Nissan Qashqai N-Tec review
You can waste a lot of time trying to classify the Nissan Qashqai with traditional car terminology. This is a car that looks like an SUV from the front and a jacked-up estate from the back.
It doesn't have the compact city-friendly dimensions of small family hatchback or the off-road ability of one of the smaller Land Rover cars.
Prices start from a little over £16,000, which is affordable, but stretch well over £20,000 where the car makes less sense amongst more premium rivals.
In short, the Nissan Qashqai should not work as an option for UK car buyers in any category.
But it does. Boosted by the feel-good factor earned through major production of the car in the brand's Sunderland plant, the Qashqai has become a cash cow for Nissan since its launch in 2007.
It seems the country has been waiting for a car that delivers the assuring raised ground height, commanding driving position and go-anywhere looks of an SUV, but with recession-proof running costs and a sleek design.
It turns out the Nissan Qashqai is small enough for the city. Urban buyers have shed their Chelsea tractors and embraced the Qashqai - so much so that they are almost ubiquitous on the school run on any town in the UK.
And the majority of UK buyers do not need the ruggedness of a Land Rover, they're simply looking for extra stability and an SUV feel in a family car.
Nissan were on to a winner and covetous eyes were soon becoming fixated on the Qashqai. The Skoda Yeti is a brilliant five-seat family crossover, the Kia Sportage is good-looking with a superb seven-year warranty and the Mini Countryman, although impractical, adds a touch of fashion excellence to the segment.
But they still cannot overtake the humble Qasqhai in terms of UK sales. The name is fast becoming one of the most instantly recognisable names on the roads today - and we wanted to find out why.
Nissan Qashqai design
The Nissan Qashqai is a good-looking family car. The chunky wheel arches and upright back end are typical of an SUV but the front end features a creased bonnet and sloping windscreen to give it a sportier design than the likes of the upright Yeti.
It looks and feels like a hatchback that has been inflated to give it the dimensions and design of a mid-size SUV and it does not suffer for this.
Sleek roof rails are included with the Qashqai and these are both practical and unobtrusive, while an optional panoramic sunroof on higher specification models helps to create a brighter, airier cabin.
Nissan Qashqai practicality
The key to the Nissan Qashqai's success is its practicality. The five-door layout ensures entry to the passenger seats is easy and the back seats are comfortable and spacious.
We tested the Qashqai's practicality in the real world, heading out on the school run and stopping for some shopping on the way.
The boot easily swallows shopping and is a good shape to cope with most family luggage. However, it is on the small side compared to rivals. The Qashqai boot measures 410 litres while the Kia Sportage can hold 564 litres and the Skoda Yeti 416 litres.
However, it is easy to get bogged down in numbers and through practical experience the Qashqai boot is not lacking when it comes to everyday trials.
Nissan Qashqai interior
Where the Qashqai excels in inside the cabin, where the materials and build quality is a big improvement over the Skoda and Kia models.
While not in the same league as the likes of the Audi Q3 - although Nissan has been making noises about the next generation stepping up in luxury - the Qashqai is well-built, durable and comes with some nice soft-touch plastics and premium-feel upholstery.
It is also one of the most well-equipped cars in its class.
Nissan Qashqai equipment
At the bottom of the range at little over £16,500, the Nissan Qashqai Visia is the basic model. It comes with air conditioning, electric, heated mirrors, electric windows, a CD player, Bluetooth and MP3 connectivity.
All Qashqai models also get alloy wheels while metallic paint can be specified as an option for an extra £500.
Buyers are much more likely to be tempted by the mid-range Acenta trim, which adds climate control, front fog lights and an optional, £700 satellite navigation system to the Qashqai range.
We drove the high-tech N-Tec specification and, while prices now creep above £20,000, you get eye-catching new alloy wheel designs, sat-nav, a panoramic roof and clever reversing camera system that makes parking a doddle - just check out the video above to see how easy we found it.
The car even comes with a speed camera warning system, although we found this to be a bit glitch after it identified speed cameras on the opposite side of the road.
Nissan Qashqai first drive
Driving the Nissan Qashqai is not going to provide many thrills but the car is surprisingly supple and responsive, which falls in well with the family car targeted audience.
The larger alloy wheels meant the ride on the N-Tec model was a little rougher than lower-specification models but the SUV styling ensures it is comfortable and smooth over potholed roads.
The Qashqai does not handle as well as a Focus or Golf but the steering is well-weighted and there is very little body roll around corners.
Nissan's engine choices are flexible and versatile. At the bottom of the range a 1.5-litre diesel is the most efficient and returns an impressive 119g/km of CO2 emissions - enough to qualify for road tax Band C, which has payments of nothing in the first year and £30 each year after.
The engine is not underpowered, as with the entry-level 1.6-litre 115bhp petrol, but the 128bhp 1.6-litre diesel is probably the best mixture of power and efficiency in the range.
There's a 2.0-litre 138bhp petrol delivering relatively high running costs - CO2 emissions are towards 190g/km - but the 2.0-litre 148bhp diesel we tested was punchy and powerful, enough to add an extra thrill for those who like extra power even in their family wagon.
In conclusion, the Nissan Qashqai is a very good family car, ticking the boxes of practicality, running costs, interior and ride comfort.
While it may seem to awkwardly fit between market segments the Qashqai is actually a very astute move by Nissan and, despite being five years old (with a mid-way refresh in 2010), remains the best of its kind when a balance must be struck between cost and practicality.
The choice in the compact crossover market is growing, but the British-built Qashqai continues to sit at the forefront. It's out recommendation for an SUV-family car and for those who are bored by the standard family hatchback.
Written by Stephen Hurrell