The Qashqai, despite its bizarre name, is one of Nissan’s most successful vehicles with over 5 500 sold in South Africa since its introduction three years ago. For 2010, this beefed-up crossover hatchback has been given a comprehensive revamp with a few styling changes and interior enhancements, and the addition of new models to the range, including a 2.0-litre petrol CVT. A new seven-seater derivative called the Qashqai +2 takes the crossover into the small family MPV territory and we spent some time with it (a manual 2.0-litre petrol model) to see if it was still worth the fuss. Design In terms of design, Nissan has made some subtle tweaks to spruce up the Qashqai’s visual appeal, but still retain the car’s identity. The most obvious change on the updated Qashqai is its new front end design sporting a bigger, more angular bumper, gloss black grille and new headlamps. These, along with revised front and rear headlights and 18-inch alloy wheels, give the Qashqai a more aggressive appearance. I enjoyed the look of the previous Qashqai simply because it managed to transcend the usual “box” shape of most SUV-like designs. While the new design tweaks aren’t exactly radical, they do present enough of a style boost to make the Qashqai really stand out. Behind the wheelWhen I got behind the wheel of the new Qashqai+2, I hoped that the characteristics that had made the original car such a success were still there. Driving it, I soon realised that aspects such as its great handling and brisk acceleration have all been retained in the new version.In the model we drove, the 2.0l engine is mated to a six speed manual transmission and delivers 102kW at 5 200 r/min with a maximum torque figure of 198 Nm at 4 400 r/min.In +2 guise, this Qashqai may look like an SUV, but it by no means drives or handles like one. Driving at top speeds, the Qashqai’s all-wheel independent suspension is firm and disciplines bodyroll despite the vehicle’s 200mm worth of ground clearance. The Qashqai benefits from steering keenness and agility that is fantastic and will often have you believing you’re driving a much smaller vehicle. At 4 541mm and 1 692mm, the Qashqai+2 is 211 mm longer and 36mm taller than the standard version's length of 4 330mm and height of 1 656mm.The raised body ride height offers a commanding view of the road, which is a huge benefit in traffic, while the vehicle is comfortable too, making it well suited for both city driving or countryside trips. InteriorThe new Qashqai is big on refinement and Nissan has definitely stepped things up a notch in the cabin. Changes include new dials, mood lighting and improved soundproofing for a more sophisticated experience. While the materials and dials look a little dated (the interior trim is still the standard matte black with a white pattern), the instrumentation feels sturdy and well put together. The new model is generally very well thought out with controls intelligently placed and storage compartments being plentiful and positioned logically around the car. The cavernous compartment in the centre console is a definite plus and, combined with all the other storage compartments, makes the Qashqai an excellent choice for road trips.The Qashqai +2 features two extra seats that, when folded flat, present drivers with an amazing amount of boot space. When raised it becomes apparent that the seats are designed for small kids as there is a minute area for legroom, particularly when the second row’s seatbacks are reclined, and the seats are a little snug. If you’re an adult, the only way to comfortably fit into those seats (without having to lop your legs off beneath the hip) is by sucking in your tummy and tucking your knees beneath your chin. OverallIf you’re in the market for a new car or simply bored with your SUV’s ungainliness, the Qashqai’s versatility, pleasant driving characteristics and sporty looks make it a winning choice. It’s a fun, sporty and practical vehicle that will suit practically any driving need – whether you’re picking up the kids and their kit from school or simply looking for a spacious daily runabout – and then some.Share your thoughts on the new Qashqai here!