The Nissan Qashqai has consistently been at the frontlines of crossover adaptation. Thank the first-generation model because, in large parts, it convinced buyers that traditional car-like comfort could be had with good visibility, plenty of space and modest running costs.
Saying then that it was a pioneer for the crossover segment isn’t just lip service; it’s a fact, and despite some early growing pains, buyers were rushing to get in on the crossover lifestyle. Many mainstream car makers were sitting back, assessing just what the local appetite for crossovers was like – while missing out on valuable sales. Then, following the success of the J10 (gen-1), Nissan launched the second generation bearing the difficult-to-pronounce nameplate, and from what I recall testing the J11, it left a lot to be desired. Unlike its predecessor, I didn’t think of it as something that moved the crossover game forwards.
Cue the J12, also known as the latest Qashqai, and I think it’s safe to say that it's back to form for the nameplate. Just on looks alone, it’s a striking balance of geometrically-pleasing front and rear lights, creases and folds that seem to serve more of a purpose than just being on-trend. Since styling is such a highly-subjective and contentious topic of discussion, I’ll leave the stylistic judgement to you… I can tell you, though, that the wheelbase is 20 mm longer than the outgoing model, while the overall length is extended by 35 mm. It’s also a tad taller, adding 25 mm worth of height.
The result is present inside the Qashqai, with the increased dimensions going a long way towards giving a roomier cabin than the exterior would suggest. Seated inside the quilted Nappa leather seats, the Qashqai gives a commanding view of the road – a selling point that made the original a hit during the crossover segment’s infancy.
Our overall impression of the cabin is that it’s a quality, well-put-together interior with a fair few nice-to-have modern touches like ambient lighting. It’s also easy to navigate and understand with a ratio of digital-to-haptic that’s just right.
The traditional instrument binnacle made way for a 12.3” configurable TFT screen that provides crucial information in a crisp resolution. The 9” centre infotainment screen performs the heavy lifting on the multimedia side with seamless Android Auto connection during our week-long stint with the Qashqai. This is something we don’t take for granted anymore since the ongoing technological push frequently means regular electronic hiccups on this front. We can also appreciate that, despite the tech-forward execution of the new Qashqai, Nissan has opted for a more traditional approach towards cooling and heating the cabin with easy-to-use air-con controls, no screens, and no menus.
Under the sleek bonnet lives a 1.3-litre turbocharged engine that produces 110 kW and 250 Nm of torque. It’s mated to what Nissan calls its Xtronic Automated Transmission – a clever way of selling a CVT to unsuspecting buyers. But don’t press the return button just yet, though. It pains me and goes against every fibre of my being when I say this, but, like only a handful of car manufacturers have managed before, Nissan has cracked the code on how not to make it a miserable driving experience. In fact, for the most part, it’s really quite pleasant.
Keep it dialled into its ‘Normal’ driving mode, and you’ll have to pay attention to catch any whiff of that CVT characteristics like that dreaded ‘rubber-band effect’ or sluggish and noisy changeovers. It’s crisp for the most part, responsive in its upshifts and even relatively quiet. Dare to switch it into ‘Sport’ mode, though, and like some cruelly ironic plot twist, all bets are off.
It’s also mighty comfortable traversing the roads, despite the 19” standard-issue wheels. And speaking of comfort, the adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist combination that forms part of Nissan’s ProPILOT autonomous drive technology helps reduce the workload during highway driving as it constantly adapts to changing conditions. I may be picking nits here, but I couldn’t wholeheartedly trust the steering assist since it subtly, but continuously, weaved off-centre from the lane. I can appreciate that Nissan is implementing these measures into its mass sellers, but it must be said that some manufacturers have managed to make this feature a seamless operation half a decade ago already. Still, it does what it’s supposed to.
Here it gets a bit tricky… Instead of a value-first sensible proposition, an area where Nissan’s carved out a comfortable market share in the past, the R670,600 asking price of the Nissan Qashqai 1.3T Acenta Plus places it in the middle echelons of premium crossover ownership. For similar pricing, middle-range offerings from Volvo’s XC40 and Audi Q3 also become viable contenders. It’s also a smidge pricier than VW’s 2.0TSI T-Roc R-Line, a brilliant crossover in its own right with considerably more poke.
At least it’s fuel-efficient, with Nissan claiming it will only sip 6.1l/100 km. While I didn’t quite get the same returns at a test average of 7.2, it must be said that it was hardly ideal conditions, and I also didn’t try particularly hard.
If the price was right, I believe the Nissan Qashqai 1.3T Acenta Plus should’ve been an easy sell on merit. Look, it’s easy for me to comment, given all the elements that influence a car’s pricing, but, on the other hand, it’s also people like myself who are in the market for a crossover, whether as an upgrade on a previous-gen Qashqai or upgrading into this segment.
Ultimately, the ZAR has the same value for me as the people shopping here. Justifying a price tag to the missus that’s on par with the mid-range and considerably peppier KIA Sportage, the brilliant Hyundai Tucson or R100k more than something from the Chinese corner – all cars with similar specs – is a big ask. The Qashqai is an incredibly competent and feature-rich crossover, but it is somewhat let down by its price. Pity.