“The Nissan Qashqai redefined family car expectations by blending a hatchback's practical dimensions with the looks and safety of a mid-sized 4x4.”
The Nissan Qashqai is considered to be the original SUV/hatchback crossover. Combining the higher driving position, rugged looks and flexibility of an SUV with the smaller dimensions and lower running costs of a family hatchback, the Qashqai launched in 2007 – which is why you can expect to see an all-new model in 2014. It was given some nips and tucks in 2010 to keep pace with the avalanche of rivals that have followed it into the market, but the original bold styling is still pride of place. Likewise, it has remained extremely popular with buyers, even in the face of that greatly increased competition – and it's easy to see why. The Qashqai's USP is superior build quality and high levels of comfort and equipment at an affordable price. So, it's cheaper to buy than the more “upmarket” Volkswagen Tiguan, but is just as fun to drive.
You get to choose from a good range of petrol and diesel engines, and you can opt for a four-wheel drive option if you need a little extra grip for some light off-roading or to tow a horsebox or caravan. If you’re watching the wallet, the most efficient engine is the 1.6-litre dCi diesel, which emits only 119g/km of CO2.
The Nissan Qashqai comes in four main model specifications that follow Nissan's standard pattern – entry-level Visia, then the Acenta, followed by the Qashqai 360 and top-of-the-range Tekna. Nissan has a strong reputation for reliability that isn’t quite what it was but still better than most, and the Qashqai rarely suffers from any electrical or mechanical problems as a result.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
The Qashqai follows the usual pattern for most modern cars – for efficiency and economy, you have to choose a diesel engine. We recommend the 1.6-litre dCi, which is the cleanest and most efficient engine on offer, coming fitted with stop-start technology to further boost fuel economy. It claims to return 62.8mpg in combined fuel economy and emit 119g/km of CO2, putting it tax band C, which will cost you about £30 a year. Not far behind is the 1.5-litre dCi Pure Drive, which returns 57.6mpg and emits 129g/km of CO2 (band D, £105 a year), but you do have to pay quite a lot more to buy this model in the first place. The standard Qashqai still manages to return a respectable 55.3mpg, however, and the least-efficient 2.0-litre petrol also claims to return economy in the high 30s with CO2 emissions of 177g/km (band I, £220 a year). Just be aware of the quite brief 12,500-mile service gaps and the three-year/60,000-mile warranty, both of which will probably increase costs if you intend to keep the car for a long time and clock up a lot of miles.
Interior & comfort
The Qashqai remains one of the most comfortable family cars on the road. Inside it offers a lot of space, with well-designed and supportive seats for all occupants, and giving the driver a good, high driving position that gives great visibility of the road ahead (but not out of the back – see Practicality, below). The raised suspension also makes it a doddle to get in and out of, and you can just slip behind the steering wheel without any stooping or bending to get in. There's hardly any road, wind or tyre noise inside the car, even when you’re driving at motorway speeds, while the Acenta models also have the option of a panoramic glass roof that floods the interior with light, making the Qashqai a really enjoyable place to spend long journeys – even rain is interesting splashing on it. The sunroof is equipped as standard on higher-spec Tekna and n-tec models.
Practicality & boot space
The Qashqai's interior is nicely laid out, spacious, easy to use and offers lots of storage options, with cubbies dotted about and a large centre console compartment for front stowage. Because of its large exterior dimensions, it also offers loads of legroom for anyone travelling in the back and gives the driver plenty of excellent visibility. But those passengers in the back may have to duck their head down a little if they’re six foot or above, because the sloping roof does cut into headroom quite a bit.
While that visibility is great out of three quarters of the car, the view out of the tiny rear windscreen is pretty poor, which makes conventional reverse parking something of a tricky manoeuvre. Thankfully (and let's be honest, necessarily) Nissan includes parking sensors as standard equipment to balance out the lack of rear visibility. How long until a car completely goes without a rear windscreen and it's all done by cameras and sensors? Probably not that long, seeing as the higher-spec Qashqai's also offer a colour rear-view parking camera to help out even more, suddenly making a car that was hard to park, very easy to park. You can also correct the lack of space in the back by upping to a Qashqai+2, which does cost an extra £1,400 but adds two whole extra seats and a longer body that makes those in the traditional “back” seats much more comfortable. However, when the all-new Qashqai debuts in 2013, the bigger +2 model will be turned into the new X-Trail instead.
What the +2 does sacrifice for those seats, though, is boot space, which the standard Qashqai has 410 litres of. That's bigger than a lot of rivals – the Ford Fous offer 385 litres – but falls behind the Honda Civic's 485 litres, and other crossovers such as the Hyundai ix35. However, the Qashqai's boot is nice and wide, and long enough to make loading big, bulky objects very straightforward. It also comes with standard-fit 60:40 split-folding rear seats, which expands the luggage capacity of the boot to 860 litres – which is a huge 900 litres less than the Skoda Yeti and is even beaten by the much smaller Peugeot 3008.
Reliability & safety
Nissan hasn’t performed so well recently in customer satisfaction surveys, taking a big dip down the Driver Power manufacturers rankings, for instance, in 2013 from fourth place down to 12th. The Qashqai has also performed in similar fashion, dropping a massive 54 places down the list of top 100 cars to lands at number 61, a far cry from making the top 10 in the 2012 poll. This doesn’t mean you should have a kneejerk reaction about buying a Nissan – there can be many reasons for the such a response from the public – but it is something that a prospective buyer should bear in mind, given Nissan's previously top-notch reputation for reliability. Luckily for Nissan, most of its cars still scored well in this category, so you should still have relative confidence that when you buy a Qashqai, it won’t end up at the mechanics any time soon – especially as Nissan have worked hard to correct some mechanical problems – such as stalling engines, fuel leaks and steering wheels coming off in drivers’ hands – that resulted in a series of recalls in the Qashqai's recent past. That latter issue may seem dramatic, so remember that the Qashqai did manage to bag itself a full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests to it's still a safe car to drive. All models come fitted with a wide range of safety technology, including six airbags, electronic stability control (ESP), anti-lock brakes (ABS) and brake assist.
Engines, drive & performance
Given that the Qashqai has been set up to give the most comfortable ride it can, so has soft suspension and big, chunky tyres designed to soak up any major bumps that it encounters on the UK's rough roads, and it's surprising how good it still is to drive. Let's be clear, the steering really doesn’t compare to many of its hatchback rivals, the class-leading Ford Focus in particular, because of its lack of accuracy, but it is easier than many of them to drive around the city and is very easy to park, thanks to all its sensors and rear-view cameras. It also surprises by having very little body roll when driving through corners – which you don’t expect from a car with such soft suspension. You can get a four-wheel-drive option on the 2.0-litre diesel and petrol models that easily handles any light off-roading that you might need the Qashqai to perform – as it should, considering that it will cost you an extra £1,500 to get it. Note - it's not designed for mountainous terrain, so if you think you expect to really encounter some genuinely rough conditions, then the larger Nissan Pathfinder is the car you should really be looking at. We’d recommend the 1.6-litre dCi diesel for the best balance of performance and running costs, with the 1.5-litre dCi feeling too underpowered and proving to be less efficient overall. All models come with a six-speed manual gearbox fitted as standard, but some models can be equipped with a six-speed automatic or a slightly noisy CVT if you truly wish.
Price, value for money & options
You get quite a lot of standard equipment when you buy a Qashqai, but we’d probably recommend avoiding the entry-level Visia models because they fall below the equipment levels of some of the base models of its rivals so therefore isn’t such good value. You couldn’t say that the Qashqai is cheap, but its purchase price remains competitive enough to ensure it remains a genuine rival for the other family hatchbacks like the Focus and the Volkswagen Golf. It's hugely popular for a reason – it's a good car. But it's worth bearing in mind that that also means, like the Focus, that it is a very common sight on the UK's roads, which may have a negative affect on its resale values on the used car market when you do come to sell it on second-hand.