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Nissan's crossover storms SA

2007-09-21 08:30

Hailey Philander

Nissan is convinced its new Qashqai will win it new customers to the brand. The Micra and Tiida certainly aren't doing it and the 350Z and Murano won't necessarily achieve this in the volumes required.

But after driving the newcomer for a while, let's just say I wouldn't be surprised if it did.

Qashqai is another vehicle to be tossed into the murky segment carrying the "crossover" label. Although it is essentially an oversized hatchback riding on a raised platform, Qashqai does tend to give the segment some meaning.

With its higher ground clearance than a conventional hatchback, higher waistline and raked windscreen, Qashqai may not be as pretty as 350Z or Murano, but it's typically SUV stature with an almost vertical front end and bulging wheelarches certainly gives it road presence.

More models to come

But it is from inside the spacious cabin that this car is most impressive. Two trim levels and engine derivatives are available with the staggered introduction and turbodiesel and 4X4 models are expected to follow in the second half of 2008.

Until then, the range is very comprehensive with the 1.6-litre offered with Visia and Acenta trim packages, while the 2.0-litre Acenta is the range topper.

Differences between the trim levels are largely cosmetic. Compared with Visia, Acenta adds body coloured door handles and side mirrors, fog lamps and 16-inch alloy wheels on the outside.

Inside the cabin, the seat upholstery is different. The 2.0-litre also adds dual-zone air conditioning and the latest VDC system.

All models are equipped with electric door mirrors, power windows all round, trip computer, front armrest, height adjustable driver's seat, a cooled glovebox and very clever integrated Bluetooth steering wheel controls.

As a bonus, both the cabin and luggage area is more spacious than that offered in a hatchback, while Qashqai is more compact and maneuverable than a purpose-designed SUV.

Cars can also be specified with cruise control, folding side mirrors and one-touch indicators.

Five-star safety

Safety is key, too. Qashqai's five-star Euro NCAP rating can also be attributed to the car's six- airbags, active headrests, pre-tensioned seatbelts and ABS with brake assist.

On our launch route from George across the historic Outeniqua Pass into Oudthoorn, both 1.6- and 2.0-litre Acenta versions showed themselves to be quiet and comfortable modes of transport.

The 1.6 unit develops 81 kW and 154 Nm torque and is mated with a five-speed manual gearbox, while the 2.0 produces 102 kW with a peak torque figure of 198 Nm and is equipped with a six-speed manual transmission.

The ride is compliant on most surfaces. Despite its relatively high ride height, grip levels are good with almost no body roll creeping in to unsettle the car's balance on tight corners.

The 2.0-litre proved itself the most entertaining ride with a willing engine complemented by a smooth-shifting six-speed gearbox. However, the 1.6 is no slouch either, and while it seemed to run out of puff under grilling, it should be more than capable at fulfilling its duties prescribed by the daily school/office/shopping routine.

The one to have

In fact, considering that these cars are unlikely to ever go too far out of city limits, the entry-level model seems the early pick of the bunch. Its engine, though punchy, could suffer a bit at altitude, but the car is very well equipped (compared with its more pricey siblings) and a saving of close to R35 000 could entice those who still need some convincing.

But judging by European trends, there won't be too many of those. To date, Qashqai has exceeded Nissan's global expectations and capacity is being increased at the Sunderland facility to meet the overwhelming demand and reduce waiting times.

1.6 Visia - R183 900
1.6 Acenta - R196 900
2.0 Acenta - R219 950

All models are sold with a three-year/90 000 km service plan.

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