We knew the Nissan Qashqai from having seen it on European roads and showcased at that continent’s auto shows over the past decade. Over there the compact SUV has been a big and enduring success. In fact, there are some 2.5 million units of the model currently circulating on European roads, with a total of 3 million units produced since its debut in 2007.
The second-generation Qashqai was introduced last fall, and at that time nothing indicated a migratory move to North America. So it was a surprise to all when Nissan officially announced its arrival on our market this past January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. In the United States it will go under the name Rogue Sport, while the Canadian version will be getting the Qashqai name.
Nissan’s strategy is to make of the Qashqai the brand’s entry model, below the sporty Juke, the Rogue, the Pathfinder, the Murano and lastly the Armada. It’s a large lineup of SUVs, but the market for utility vehicles is experiencing such explosive growth that it’s not out of line. In fact, SUVs represent close to 60% of sales for Nissan in Canada.
The Qashqai will thus identify as a sub-compact SUV, in direct competition with the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade and new Subaru Crosstrek, as well as other newbies coming in the category from Hyundai (Kona), Volkswagen (T-Roc) and others. When all’s said and done, we expect that within two years all of the auto manufacturers will have a model in this segment, and that sporty, coupe and even convertible variants will join the party.
Truth is no one can afford to ignore this market category that today’s consumers are showing such love for. Sub-compact utility vehicles have overall dimensions in line with compact cars, but offer more-generous cargo space, not to mention the increased safety elements of an SUV. For those living an active lifestyle, whether as part of a family or not, a vehicle like the Nissan Qashqai is an ideal choice.
A great design
In terms of its design, the Qashqai presents modern lines and features like the V-Motion grille that has pretty much become the new visual signature of Nissan cars. From a distance you could mistake it for a Rogue, so similar are the two vehicles’ looks. Look more closely, though, and the Qashqai reveals its more modest stature – it’s shorter, smaller and lower to the ground – even though it sits on the same platform.
One of the advantages of the Nissan Qashqai is the ability of its interior to accommodate five passengers without impinging on the space available in its large and easily accessible trunk area (which is supplemented by a sub-floor offering additional cargo space). One caveat: we would have liked to see an option for 40/20/40 split fold-down rear seats with multiple adjustments for the movable bench seat and reclining back – a feature which is available in the Rogue.
On the road: well-balanced and fun to drive
Right from the first few kilometres behind the wheel of the Qashqai, we took note of how well-balanced, how agile and especially how quiet a ride it offers. In fact we caught ourselves inching well past the posted speed limit on several occasions, not because the power being generated was superfluous, but because its ride was so quiet and its chassis so still and zen-like. This applied as much in the city as on the highway, and even on a small gravel road we took at one point. Hats off to the independent rear multi-link suspension and to the platform’s design quality.
This smooth ride is propelled by a 2.0L, 4-cylinder 16-valve engine generating 141 hp and 147 lb-ft of torque, which we found well-suited to the Qashqai’s main vocation, that of primarily urban use and a healthy dose of fuel-stinginess. It’s to this end, in fact, that the engine is mated to a standard 6-speed manual transmission or an optional CVT automatic transmission with Eco and Sport modes. Another interesting element is the Nissan Intelligent Drive four-wheel drive system, which includes a feature that allows the driver to lock the torque distribution at 50/50, providing added traction in difficult conditions.
The cabin of the Qashqai is easy to access for any occupant; and once inside, those occupants will enjoy a modern interior with comprehensive instrumentation, while the flat-bottomed steering wheel adds a little touch of sportiness to the model. We did feel that the plastic elements felt a little bargain-basement, and some of the buttons were difficult to access. These were minor quibbles in the larger scheme of things, however, as the driver’s positioning and visibility, as well as the impressive comfort offered by the seating, were noted and appreciated during our first kilometres aboard the Qashqai.
A promising first encounter
Our first up-close encounter with the 2017 Qashqai allowed us to envisage some real success for Nissan with its new model. Its well-balanced styling, the pleasant driving experience it delivers and its aggressive price point of only $19,888 all work strongly in its favour. Nissan expects that its sales will be generated primarily in the conquest market, taking market share notably from other Japanese as well as Korean brands, and that it may even win over consumers who might otherwise lean towards compact sedans.
We plan on getting back to you with a more detailed review towards mid-June, when the Qashqai is to appear at Canadian dealerships. Already, though, we can safely say that it should shake up the sub-compact SUV market.