It’s rare that any brand new model manages to make a genuine impact on the UK market anymore…cars such as the Fiesta, Astra and even the 3 Series are nameplates which have been around for decades, and even the likes of the Insignia have merely been known as something else. Imagine the surprise then when Nissan launched the interestingly named Qashqai (cash-kai) back in 2007, and in one fell swoop managed to create a new niche which appealed to a huge segment of the car buying population.
Admittedly Nissan had offered the Almera and Primera ranges for the best part of 20 years before the introduction of the Qashqai, but flagging sales not just of those cars but in the Primera’s case the entire segment meant that Nissan chose a radical approach to replace the mainstays of their European range. To begin with the Note compact MPV was launched as an option for those wanting abit more space than a Micra could offer but at a more affordable price than cars like the Focus or Megane. In left hand drive markets the Tiida replaced the Almera itself (to not much acclaim), but its real success story has been with the UK-built ‘Qash’, which for the last 3 years has managed to climb up the top 10 sellers chart, most recently placing at number 6 (behind the all-conquering Golf). Add to this fact that compared to other cars in this list, most owners will be private rather than company, and this feat is even more impressive.
So why the success? Well put simply Nissan was able to read the market well and correctly predict the rise of the compact-SUV, which is taking much of the world’s auto markets by storm, even in the USA. Offering the chunky visual appeal of a small SUV along with its raised driving position and practicality, combined with car-like fuel economy, handling and importantly price, meant that buyers who may have considered a RAV4 or X Trail as too rugged or thirsty now had a choice tailor made for them. The launch of the ‘+2’ 7 seater variant has merely reinforced the cars strength and even with the cars design getting to 6 years old it still remains popular even compared to more modern rivals.
I really like the Qashqai; it may not be the butchest car on the road but its wide stance and lower body cladding make it look abit more aggressive than the rounded Focus, and while an Astra is alot sleeker it lacks the practicality that the Qashqai’s boxy shape affords. Admittedly it is not a huge car inside, even in +2 guise, but boot space is larger and better shaped than equivalent family hatchbacks. The extra seats in the larger model are a tight squeeze at best, but then the car is still relatively compact.
Inside things are abit more middle-of-the-road…the cabin has been described as non-descript and that works, dark plastics with a few lighter bits of metallic trim make the car seem modern at the very least. Kit is good though, with Bluetooth being standard and popular n-tec spec coming with attractive wheels and navigation coming as part of a well priced package. Under the bonnet lives a decent choice of engines, and whilst not as comprehensive as other company’s, there is sufficient choice for the everyday man. A petrol 1.6 and 1.5 diesel start the range off at an affordable point, with a new 1.6 diesel offering the best compromise for both economy and peformance (which can be lacking in the entry level engines). Higher up the 2 litre petrol and diesel options are faster still, and can also be had with 4WD, but they command a higher price and fuel returns are not as stellar.
Handling and ride is apparently pretty par for the course, and by that I mean comfortable unless on massive wheels (which few cars are), and apart from a slight rolling sensation (because of the car’s ride height) the handling will suit most customers fine. Admittedly even with 4WD the Qashqai is not designed for offroading, but I suspect that in snowy or wet conditions it will hold its own just fine.
Nissan have pretty much succeeded then in making the perfect car then? Well for many buyers the answer is ‘pretty much’! Some might wish for more powerful engines, sportier handling or maybe abit more room in back, but the vast majority of customers will see these factors as negligible and this is where the Qashqai’s strengths lie. Like many of the cars on the top 10 list, it has become the default choice for anybody who is in the market for a car like this, and to be honest it still has its little niche all to itself. Indirect rivals such as the VW Tiguan and Skoda Yeti are a smidge more desirable, but in all honesty are a bit bigger and more expensive. The Hyundai IX35 and Kia Sportage are arguably more stylish and better value for money, but they still suffer from brand snobbery and again are a little big. Used buyers also have the advantage that the Qashqai has been around a few years and as such can be had for significantly less cash…around £7k buys a tidy early diesel, which should be reliable and economical.
Those following my quest for a new car might ask me why I have not seriously considered a Qashqai as my next car? Well there are several reasons, but effectively they boil down to snobbery and value for money; for not much more I can get a larger, premium vehicle (admittedly with more wheels), and for me that is what matters, to my bank balance’s detriment!