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Review

FIRST DRIVE: Nissan Qashqai 1.6 dCi Pure Drive car review

04/11/11

The Qashqai has been one of the great success stories of recent years. Crossovers, that is to say half-hatchback, half-SUV cars, are everywhere these days but the Qashqai set the ball in motion for what has proved to be one of the most popular types of new car in the UK.

It had fallen behind in some ways though, chiefly efficiency – that catch-all quality that includes fuel economy, road tax costs and general environmentally friendliness. The range lacked a real star efficiency performer while newer rival cars had already got their eco-acts together.

So what Nissan needed to do was give the Qashqai (and the seven-seat Qashqai +2) a new engine; one that could compete with the best in the class. But what it’s actually done is to build an engine that in some important ways is better than the competition.

The only caveat with most modern eco-friendly diesels in affordable family cars is that they’re relatively low power, and therefore a bit of a compromise on the road. Nissan, along with its ‘alliance’ partner Renault, has designed a 1.6 turbodiesel engine with the exact same amount of torque as the old 2.0-litre lump it replaces.

It’s lighter, more cleverly packaged and incorporates significant – if simple-sounding – technologies that help reduce the overall CO2 output to 119g/km; enough to drop it into the £35 per year road tax band.

To look at and sit in, the Qashqai hasn’t changed much at all, though, so all the qualities that have made it the best-selling crossover in its class are still there. The Sunderland plant that builds them has pumped out over a million units already, operating 24 hours a day to keep up with demand.

What’s so significant about the new engine is that it’s much better for drivers than some other eco-diesels. There’s useful acceleration in the first five gears even if it’s not exactly a rocket ship, and sixth acts as an overdrive to keep revs – and fuel consumption – as low as possible.

The one compromise with all smaller-capacity engines is that they have less natural urge when the turbo isn’t active, meaning that off boost the 1.6 dCi is more easily stalled. It just asks for a minor recalibration in driving style – a gentler right foot or keeping the engine over 1500rpm.

Nissan has also spent time trying to quieten the typical diesel rattles, and while at low speeds there’s no hiding the diesel noise, at speed it all quietens down nicely.

It’s then that you notice one of the Qashqai’s few real negatives. Wind noise booms and whistles around the wing mirrors, and on silky smooth and quiet continental roads it’s a bit irritating. On rougher, noisier British tarmac it might not be so noticeable.

On some craftily-found rough roads the car rides as well as ever, biased towards a soft setup which is good news for UK drivers. The suspension seems quiet and well damped, and overall it’s a comfortable drive.

Inside the cabin is one of the less adventurous in the class in terms of styling. There’s nothing wrong with it at all and the quality seems quite high, but it’s definitely a bit more sober in demeanour than you might expect.

Potential customers will be happy to see that the new, and generally excellent 1.6-litre diesel engine will be available in its most economical Pure Drive guise – two-wheel-drive with stop/start technology – in all four trim levels from Visia up to Tekna.

There’s also the option to link the engine with four-wheel-drive, which gives the car a little extra ability in low-grip situations but pushes the road tax back up to £120 and dents the fuel economy a bit.

Although the 2.0-litre dCi diesel has been replaced in the main, it will carry on for now as the powerplant for the four-wheel-drive automatic Qashqai, due to its inherent extra off-boost torque being a better fit for the gearbox.

Also worth a note in the revised cars is the Around View Monitor. Four cameras, one on each side and end of the car, create a bird’s eye view of the car’s surroundings, allowing you to navigate and park at very slow speed even with the windows completely obscured (literally – I tried it). Probably best not to have a go yourself at Tesco, though.

Although you might find people summing up the changes as ‘just a new engine’, in the context of our extortionate fuel prices the revised Qashqai makes more sense than ever in a marketplace where it already ruled the roost. It had been in danger of being knocked off its perch, but the new engine places it right back at the top of the tree.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Model: Nissan Qashqai 1.6 dCi 2WD Tekna Pure Drive, £24,345 on the road.

Engine: 1.6-litre turbodiesel producing 128bhp and 246lb.ft of torque.

Transmission: 6-speed manual driving the front wheels.

Performance: Top speed 118mph, 0-62mph in 10.3 seconds.

Fuel economy: 57.6mpg.

CO2 rating: 119g/km.

  • Enginesdiesel
  • Power3 (average performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy4 (better than average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups4 (lower than average costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats5

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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