First drive: 2014 Nissan Qashqai
What is it?
It's probably the most important car to be launched this year – not only for the UK car market but for the country as a whole. More than 1.7 million Qashqais have been built at Nissan's facility in Sunderland, and the British-built crossover holds the number one spot in the UK's SUV market. In fact, in its six-year production run, 2013 was a record year with nearly 50,000 Qashqais finding homes. So a new version is a big deal, and Nissan knows it. For this new second-generation model Nissan has gently developed the styling - but not too much to put off the 250,000 existing UK customers - thrown in some new technology and spent an awful lot of time making the cabin feel more like a premium product.
What's under the bonnet?
In this current trend of downsized engines, it's no surprise to learn the Qashqai comes with a range of small and frugal power units. While a 113bhp 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol may sound laughable in a car that's 47mm longer and 20mm wider than its predecessor, it's a perfectly decent engine and offers more punch than the 1.6-litre petrol used in the previous Qashqai. For diesel, there's a 128bhp 1.6-litre and a 1.5-litre which develops 108bhp and emits an impressive 99g/km of CO2 and up to 74mpg combined. It's this engine and the 1.2 which Nissan expects to be the best-sellers in the UK. A larger 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 148bhp will land in the Autumn.
What's the spec like?
Plentiful. Nissan knows its Qashqai is a hit with buyers so the company has added more spec and tech for its new model. There are four specifications, the range kicking off with the Visia at £17,595 which comes with automatic air conditioning, hill start assist, a five-inch colour HD infotainment screen, chassis control and cruise control. The range tops out at Tekna – which starts from £23,145 – and buyers will be treated to bi-LED headlights, 19-inch alloys, a glass sunroof, part-leather seats, heated front seats, front and rear parking sensors, a seven-inch touchscreen display and Nissan's Around View Monitor - a clever system that gives a bird's eye view when parking. But Nissan predicts the Acenta Premium model will be their best-seller – it starts from £20,995 and comes as standard with some of Nissan's latest safety kit such as Front Collision Avoidance and Traffic Sign Recognition.
Naturally so. The C-segment crossover market is one of the most closely contested in the UK. The list is pretty much endless but the chief competition is the recently-refreshed Kia Sportage, Hyundai ix35, Skoda Yeti, Ford Kuga, Mitsubishi ASX and the Suzuki S-Cross. But this new version of the Qashqai is a step up from most of these cars – it feels that good.
What's it like to drive?
Nissan hasn't only worked on the outside, but also on improving the way the car drives. We got behind the wheel of the Acenta Premium 1.5-litre diesel and while the engine delivers only 108bhp and never really feels hugely fast at low revs, it really comes alive when you begin to give it a good workout. What's more, it's so quiet and relaxing to drive. You can adjust the weighting of the steering between Normal and Sport but really there's little difference between them. Overall handling is planted and precise – it's not scintillating but neither is it uncomfortably unstable. It does everything a normal customer would expect of it and that's just fine by us.
The AOL Cars verdict
A decade ago Nissan was churning out the dull and insipid Almera hatchback – a poor rival to the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. But it pulled a risky masterstroke in creating the Qashqai and it has dominated the market since its arrival in 2007. While it could be said this new second-generation model is far removed from its innovative predecessor, Nissan has pulled another masterstroke – they've updated and improved the original concept without ruining the key ingredients. With some clever tech, a genuinely posh interior, more space, seats designed in collaboration with NASA and a range of strong engines, we can see no reason why the new Qashqai will not retain its stranglehold on the UK's SUV market. The British are going to get smitten all over again.
Model: Nissan Qashqai 1.5dCi Acenta Premium
Engine: 1.5-litre, turbocharged diesel
Power: 108bhp, 340Nm
Max speed: 113mph