BATD ON Jan 22, 2014 AT 11:42 am

by Liz Turner

Nissan Qashqai

Nissan Qashqai

I enjoyed driving the new Qashqai – and not just because we were taking a jaunt around mountain roads beneath blue skies, staying in the Eurostars Tower in Madrid. Honest.

I’d been wondering what Nissan would do for the new generation. As with that difficult second album, it would be a tricky job to improve such a successful formula without losing its distinctive character.

When the first Qashqai was launched in 2007, no one could spell it, or pronounce it, and no one knew what this rather chubby machine was meant to be.

Nissan claims to have invented with ‘crossover’ with this car. They’d noticed that a lot of people (including a lot of women) were driving off-roaders because they liked the high-up driving position, space and chunky looks – but never went off-road.

So they gave the Qashqai off-roader looks, space and flexibility and set the driving seat nice and high. Without all the gubbins needed for off-road driving, the car was lighter, smoother to drive and drank less fuel. It was also very affordable.

They drew short of giving the Qashqai wings, but even Nissan was astonished by the way it flew out of the showrooms – some two million have been produced since 2007. And that’s good for the UK economy because it’s built here, in Sunderland.

Striking or handsome?

The first car was striking, but it was definitely more Daniel Craig than George Clooney. The new one is more conventional, and harder to identify at a distance, but it is more obviously handsome. The bonnet has a dynamic V shape and the wraparound lights and grill form a single ‘visor’ across the front, so it resembles a mini Evoke from the front (no bad thing). It will definitely get the neighbours nudging one another, whispering: “Look what she’s got…”

The interior feels more upscale, with better-quality materials, and lots of tech. There’s a big screen for the sat-nav and the Connect system which allows you to access apps through your phone. Nissan is concentrating on helpful apps, so in future you’ll be able to use Trip Advisor to find somewhere to eat or stay. It already has snazzy app that allows you to hold your phone’s camera over the instruments and a speech bubble will come up tell you what it is and how it works. So there’s no more fumbling through a guide book.

The trim levels are Visia, Acenta and Tekna, and higher pair offer the ‘Safety Shield’ including Forward Emergency Braking, Driver Attention Alert and Traffic Sign Recognition. The Forward Emergency Braking could help you avoid running into the back of another car in certain situations, or reduce the impact. The Moving Object detection lets you know if someone has pushed their shopping trolley right behind you, or if a small child or dog has run into your path as you are pulling out. Personally I hate the Lane Departure Warning buzzing at me every time I avoid potholes in the side of the road, so I turned that one off.

There’s also Intelligent Park Assist, which steers for you and tells you which pedals to push until you’re neatly parked in the tiniest of spaces.

The load space in the back is huge, and in Acenta and Tekna, the floor does all sorts of tricks to divide that space into useable sections.

Into the mountains

We drove three versions of the car in Spain: the 1.2 turbocharged petrol with 6-speed manual gearbox, 1.5 diesel manual and 1.6 diesel auto. A more powerful petrol engine and a diesel version with four-wheel drive are due later. The three I tried were all smooth and comfortable, and clung on well as we tackled the twisty mountain hairpins. The petrol engine needed to be revved quite hard on the hills, but was surprisingly gutsy for such a small motor in car of this size. The smooth, quiet diesels had more pull and returned impressive fuel consumption figures.

I wasn’t keen on the manual gearchange, finding it less than precise; the Xtronic automatic, is a more relaxing option. It’s a ‘continuously variable transmission (CVT), that uses metal bands rather than gears. These can feel as though there’s a rubber band connecting the engine to the wheels, but this one feel much more natural. It has ‘steps’ programmed in, so you can change manually if you want to.

Overall, the next generation is a much better vehicle, it’s still affordable, and its CO2 figures will attract low company car tax. In fact, What Car? liked it so much, they made it their Car of the Year 2014.

It goes on sale 1 February. So, if you walk past a Nissan dealership, watch out for flying Qashqais.

Nissan Qashqai

Price from £17,595

1.2-litre DIG-T six-speed manual

CO₂ emissions 129g/km

Economy 50mpg (5.6 l/100km EU combined)

1.5 dCi 110PS (81kW)

CO₂ emissions 99g/km

Economy 74mpg (3.8 l/100km EU combined)

1.6 dCi 130PS (96kW)

CO₂ emissions 115g/km

Economy 64mpg (4.4 l/100km EU combined)

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