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First Drive: Nissan Qashqai – on sale March 1

Nissan

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Review

Nissan describes the Qashqai (pronounced cashk-eye) as having distinctive styling that is “a marriage of the sleek shape of a passenger car with the strength of a 4x4”. It’s a good description of the Japanese manufacturer’s new model.

Nissan is aiming Qashqai at buyers who would normally consider the Ford Focus, Renault Mégane or VW Golf – it replaces the Almera – and is marketing it as an urban vehicle. Eighty per cent of sales are expected to be conquests, and Nissan hopes to claim 2.5% of all C-segment purchases.

“It is a car of contrasts for a world of contrasts,” says Stephane Schwarz, design director at Nissan Design Europe. “It is tough and compact for the city but sleek and agile for journeys away from the town.”

Consumers who like to buy British should be aware of Qashqai’s origins. Mainly designed and developed at Nissan Design Europe in London and at the technical centre in Cranfield, it will be built in Sunderland.

The plant produces more than 300,000 cars each year. For 2007, and with the addition of new models such as Qashqai, Sunderland could produce 400,000 cars – great for British industry.

Qashqai is also the first European vehicle to be built on the Nissan/Renault Alliance C platform.

There are four engines available – two diesels and two petrol. The diesels are an entry-level 1.5-litre with 106ps (105bhp) that powers the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox, and a 2.0-litre developing 150ps (148bhp) that features a Bosch piezoelectric-controlled injection system. This is available as two- or four-wheel drive with a six-speed manual ’box, and the choice of an automatic version on the four-wheel drive.

The entry-level petrol alternative is a slightly tweaked version of the Micra SR and Note power unit, with 113bhp. It is coupled to a five-speed manual gearbox; this is only available as two-wheel drive.

The compact 2.0-litre petrol offers 1138bhp. It comes as two- or four-wheel drive and is available with a six-speed manual ’box or CVT (continuously variable transmission) with manual over-ride. The CVT option costs an extra £1,100, as does the option of a six-speed auto.

Qashqai comes in three spec levels: Visia, Acenta and Tekna. More names for consumers to get embarrassed about mispronouncing.

Acenta has the option of the excellent panoramic glass roof at £700, which transforms the vehicle, especially for rear passengers. Top-of-the-range Tekna comes with the glass roof as standard.

Another optional extra for both the Acenta and Tekna ranges is sat-nav, which has a rear view camera. The £1,350 price tag is harder on buyers’ wallets, but it is a beautiful system.

Our money would be on the diesel versions in either size, although the 1.5-litre would be a good move for fleet buyers.

Behind the wheel

As mentioned previously, the 1,040mm by 880mm fixed panoramic glass roof makes a huge difference, drawing in all available light.

The sat-nav is easy to use, providing simple instructions and great graphics – just as it should be.

The cars driven had manual gearboxes, which were well matched to the engines. On tight, steep bends the Qashqai gripped well and even fought against a driver who was practically begging the car to let go. There was no need for lots of gear changes, either.

The 2.0-litres tested (petrol and diesel) pulled away strongly and effortlessly, making for a relaxing, but not boring, drive.

It is a very car-like experience; in fact, the Qashqai has little or no off-road ability, despite its four-wheel drive option. This is a car for urban life, remember.

Price: £13,499-23,249
Engines: 1.6- and 2.0-litre petrol; 1.5 dCi and 2.0 dCi diesel
Performance: 0-62mph 10.6sec (2.0 petrol)-12.2sec (1.5 dCi); top speed 108mph (1.5 dCi)-119mph (2.0 petrol)
Transmission: Five- or six-speed manual; six-speed CVT; six-speed auto
Efficiency: 33.6mpg (2.0 petrol)-52.3mpg (1.5 dCi); 145-204g/km CO2 (1.5 dCi-2.0 petrol) CAP RV 3yr/30k: 1.5 diesel Visia £5,175 (36%) 2.0 petrol Acenta £5,650 (35%)
Rivals: Focus, Mégane, Golf
Strengths: So many – looks, drive, panoramic glass roof
Weaknesses: Four-wheel drive looks, two-wheel drive performance. Could make some buyers feel short-changed
Opportunity: A more car-like vehicle to add to Nissan’s ‘commercial’ portfolio
Threat: Will buyers leave the safety of the Ford Focus?
USP: Compact size with the feel of a much bigger vehicle

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