Is the Qashqai the ultimate urban compact crossover?
Despite the fact that Canada and the USA share a border, many things are just different North of 49th parallel. No disrespect to our Southern neighbours of course.
One of these things happen to be our preferences in vehicles. Whereas the top selling car in the USA is a mid-sized car (the Camry), our top selling car in Canada is a compact car (the Civic incidentally). Perhaps partly due to our higher fuel prices, and perhaps slightly smaller waistlines, Canadians seem to prefer more efficient compact cars.
With the Nissan Qashqai built following almost lock, stock, and barrel using the same formula (albeit it at 85 per cent of the size) as the Rogue, it is likely that crossover Canadians will find the Qashqai as appealing a choice as its big brother.
What is it?
More than a foot shorter than the Rogue, the Qashqai is a re-styled, shortened model that is set to compete with offerings such as the Mazda CX-3 and the Honda HR-V.
The Qashqai is named after a nomadic central Asian tribe known for its Persian rugs. It’s also known as the Rogue Sport in the USA, perhaps because Nissan wanted to leverage as much as it could out of its partnership with Disney’s Star Wars franchise?
Regardless of what is called, the Qashqai is what Nissan Canada touts as having the practicality and desirability of an SUV, but with the running costs, footprint, ease-of-use, and driving dynamics of a hatchback. Even though the Qashqai is new to North America, it has been a huge success since it was launched way back in 2007 in Europe. In fact, it’s one of Britain’s best-selling cars.
What makes it stand out?
If you’re familiar with Nissan’s corporate look, there’s no mistaking the Qashqai for anything but a Nissan. That’s actually a good thing as I’ve been a big fan of Nissan’s styling over the last couple of years, particularly their distinctive boomerang-inspired LED daytime running lights.
It’s not difficult to see why the Americans decided to call their Qashqai the Rogue Sport as it literally looks like a three-quarter-sized version of the Rogue.
As tested with its SL trim level with the Platinum package, I actually think the Qashqai looks better than its bigger brother. A large part of this has got to do with its handsome 19” aluminium alloy wheels, which really adds a sporty flare to the vehicle.
Curiously even with its fully-spec trim and an MSRP of $32,498, the Qashqai did not have dark tinted rear privacy glass, making it look a little cheap. This would surely be one of the first modifications that any Qashqai owner should add to eliminate the fish bowl look and to add a bit more heat rejection to the interior.
Aside from its good looks, the Qashqai’s other standout feature is one that you cannot really see, but one that potentially can save your life. The highlight here is Nissan’s available Intelligent Safety Shield technology.
Like most other auto manufacturers, Nissan has been heavily investing in self-driving technology with the rate of development seemingly accelerating by the day. Utilizing a combination of cameras and radars in conjunction with the vehicle’s steering, brake, and throttle systems, this is the closest that we can get today to autonomous driving, and amazingly, all in a sub-compact non-luxury branded SUV.
Already equipped on other higher-end Nissan vehicles, such as the Pathfinder and the Maxima, Intelligent Safety Shield is Nissan’s foray into semi-autonomous tech and this time on the Qashqai. Much of this technology has already been proven thanks to Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury division, but has been continuously refined since.
Intelligent Safety Shield is smoother and better sorted out than many systems on rival cars. If you spend a lot of time in traffic or drive long distances, the semi-autonomous system is worth its weight in gold in reducing driver stress and fatigue because of such functions including Intelligent Cruise Control and Traffic Jam Pilot, Lane Keep Assist, as well as Intelligent Lane Change Intervention.
One of the reasons behind many drivers’ resistance towards autonomous driving technology is that it is that the learning curve is perceived to be too steep, especially for older drivers. Arguably, as our population ages and we have an increasing number of senior citizens on the roads, they are the ones that could benefit the greatest from the latest in driver aid technology.
The good news is that unlike systems from other competitors, Intelligent Safety Shield can be operated with the push of a single button by the driver’s knee, much like in the Infiniti Q50 luxury sedan I recently tested. Just one click and all of the Qashqai’s systems are active simultaneously without the need for complicated sub-menus or buttons to wade through. The detailed options are there still, should you want to fettle with them, but you don’t need to go through them to have the system active.
On the surface, this doesn’t appear to be all that groundbreaking, but the biggest two revelations for me were how smooth and well-integrated Nissan has managed to integrate the technology. By this I mean that intervention is progressive, smooth, and well resolved. Almost near-human. There is no grabbing of the brakes, unless there is a true emergency, and an impressive level of anticipation with the system being able to slow the Qashqai to a complete stop.
This level of intuitiveness meant that I ended up switching Safety Shield on more often than not, which arguably is one of the first steps to getting more drivers to accept this technology. The second revelation was that we could only dream about this technology being available to the masses around ten years ago.
Sure, it was available on the flagship Mercedes-Benz S-Class luxury sedan. However here we are in 2018, with all of the features, benefits, and creature comforts wrapped up in a package for under $32,500.
What about the rest of the Qashqai?
Equipped with a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine producing 141 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque, the Qashqai isn’t going to set any records, especially with its Xtronic CVT transmission.
However, there is more than sufficient power to get up hills and up to highway speeds safely. Passing slower vehicles is a non-issue either. Kudos to Nissan’s development team for really improving the Xtronic CVT since I last drove a vehicle equipped with it a couple of years ago on the current generation Rogue, and before that on the previous generation Sentra. It is now surprisingly responsive, and the manual shift modes even do a reasonable job of imitating actual gear shifts.
Well-done Nissan engineers! An A for effort and execution.
Nissan’s Intelligent all-wheel-drive system delivers the Qashqai’s engine power to all four wheels from a standing start, but then reverts back to front wheel drive for greater fuel efficiency when up to speed. This system is tuned for inclement weather versus off-roading, and works invisibly until you need it. The computer is able to proactively shift power fore and aft (but not side-to-side) as needed, such as when cornering in slippery conditions. There is also a “Lock” function to manually split the power 50/50 for really poor conditions.
Thanks to the Qashqai’s four wheel independent suspension, including a rather sophisticated multi-link rear seti[, the compact crossover is surprisingly nippy in the corners. Perhaps it is more appropriate to call it confident rather than fun, but the Qashqai is more than nimble enough through the corners for its intended owners. Body lean is well controlled and the ride is agreeable enough, though you do pay a slight price in ride comfort in exchange for the looks of the upsized 19” wheels.
The heated thick-rimmed flat-bottomed steering wheel is a pleasantly premium addition to the Qashqai’s interior, and drivers will be gripping it a bit tighter through the corners as the electric power steering’s ratio feels a bit on the slow side on twisty roads.
The rest of the interior is finished in nicely textured and high enough quality plastic that will no doubt be able to withstand the rigours of small children or pets without issue. The rear seat knee and headroom is adequate for two averaged sized adults, though toe room under the front seats is a bit skimpy. With 1,598 litres of trunk space, there is the requisite amount of cargo hauling capacity that you’d expect to find in a compact crossover.
Perhaps the only slight letdown in the interior is the Qashqai’s infotainment system. It looks and feels a little out-of date compared to the slick user interfaces from its competitor vehicles. This is especially true of the GPS satellite navigation’s graphics, which remind me of a Garmin handheld GPS unit from several years back. The smallish LCD touchscreen doesn’t help much either, but at least there are plenty of actual buttons to quickly get to the features you want.
Despite its basic hardware and software, the infotainment system has a surprising level of integration thanks to NissanConnect Services powered by SiriusXM. When subscribed to the service, the system turns the Qashqai into a Connected Car.
It can automatically call for help in the event of an accident with airbag deployment, and emergency calling and roadside assistance is only a push of a button away, regardless of whether you have a mobile phone or not. If you do, using a smartphone app, you can even remotely lock/unlock the doors, or even sound the horn and flash the lights if you lose the Qashqai in a busy parking lot. These are all impressively premium features that one might not expect to find on a non-luxury vehicle.
Despite its small screen, the infotainment system also works well with Nissan’s excellent Around View Monitor, which gives a 360 degree bird’s eye view of the vehicle in addition to the standard rearview camera feed. I particularly appreciated the ability to split the screen to show the vehicle’s curbside view when parking, so as to be able to avoid curbing the rims.
Stylish, well-appointed, and roomier than expected, the Nissan Qashqai will likely be a hit in compact car-loving Canada.
With its high level of technology, good value for money, it will likely succeed in segment where it stands out from the crowd.