The Qashqai is the car that keeps on giving for Nissan. Originally launched in 2007, it started the craze for crossovers and it’s still Europe’s best-selling car in this segment.
Now in its second generation (2013 to present), the British-built Qashqai is currently the UK’s fourth most popular car overall too, slotting in behind the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Corsa.
Rather than rest on its laurels, Nissan is constantly evolving the Qashqai which is just as well because the Japanese giant reckons its competitors have snowballed from just six in 2008 to 31 in 2018.
Its formidable rivals in the mid-sized crossover market now include the Seat Ateca, Renault Kadjar, Mazda CX-5, Peugeot 3008, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage.
Nissan is hoping its latest upgrades will keep the Qashqai at the front of the pack in a sector where its rugged SUV looks, high driving position, famly car practicality and driving engagement have proved to be a winning combination.
The big question is – will an all-new 1.3-litre petrol turbo engine, DCT automatic gearbox and the latest NissanConnect infotainment system do the trick?
We flew out to the press launch in Barcelona to find out for ourselves…
First up, the new engine which replaces both the previous 1.2 (113bhp) and 1.6 (161bhp) petrol units.
Available with two power outputs (138bhp and 158bhp), it’s offered with a six-speed manual, while the more powerful version also gets a new seven-speed automatic (Dual Clutch Transmission) option which replaces the unpopular CVT gearbox.
Developed in collaboration with Daimler, the new engine will find itself in various cars across the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance (eg Renault Kadjar), while it also recently debuted in the all-new Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
Lighter, more compact and packed with technical advances I can barely understand, let alone list in plain English, the engine is more efficient and economical, delivering up to 53.3mpg with CO2 emissions as low as 121g/km.
Acceleration (0-62mph) in the entry-level 138bhp engine is much the same as the outgoing engine with a time of 10.5 seconds. However, it’s important 50-62mph and 62-75mph times have decreased significantly (18% and 35% respectively).
The 158bhp version also has extra torque, despite being a little down on power. Nissan says they’re cheaper to maintain with service intervals extended from 12,000 to 18,000 miles.
If you prefer a diesel engine, then the 1.5-litre dCi unit is also available, with a new 1.7-litre unit joining the range in 2019.
Nissan expects the 138bhp version of the petrol engine to be the biggest seller, but naturally we tested both.
The first thing you notice with both power variants is the refinement – they are unobtrusive unless you floor your right foot, but even then it’s not particularly harsh. Motorway cruises are especially relaxed.
Power delivery is smooth and both are responsive. In fact, there’s little to choose between them, so unless you regularly have a car full of passengers or tow (now up to 1500kg), the willing 138bhp version will do just fine.
We also tested the 158bhp engine mated with the new DCT automatic gearbox.
Many will be glad to see the back of the outgoing CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) box in favour of the DCT.
To be fair, Nissan’s CVT (Xtronic) wasn’t the worst and worked well in urban areas, but out on the open road the tendency to hold peak revs for long periods wasn’t ideal.
Thankfully, the new seven-speed automatic gearbox has a conventional feel. The more spirited drivers amongst us will say it’s not the quickest off the mark, but it shifts smoothly and generally at about the right time, so job done.
The six-speed manual in the same car is a little faster and feels it, plus there’s that extra driver involvement, but the automatic is a good all-rounder.
The other big change is the new NissanConnect infotainment system. Perhaps the most important advance here is that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are finally available (all trim levels except the entry-level Visia).
Clearly a lot of work has gone into the software of the new system, which is a real step-up. It can be updated over-the-air and there’s no doubt that it’s slicker and the maps are more detailed, but if anything, it’s a bit too busy at times.
The screen can be customised with short cuts via ‘drag and drop’ functionality. There’s also voice recognition and real-time traffic information from TomTom, The Door to Door Navigation app allows you to choose a destination on your smartphone when at home or in the office, send it to your Qashqai, then route guidance begins as soon as you start your car.
However, the 7.0-inch touchscreen is the same size as before and on the small side these days, while there are infotainment systems out there that feature crisper, brighter, more colourful touchscreen displays.
Elsewhere, the Qashqai elsewhere is the same as before, which is no bad thing. Attractive, easy to drive with light steering, good handling and great all-round visibility, it’s as practical and comfortable as ever.
However, the dashboard area in general is a mass of black plastic with a traditional layout and it’s starting to look its age, especially when compared to the futuristic Peugeot 3008, for example.
Pricing for the new Qashqai range starts at a very competitive £19,595, rising to £28,795, and there are five trim levels – Visia, Acenta Premium, N-Connecta, Tekna and Tekna+ (we’d recommend N-Connecta).
Verdict: The Nissan Qashqai success story shows no sign of reaching its final chapter. After 2017’s successful facelift and these latest upgrades, this pioneering crossover is still rightly one of Britain’s most popular cars.