Nissan’s mould-breaking Qashqai shook the European market by its roots in 2007. Car buyers loved it because it was the ideal compromise between a hatchback and an SUV, and sales soared. Known as a crossover because it allegedly stood at the crossover point between the two body styles and made no pretensions about having any off-road ability, it was successful enough to spawn a whole host of “me-too” cars.
A crossover craze is currently sweeping across the length and breadth of India too. Ford’s EcoSport is currently India’s most wanted car, with demand outstripping supply several times over. It’s not difficult to understand the appeal of these cars; they look like off-roaders but drive like cars. And that’s exactly what the Nissan Qashqai promises.
But what’s the car really like? It’s no off-roader for sure, but it certainly looks like one. The chassis sits a fair way off the ground, the SUV stance is all there and many of the details make it look like a pukka 4X4. It has cladding running around the bottom of the car, there are roof rails on the top, and it also has a sort of squared-off bonnet. I say “sort of” because, stylistically, the nose of the car is probably its most attractive bit. The cladding blends nicely at the bottom of the nose in a ‘V’ and this is reflected in Nissan’s grille. The nicest bits, however, are the twin, snout-like ridges on the bonnet.
This larger version of the Qashqai, or the +2, is 211mm longer than a standard Qashqai, so Nissan has, crucially, been able to squeeze in a third row of seats. This is something that has tremendous appeal in India. The extra length of the car and the fact that the seats fold flat into the floor also mean that there’s plenty of luggage space when you need it.
Open the big front doors and there’s plenty of space in the cabin. You’re sat high with a good view of the road from the driver’s seat. There’s plenty of legroom, and getting comfortable behind the wheel is easy. The steering wheel, with the buttons arranged neatly around the boss, is beautifully crafted and a delight to use. The clear, white-on-black dials are easy to read as well. The rest of the dash, however, looks a bit too plain and featureless. The air-con vents look like they are from an inexpensive hatch, the centre console is too straight-laced, and quality levels aren’t great either. It would’ve helped if the insides weren’t all black too.
Space and comfort on row two are surprisingly good. The seat is set high and offers decent legroom and back support. The rear seats, however, are oddly contoured, and that makes sitting in the middle difficult. The third row seats look quite substantial as well, but this is deceiving. These are suitable only for really short journeys, because headroom is tight and you sit with your knees around your ears. To make matters worse, it’s almost as difficult to get to the rear seats as it is to get comfortable in them.
The Qashqai +2 is much more impressive from behind the wheel. I drove the Nissan crossover on a mix of city streets and fast mountain roads, and came away seriously impressed. This car has a 1.6 DCi diesel engine that is more powerful than the 110bhp 1.5 DCi we are used to. It puts out a nicely measured and smoothly delivered 128bhp and there’s plenty of torque. In fact, the new engine coped well despite the hefty 1,404kg kerb weight of our test car and the presence of some steep inclines on our route. There is very little turbo lag, the engine spins sweetly and responses are impressively quick. As a result, it feels like you are driving a car with a much larger engine. The strong mid-range pull and the wide powerband of the engine also allow you to overtake cars quite easily. What also impressed was the positive action of the manual gearbox. It needs a firm hand at times, but it is almost impossible to miss a shift, which is good for a six-speeder with a double-H gate.
Crossovers are meant to drive and ride as well as cars. This is a bit difficult when the vehicle in question is this large and bulky, but the Qashqai +2 does surprisingly well. There is a hint of body roll and this is noticeable when you want to change directions quickly, but other than that, there is plenty of grip around corners. The steering is well weighted and responds well, and after some time at the wheel, it’s relatively easy to work the car into a nice rhythm. Also impressive is the ride – it feels nice and absorbent at low speeds and well settled as you go faster, managing to do both without much compromise. There is a bit of tyre and wind noise at higher speeds though, which is a bit of a shame.
The Qashqai +2 is a vehicle that’s really well suited to Indian requirements. It looks like a full-fledged off-roader, it has a seriously impressive diesel engine, there’s plenty of space on the inside, and it even rides and drives well. The third row may be too cramped and the design of the dashboard may look seriously out of date, but these are things that Nissan can fix quite easily on the new model – the car Nissan plans to get to India at a price of around Rs 22 lakh. Should be a car worth waiting for.