When you’ve had a massive success, you don’t tend to change much. The best strikers will always start at the front of the formation. The best Michelin-starred chefs will go back to the same suppliers for their meat and veg time and again and Hollywood will continue to trot out sequels and comic book adaptations as long as we’re prepared to stand in line and pay for them.
For car companies it’s the same, just perhaps a bit more perilous. As famed screenwriter William Goldman (he wrote All The President’s Men, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride, if you were wondering) famously put it, in Hollywood, no-one know anything. What he meant was that no-one knows precisely the alchemical mix needed to create an unstoppable hit. You can put the best stars, director, screenwriter and effects people into a room together and still come up with a stone-cold flop. Equally, films by and featuring people you’ve never heard of can go on to staggering successes.
Thus is was for Nissan back in 2005 when it created the first generation Qashqai. Nissan was then primarily known for the dinky little granny’s favourite, the Micra, the roaring, bellowing GTR supercarand the dull-as-overnight-dishwater Almera hatchback. Seeing the Almera get trampled in sales and critical terms by the likes of the VW Golf and Ford Focus, Nissan decided to do something radically different. Capitalising on the global love for chunky 4x4s (not to mention trendy outdoor clothing and wristwatches that can dive safely to the bottom of the ocean) the Almera’s replacement was to become a tall(ish) rugged(ish) SUV-wannabe with a name no-one could pronounce and fewer could spell. Doesn’t sound like the recipe for a global sales success now does it?
Well, here we are, a couple of million sales later and it’s time for an all-new Qashqai. You could forgiveNissan for getting a touch of the wobbles here, being wary of the Goldman maxim and simply sticking to first Qashqai’s script for the sequel. Go with what you know. And that is, in one sense, precisely what Nissan has done. As before, the new Qashqai is essentially a family hatchback with pretensions to SUV ruggedness. But the changes go a bit deeper than is obvious from the outside.
There is a new look for the Qashqai and a very handsome look it is too. That new face is very American, and I mean that as a compliment. Whereas the first Qashqai looked almost a little apologetic, this new one is much more confident looking, as well it might be off the back of all that success.
Inside, that theme is continued and here is where the new Qashqai makes its first major improvement over the old one. Cabin quality has taken a major leap upwards, as has the layout and design of the instrument panel. The old Qashqai felt a little cheap and dark inside – the new one looks and feels exceptionally classy. It’s very comfy too. Nissan claims that NASA helped it out with the design of the seats and on a long journey you’ll notice the difference – numb bum syndrome is a thing of the past.
In the back, it’s much more spacious than before and there’s just (juuuuuust…) enough width to fit three child safety seats abreast. It’s a bit plain and dark back there though – odd that such a family-centric car still reserves the high points for those up front.
The 1.5 dCi diesel engine is a surprising high point. Surprising? Yes, because it’s an old (perhaps ‘proven’ is a better phrase) unit from which Nissan has extracted some excellent performance. To drive, it’s smooth with decent (if not exceptional) mid-range punch but it’s the emission and consumption figures which will prove truly tantalising. How does 99g/km of CO2 (equating to €180 a year in motor tax) and 70mpg (claimed; you’ll actually average between 50mpg and 60mpg in real-world driving) grab you? Thought so.
The final surprise with the new Qashqai is just how good it is to drive. You just don’t expect it from a car that is, effectively, designed to be a school-run special but the Qashqai has beautifully balanced steering that actually informs the driver what’s happening under the front wheels and suspension that keeps things on just the right tightrope balance between firm (for handling) and forgiving (for bump absorption). It’s quite brilliant.
And that’s a phrase that rather neatly sums up the rest of the car. As a family proposition, the Qashqaiis hard (perhaps impossible, given that CO2 rating) to beat but when you add in the unexpected driver appeal, it’s beyond competent – it’s genuinely desirable. Just as with Hollywood, you never quite know what’s going to make a hit.
Model tested: Nissan Qashqai 1.5 dCi SV
Pricing: €28,495 as tested (Qashqai range starts at €24,495)
Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-seat, five-door crossover
CO2 emissions: 99g/km (Band A2, €180 per annum)
Combined economy: 74.3mpg (3.8 litres/100km)
Top speed: 182km/h
0-100km/h: 11.9 seconds
Power: 110hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 260Nm at 1,750- to 2,500rpm