British designed and built, this one's going to take some knocking off the number one spot.
Mention Nissan to most people and they'll think of a Japanese car maker. Nothing particularly remarkable. But ask industry experts about the company and they'll tell you a different story. Nissan is the manufacturer that made the most audacious gamble in recent automotive history - and it's one that paid off. The vehicle they went all-out on? This one right here, the Qashqai, here rejuvenated in second generation guise.
This version has quite an act to follow, the MK1 model having been credited with nothing less than a re-invention of its brand and the creation of the new market category we now know as the Crossover segment. Back at the original launch in 2007, it was revolutionary, at last a new option for families shopping above the small car sector and looking for a versatile and relatively affordable runabout. Nissan’s brilliance was in deciding to create a design that brought together elements of all these models into one sharply-styled, affordable and ever-so-desirable package. In doing so, the modern Crossover vehicle was born.
Today, this class of car is something car makers launch to sell alongside their existing family hatchback and medium range contenders. Nissan, in contrast, took the much riskier step of completely replacing the models it offered in these segments with the Qashqai line-up, hoping to sell around 100,000 units a year. In the event, double that number reached global buyers and this turned out to be the most profitable vehicle in the company’s history.
So what's it decided to do with this replacement design? Gamble again? Of course not. Even Nissan isn't that brave. Instead, this second generation Qashqai takes the same qualities that made the original version such a winner in the Crossover class and refines them. But by how much? After all, this segment is now crowded with copycat rivals all looking to cash in on the profitable concept this car created. So is the original still the best? That’s what we’re here to find out.
If there’s one thing the original Qashqai is remembered for, it’s the way that it revolutionised the dynamic responses that keen drivers could expect from a car of this kind. And in this respect, not much has changed with this second generation version.
If you were expecting a marked departure in looks with this second generation Qashqai, then you’ll be disappointed. You don’t need to re-invent a winning formula – or to put it another way, geese that lay golden eggs don't need to look like swans.
This MK2 model’s extra length partly explains why there’s no 7-seater variant this time round. The Japanese brand reckons that most buyers who went for the first generation ‘+2’ variant did so to get a larger boot rather than the extra seats, an additional luggage space requirement that this evolved Qashqai is now apparently better able to satisfy without the need for separate bodyshapes.
Those for whom five seats will be quite sufficient will certainly look forward to having one of these on the driveway though, this modernday Qashqai undoubtedly a more mature, assured-looking thing that’s clearly well-engineered without having to adopt try-hard aesthetic flourishes to attract your attention. It’s sportier too, not only due to the lowered ride height but also thanks to the way the bigger wheels better fill their arches. And the faster, more elegant effect offered by the longer roof with its neat trailing rear spoiler. I also like the way there's now real tension in the rear haunches, as if the car is about to spring forward. The rear has more character too, with a sharper set of tail lights and a neat diffuser below the curvier bumper.
Building a Crossover vehicle is easy. Building one as good as this Nissan is a whole lot tougher. And it's a vehicle whose remit has shifted ever so subtly. The Qashqai couldn't fight tomorrow's battles looking quite so SUV. It needed to tone down, become sleeker and, yes, be a bit more like a conventional hatchback in look and feel. That’s exactly what’s happened with this second generation version, a car from a brand that clearly knows its market.
What hasn’t changed is the fact that this, the original family Crossover model, is still the very best, remaining a fine option for buyers who’d rather not be saddled with run-of-the-mill hatches or people carriers and don’t want the clunkiness and cost common even to smaller SUVs. Of course, it now has a much tougher set of rivals to deal with, but Nissan’s product development has done just enough to keep this Qashqai a step ahead of most of the chasing pack.