What's it about
The Qashqai (pronounced Cash-Kai) is Nissan's latest quest into the volume passenger car market. And we can't help but to like it as it is a set of wheels that just works. It isn't just another trendy soft-roader.
The Qashqai not only offers some decent interior space, but it looks sleek too thanks to its butch appearance which makes it look more imposing than other medium-sized cars.
Currently it only comes in front-wheel drive guise - a 4x4 system, as found in the X-Trail, will become available here later in 2008.
This crossover is slightly bigger than a conventional hatchback, but smaller than entry-level SUVs such as the Hyundai Tucson or its X-Trail sibling.
Incidentally, the next generation X-Trail will share the Qashqai platform when it breaks cover later this year.
In terms of its bodystyle, the only vehicle rivalling the Qashqai is the Dodge Caliber. However, the Qashqai is actually out to steal sales from hatches such as the VW Golf as well as MPVs like the Renault Scenic.
We tried the 1.6-litre Acenta model, a well-packaged derivative offering all the creature comfort you need.
The Acenta slots in above the entry-level Visa derivative and features extras such as body-coloured door handles and side mirrors, fog lamps and 16-inch alloys.
On the inside
Space and more space... Here is a vehicle with more than enough room for four adults to travel comfortably. Boot space is an acceptable 410 litres and increases to 1 513 litres with the rear seats down. However, it is not too deep due to the presence of a fullsized sparewheel, but it is wide and easily accessible.
A rare find these days, especially in a medium-sized car, is a sizeable cubby. The Qashqai's one easily swallows stuff such as a big CD folder. There is also a usable stowage space with a lid between the front seats, which doubles up as an arm rest.
Although the overall ambience is a bit sombre, soft-touch plastics on the dashboard and doors boost the impression that the Qashqai is a good-quality vehicle. Fit and finish on our test unit was top notch too, and nothing squeaked or rattled.
The Acenta model comes with all the usual comfort features such as air-conditioning, trip computer and audio controls on the steering wheel. There is also an integrated hands-free Bluetooth phone system.
Under the skin
The Qashqai has an independent rear suspension, while handling and manoeuvrability are aided by the adoption of electric power steering.
There are disc brakes all round with standard ABS with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD).
An all-aluminium unit displacing 1598cc, which is mated to a 5-speed manual transmission, thrusts out 81kW and 154Nm of torque. This engine has four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, multi-point port injection and vane-type continuous intake cam phasing.
Performance targets include a top speed of 175km/h, with 0-100km/h taking a claimed 12 seconds. Nissans says combined fuel consumption is 6.7 l/100km.
This Qashqai is out to give its drivers a solid and unflustered ride - and it succeeds doing so. The high driving position gives you confidence but still has a true car-like driving experience.
Despite being slightly bigger than your average hatch one never feels intimidated by the Qashqai's dimensions. At 4 315mm it is about 11mm longer than Golf, but not much wider than the Germanic hatch.
The electric power steering provides remarkably good feedback and feels quite connected to the front wheels. Though the manual gearbox isn't too smooth and feels slightly "rubbery".
Furthermore the 1.6-litre power train does an acceptable job of getting the Qashqai going and it never feels sluggish. As an engine it?s a good, lively all-rounder.
One can't help but be impressed with the Qashqai's handling too, which is remarkably composed, while the suspension gives a decent balance between ride comfort and reduced body roll. Even hard cornering doesn't upset the Qashqai and it keeps its poise with ease.
The ride is quite firm around town, but it never feels uncomfortable.
The Qashqai will boost Nissan's image with medium-size car buyers since its fleet-selling Tiida is perceived as dull and the Micra isn't really a big attraction either.
But like its 350Z, Murano, Navara and Pathfinder siblings, the Qashqai grabs the attention and is without doubt a serious contender in the R180 000 to R220 000 price bracket.
And what's more is that you get a respectable car for your money - after all, the Qashqai has looks, decent build quality, spaciousness and great looks.
Also, the cabin is more spacious than a traditional hatch's, while the vehicle is easier to manoeuvre than an SUV. And despite its butch looks, the Qashqai isn't as politically-incorrect as an SUV.
In short, it is actually quite desirable.
Drives and handles like a hatchback