Overall rating: 4/5
Improved economy, greater performance and additional equipment add appeal to Nissan's Qashqai. The family segment genre-busting crossover remains at the top of its game, though it's no longer the only player in the niche it created.
In the Metal:
The Nissan Qashqai has been a resounding success in Ireland, with about 16,000 examples on the road already. Familiarity has done little to lessen its visual appeal, so the Qashqai remains fresh and interesting compared to the conventional family hatchbacks it competes against. Higher specification models look better thanks to larger alloy wheels, privacy glass on the rear windows, a panoramic roof and silver roof rails, and the Qashqai still appeals when put up against newer rivals like Kia's edgy Sportage.
Inside it's all pretty familiar too, which means a functional if not exactly exciting interior. The plastics are a bit scratchy and shiny in places, but it feels like it will put up with the sort of abuse a typical family will mete out.
Key change here is the addition of a 1.6-litre dCi 'Pure Drive' turbodiesel engine. The Pure Drive tag means it emits less than 130g/km, this new unit emitting 119g/km thanks to energy recuperation and stop-start systems. So it's in Band A now, whereas the 1.5-litre engine it replaces was in Band B, and on the road the new 1.6-litre engine does a pretty convincing job of delivering good economy - with an official consumption figure of 4.5 litres/100km (62.8mpg) - combined with easy driveability. It's smooth too, without the narrow band of power that often blights turbodiesels - the 1.6-litre's spread of power is surprisingly linear. It's not going to win any drag races, but it does major in refined and largely effortless driving. The six-speed manual's gearing might be set up for economy, but the 1.6-litre turbodiesel works well in combination with it - though it would benefit from a more positive shift action.
The suspension provides decent comfort, only larger bumps causing some unwanted bounce on the road. Steering weighting is fine, but there's precious little feel through the thick-rimmed wheel itself. Comfortable, capable and refined, it's a rounded family car, that'll do everything well, if not with any real flair.
What you get for your Money:
Even entry-level XE models come with 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, Bluetooth, cruise control and six airbags, though it's worth spending more on the SV grade for rear parking sensors, auto lights and wipers, 17-inch wheels and body coloured door mirrors and door handles. The top-of-the range SVE model adds a stylish panoramic glass roof.
Nissan Ireland will launch the 1.6-litre engine in January 2012, but it'll only be available with four-wheel drive to start with. Still, it's only in Band B for tax and is just €1,600 more than the equivalent two-wheel drive version. Front-wheel drive Qashqais with the 1.6-litre dCi engine arrive in the middle of the year.
Nissan's Qashqai may no longer be the only crossover in the family car marketplace, but it remains a difficult one to beat. Greater economy, lower emissions and respectable performance combine with the new 1.6-litre dCi engine and that it'll be sold at the same price as the 1.5 is a major bonus to buyers.