Nissan Qashqai: Origin of the species
Nissan popularised the family SUV when it launched the first Qashqai. It's still a class-defining model, says William Scholes
FORTY per cent. That's the share of the global car market that is now devoted to SUV and crossover-style vehicles, writes William Scholes.
Demand for SUVs has exploded over the last decade or so, such that they can be had in all shapes and sizes; price points, too, from the bargain basement Dacia Duster to the if-you-have-to-ask-you-can't-afford-it Rolls-Royce Cullinan.
It's remarkable that one style or concept of vehicle has so completely captured the automobile industry quite so quickly.
A flag-bearer for the transformation of our motoring tastes was undoubtedly the original Nissan Qashqai.
When it pitched up in 2007, many pundits didn't quite know what to make of it - and that was even before getting their tongue around its spellchecker-challenging name.
With the popularity of its two traditional family cars, the Almera and Primera, ailing, Nissan took the bold but prescient decision to replace them with a single model.
With the Qashqai, it cooked up something radically different from its rather staid predecessors.
The new British-built car had all the qualities that customers loved about hatchbacks - easy to drive, economical to run, simple to park, affordable - but with attributes associated with larger or more expensive cars, such as a greater sense of interior space and practicality.
An elevated driving position not only gave the Qashqai's driver and passengers a better view out, but many people also found it made the car easier to get in and out of than a regular hatchback or saloon. A lot of people safer in a higher car, too.
Other marques had crossovers and SUVs in their showrooms already - cars like the Subaru Forester, Land Rover Freelander, Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V among them - but none had so persuasively targeted the family buyer.
It meant that the Qashqai's unique blend of attributes made it a compelling proposition for families everywhere.
When the original car went off-sale in 2013, it was still among the most-bought new cars in the UK.
By then, however, the Qashqai wasn't unique. It might have defined the class, but there was a slew of new rivals for the new version to compete with.
The competition has only grown in number and talent since then. Yet the Qashqai is still comfortably the best-selling car of its type in the UK.
It's well ahead of its nearest rivals, selling three examples for every two that the neck-and-neck Ford Kuga and Kia Sportage manage.
And in the Northern Ireland marketplace, the Nissan is right on the tail of the Hyundai Tucson, our favourite SUV since 2015.
Nissan recently refreshed the Qashqai - new engines and infotainment being the highlights - and it seemed an ideal opportunity to find out why it is such a relentlessly popular family car.
Having spent time with one, it isn't hard to see the appeal. It's such a pleasantly undemanding, useful and easy to drive car. It feels robust, too, and ready to take on the demands that children make of a car.
The Qashqai's genius lies in how it does absolutely everything you could reasonably ask of a family car with such conspicuous competence
There are SUVs which have bigger boots and more commodious back seats; there are quicker and more frugal rivals, too. Cheaper, as well.
But while it may not be especially outstanding in a single area, the Qashaqi's genius lies in how it does absolutely everything you could reasonably ask of a family car with such conspicuous competence.
It is that very roundedness and across-the-board talent and ability that makes the Nissan outstanding.
An area where it is absolutely at the top of the class is comfort and quietness. There are luxury cars costing many times what a Qashqai costs that neither ride with the same composure on Northern Ireland's roads nor with the same hushness. The seats are excellent, too.
The dashboard and controls are entirely straightforward and simple to operate - Kia has clearly learned lessons here, and the Qashqai is at the other end of the scale from something like the touchscreen and menu-heavy Peugeot 3008.
A harsher critic might argue that the Qashqai's dashboard arrangement looks slightly old fashioned when compared to the digital screenfest Peugeot 3008 and Citroen C5 Aircross, the glossy slickness of a Volkswagen Tiguan or the sheer minimalism of a Volvo XC40... but do you know what? The Qashqai's ease of use, aided by large clear dials and idiot-proof buttons, is one of its strongest assets.
The infotainment is tooled up for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, which is what people have rather come to expect these days.
Buyers are deserting diesel engines in cars like this. It's easy to understand why, given how sweet and smooth the Nissan's 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged unit is.
It can be had in either 138bhp, as tested, or 158bhp guises. The 138bhp engine seemed perfectly well matched to the car, to be honest.
It stays quiet and refined unless you venture too far round the rev counter... which is completely appropriate for a family car.
Two diesels are available if you feel your mileage justifies the outlay - a 1.5-litre with 114bhp and a 1.7-litre with 148bhp.
All Qashqais, incidentally, are front-wheel-drive as standard though the 1.7-litre diesel can also be had with four-wheel-drive.
The Nissan emphasises its good-at-everything credentials by being more fun to drive than you might expect.
It's not as rewarding as the Mazda CX-5, for example, but no-one will reasonably need more grip than the Qashqai serves up and, in any case, it sensibly prioritises general comfort and refinement to the ability to dismantle your favourite B-road.
It's a sensible and worthy compromise. The suspension has a sophistication that is often lacking in family cars, with a quality to the damping that helps keep the Qashqai in tune with the peculiarities of Northern Ireland's road surfaces.
Passenger accommodation is generous - though you may wish to check out a wider rival if three-abreast rear seating for older children or adults is part of your requirements - and there's a glass roof option which kids love.
Strong in every area that matters, the Nissan Qashqai is the very definition of 'hard to fault'; such breadth and depth of ability is why it remains at the top of the family SUV class
The boot is more than ample. Volume is 430 litres with the seats up, with 1,598 litres if you drop them. The boot floor can be arranged and divided in various shopping-friendly permutations too - another sign that Nissan know exactly what their target audience wants from a family wagon.
Safety is a strong point, and the Qashqai has the company's ProPilot system that can now also be found on the smaller Juke. It's a lane-keep assist and active cruise control system which helps the car to essentially drive itself in the right conditions, such as motorway driving.
There are five trim levels to consider, ascending from Visia (from £20,195) to Acenta Premium (from £23,100), N-Connecta (from £24,800), Tekna (from £27,145) and the range-topping Tekna+ (from £29,425).
Tekna, as tested, has much to recommend it - a Bose eight-speaker stereo and glass roof are among its refinements - but you don't lose much by dropping to N-Connecta trim.
Whichever Qashqai you opt for, you are getting one of the very best family cars on sale today. Few cars are as fit for their purpose as the Nissan.
The Qashqai is handsome, generously equipped, nice to drive, ease to operate, roomy and robust.
Strong in every area that matters, it is the very definition of 'hard to fault'; such breadth and depth of ability is why it remains at the top of the family SUV class and explains why it is such a popular model.
AT A GLANCE
Nissan Qashqai 1.3 Tekna DIG-T140
Price: £27,145. As tested £27,720, with metallic paint £575
Engine and transmission: 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 138bhp, 177lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 120 mph, 0-62mph in 10.5 seconds
Fuel consumption: 40.7-40.9mpg (WLTP combined), 40.5mpg (real world), 130g/km
Car tax: £170 in first year, then £145 annually
Benefit in kind: 30 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (88/83/69/79), 2014