I thought. I removed the traction control and set out to burn some of the clutch ferodo. Sure enough, the car started to climb, but a boulder came out of the ground. With four wheel drive this wouldn't have happened, as the rear wheels would have got me out of trouble without skidding so much on the grass, but....
After something like two minutes of spectacle (I felt like a fairground monkey being watched by a thousand eyes as the Qahsqai bellowed), I managed to pull the car back. But of course, with 180 millimetres of ground clearance (that's less than an inch open!) I hooked the same stone again (I'll say I didn't see it on the cameras at any time, even in the dark, my fault), to hit the underbody with no other consequence than a horrible metallic sound.
I was lucky. We hit the rock with the floor plate and not with the crankcase or any other weak mechanical organ (no, there are no plates covering those elements, something that should be there considering the low ground clearance and the false sensation that this car "is something off-road"), because otherwise my adventure could have ended there, and Nissan's communication people would be "sending me love" now.
My feeling after the experience? Well, it's not a car to go off-road any further than your standard compact would go, because it's similarly limited. Even if you go for the all-wheel drive option, it won't get much better because of the angles it offers.
The crossover formula for success is still intact: attractive looks with packaging and a high driving position, but I'd buy a "conventional" compact or an MPV first.
This brings us to a well-known, but sometimes little-remembered conclusion: Crossovers are nothing more than a mix of off-road aesthetics, MPV versatility, and a traditional compact chassis.
As a mixture of all these aspects, they are lacking in everything: they are not really capable of going off-road (the first generations were much more so, but it's getting more and more complicated), nor are they big, spacious and versatile like an MPV, nor are they as good on the road as a compact.
I'll accept the fact that the car is aesthetically "cool". And, as with the Porsche 911, the work of Nissan's engineers has made this high centre of gravity car a machine that really shines when it comes to driving on the open road or getting around town.
If you're in love with the crossover aesthetics, you may have to take another facet into account, and that's the "purchase prescriber". Talking to several salesmen from different brands, I have always found a sexist reality. Actually, I don't usually believe or like to state disparate criteria for both sexes, but it is a reality that crossovers, and especially the Qashqai or Juke, like, and a lot, to women. And it has the advantage that at the same time they offer a "macho enough" look to appeal to men.
So when your brother-in-law is looking for a car to buy and generates his mental list of six cars to look at, when he puts them together with your sister's favourites, he will find that his purchase is going to be a crossover. It's often the case, say marketing studies, that the man at home makes the "possibles" list, but it's the woman who ends up being decisive in choosing from among those possibles "the car to buy". And the Qashqai certainly benefits from this, as does almost the entire crossover movement.
In its segment, the Qashqai is "the good boy who does everything right", just like the Golf in its market segment, and that's where its success lies.
Getting back to the main issue of drawing conclusions from this particular 163 hp, I'll say more or less the same thing I told you in the original contact: it has a fifth and sixth gear that are too long. I found the average fuel consumption to be clearly lower than on the day of the presentation, with less than seven litres of fuel mixed with all types of driving. This leaves the difference with the 130 hp diesel at less than two litres per 100 kilometres.
With that distance, and knowing that the diesel is clearly more expensive, unless you drive "a lot of miles", but a lot of miles (35,000 km per year?) I would encourage you to go for the petrol, because it's thinner and much quieter.
If you want to explore the countryside, look elsewhere. And if you're looking for an all-weather variant, you'll need to look at the diesel, as this petrol isn't offered with four-wheel drive.
Be that as it may, if I had to reduce the whole Qashqai, in general, to one sentence, I'd say "the Qashqai is the Golf of crossovers, it excels at nothing, it fails at nothing, it's good at everything, without shining in any particular aspect at the expense of the others". I also tell you that I, who have petrol in my veins, would go for the 165 hp petrol CX-5 (23.625€) first, because of having "a little more dynamism", although aesthetically it seems less attractive on the outside (yes, I like it more inside).