Qashqai is a well-rounded family package

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IT’S hard to pin the Nissan Qashqai down into a particular sector of the market because it combines elements of compact 4x4, family hatch and compact MPV.

What’s really important is that it works. The Qashqai handles well, has lots of space inside, particularly in seven-seat +2 guise and feels very well built. Now with a new 1.6-litre diesel engine that’s cleaner, thriftier and offers better in-gear acceleration than 2.0 dCi until it replaces, it’s even better placed.

Nissan struck gold when it launched the Qashqai. The market was already packed with compact 4x4 vehicles and Nissan’s own X-Trail was one of the more successful ones but people were buying these off-road-capable family cars with no intention of driving them off-road. The Qashqai ditched any pretence that it might be suited to the occasional foray up a dried-out river bed and concentrated on riding and handling in a car-like manner for the road journeys owners would undertake. Retaining the option of all-wheel-drive, the elevated driving position and the chunky design cues of the compact 4x4, Nissan’s crossover was all the 4x4 most buyers needed and sales were brisk.

Inevitably, rival manufacturers got a sniff of the Qashqai’s success and either shunted their compact 4x4s in a more road-biased direction or came up with all-new crossover vehicles to challenge for a piece of the Qashqai’s action. Nissan had no intention of letting that happen and upped the game with facelifted models and an eco-friendly stop-start system. The most recent changes see the introduction of an efficiency enhancing 1.6 diesel and more equipment, including an up-market Around View Monitor visual parking aid.

There’s a wide choice of engines available to Qashqai customers with two diesels and two petrol powerplants to consider. Things start off with an uprated 1.6-litre 117bhp petrol unit and move up through a beefier 110bhp 1.5dCi diesel and 140bhp 2.0-litre petrol units before topping-out with the new 128bhp 1.6 dCi, which replaces the 150bhp 2.0-litre dCi diesel. The reduction in horsepower looks dramatic but is, in part at least, offset by the smaller, more economical engine’s better spread of torque which peaks at just 1750rpm instead of 2000, resulting in greater in-gear flexibility. Nissan hasn’t skimped when it comes to transmission choices either, the Qashqai being supplied with five and six-speed manual boxes, a six-speed auto option and even an advanced Constantly Variable Transmission (CVT).

The Qashqai drives in an assured manner on the road and feels more like a conventional family hatchback than a 4x4 with its supple suspension and absence of body roll. The latest cars have revised suspension settings to improve things further in this area and refinement that’s boosted by multi-layer insulation in the front bulkhead and a special soundproof windscreen.

The ALL-MODE 4x4 system is available on the 2.0-litre vehicles, with the others sending drive to the front wheels only. This is an electronic system which automatically engages four-wheel drive the moment a loss of traction is detected. It offers more safety and security in extreme weather on-road. Nissan makes no bones of the fact that the Qashqai is anything but an off-roader, citing its lack of ground clearance. What precludes it from tackling rutted tracks makes it a better car on the blacktop, the hunkered down centre of gravity giving the Nissan its nimble feel.

No design mods this time but it’s easy enough to spot the facelifted Qashqai from its forbear by the more aggressive frontal styling treatment. It wasn’t merely an exercise in reshaping the headlights and grille either: bonnet, bumper, front grille, headlamps and wings all got the treatment. Around the back, little changed aside from subtle aerodynamic tweaks and LED lights. The cabin gains a revised instrument cluster with a trip computer display in that illuminates in white and a couple of extra storage options.

There are two Qashqai bodystyle choices, the standard model and a Qashqai+2 seven-seater variant. In the +2, everything behind the windscreen pillars is different. The wheelbase stretches by 135mm and the overall length rises by 211mm to 4,526mm. To make sure that rear seat occupants don’t feel too hemmed in, the roof line is reprofiled as well, adding 38mm to the car’s height. The middle row of seats splits 40/40/40 and the backrest reclines to no fewer than nine adjustment positions. When the seats are folded down, there’s a massive 500 litres of stowage space, and the rear hatch is both wider and has a lower loading sill than the standard Qashqai model.

The trim level range kicks off with the entry-level Visia before extending through the Acenta and N-Tec derivatives to the plush Tekna. The n-tec models are likely to prove particularly popular with their focus on technology built around Nissan Connect. Nissan Connect is a control system for the Qashqai’s advanced technology features which brings Bluetooth connectivity, touch screen satellite navigation, a colour reversing camera, an MP3 compatible CD stereo and a USB interface for connecting MP3 players all together in a single interface. The n-tec models also get 18” alloy wheels, a panoramic glass sunroof, privacy glass, roof rails and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. The Nissan Connect system also comes as standard with the Tekna models. The most noteworthy addition to the Tenka’s standard kit list, however, is the Around View Monitor which adds three external cameras to the Qashqai’s existing rear view system to create a 360 degree overhead view. It’s essentially the same system used in Nissan’s premium brand Infiniti EX and FX models

Nissan has built an enviable reputation for safety and the Qashqai incorporates a number of noteworthy features. Accurate electrically-assisted power steering, multi-link rear suspension and beefy anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution should well be enough to keep you out of a prang in the first instance and there’s also the additional safety net of advanced ESP stability control.

All Qashqai engines now conform to Euro V emissions regulations and Nissan has introduced a fashionable stop-start system as an option, which on the 1.6-litre petrol model reduces fuel consumption by 3% and emissions to as little as 139g/km. The 1.5-litre diesel is the Qashqai’s most efficient engine with a 54.3mpg combined economy and emissions of 139g/km. Buyers can only do better from an economy point of view by specifying the Puredrive model. This version uses the same 1.5-litre dCi engine but features aerodynamic improvements, longer gearing and low rolling resistance tyres. The result is CO2 emissions of 129g/km and a commensurate improvement in fuel economy.

Further up the engine range, the kind of returns owners can expect will depend on their choice of 2WD of 4WD transmissions. With the heavier 4x4 cars, economy is one or two mpg worse, while the automatic gearbox offered with the 2.0-litre diesel blunts returns by another couple of miles in the gallon. The 2.0-litre petrol engine is slightly more efficient if specified with its CVT automatic ‘box.

A simple idea, well-executed. That just about sums up the Nissan Qashqai. The overwhelming majority of 4x4 vehicles are only used on the road in the UK and here’s one that’s designed specifically for precisely that sort of terrain. These days, the Qashqai isn’t alone in offering off-roader design on a road-biased chassis but in its latest guise, it will still be better than most.

With good looks and a roomy cabin, the Qashqai is a fine option for buyers who’d rather not be saddled with a run-of-the-mill hatch or MPV. Handling is composed while the variety of engine, transmission and bodystyle options gives plenty of versatility within the range. Strong equipment levels and robust build complete a well-rounded family car package.