Nissan Qashqai 1.2 DIG-T: good things come in small (engined) packages

Nissan Qashqai 1.2 DIG-T
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Nissan Qashqai 1.2 DIG-T

The Qashqai 1.2 DIG-T after an effortless climb up the Black Mountains in Wales. Photo: A Goundry

Sixty Second Summary:-

+     The little 1.2 litre petrol engine punches well above its weight, and rarely feels underpowered.

+      Impressive fuel economy for such a heavy car

+     A real alternative to a diesel, and £1750 cheaper!

+     Easy to drive, comfortable & relaxing

+     Generally impressive quality

+     Tremendous specification in Tekna trim

       Boot space a little smaller & less useful than competitors

      Bonnet release can be accidentally activated when aiming for the fuel flap release.

Do you, like me, have a gut feel that small engines in biggish cars just don’t work well, and so remain unconvinced by the current crop of mini-powered-maxi-cars?  Well, Nissan’s latest Qashqai with their smallest 1.2 litre petrol engine impressed greatly when tested briefly at Millbrook a few months ago. Such a brief test, however, can give little impression of what a car is like to live with, particularly in the all-important area of fuel economy. So when Nissan offered us a Tekna-spec 1.2 Qashqai for a week we were more than happy to accept!

The first impression on hopping aboard was one of very respectable quality, with plenty of soft trim materials everywhere above the waistline and all the controls operating with a smooth precision that was the exclusive preserve of the likes of Audi & Mercedes not too long ago. Nissan have certainly come a long way from the days of the Primera………..! On the road, though, that impression of quality was let down a touch by a couple of rattles from personal bits & bobs thrown carelessly into the various storage bins around the car, many of which were hard plastic and so allowed the contents to rattle. The sliding cover over the huge panoramic roof squeaked slightly when closing as well, however these were both minor issues set against the overall ambience of the cabin. That panoramic roof must incidentally be one of the biggest around and certainly allows light to flood the cabin.

The heated leather seats were comfortable & supportive, with power adjustment on the driver’s side. Their perforated leather was taut and free from puckers and creases, unlike many more expensive competitors. The seating position was a little lower than some other crossovers, losing a little of the commanding view typical of this market sector. As with everything, though, there is a trade-off in that this results in handling which is definitely above class-standard, with much less roll & sloppiness.

Nissan Qashqai 1.2 DIG-T

The handling of the Qashqai is helped greatly by it being some 150mm lower than the Freeelander shown here for example. Photo: A Goundry

Overall, there were few indications of corner-cutting to keep the cost down, one of the few being the use of a manual prop to keep the very heavy clamshell bonnet open rather than gas struts – nice to have, but not really an issue – after all, how often does the average driver open the bonnet………….or even know how to do so in some cases!

Nissan Qashqai 1.2 DIG-T

Tucked down together at the bottom of the facia – the fuel release flap and the bonnet release. Care needed to avoid catching the bonnet release inadvertently when refuelling. Photo: A Goundry

Talking of opening the bonnet, one minor irritation which Nissan’s designers would do well to rethink is that the fuel flap release was tucked right down at the bottom of the facia, with the bonnet release catch in close proximity, making it very easy to release the bonnet at the same time as releasing the fuel flap – I know, I did it!

The impression of quality was reinforced when setting off, with the engine almost inaudible yet powerful enough to launch the 1400kg Qashqai into the traffic flow quite respectably, the engine note only becoming noticeable above 3000 rpm. 115 horses do not sound a lot to move such a heavy motor, and yet the car never felt seriously underpowered. Indeed, the first time I took to the road I stopped to read the spec sheet just to be sure Nissan had sent the right car! Indeed, the only time the relatively low power was really noticeable was climbing very steep hills. Even then, dropping a cog or two soon got the turbo spooled up and the Qashqai pulling happily again. Much of the reason for this respectable performance can of course be found in the healthy 190Nm of torque, which is available from only 2000rpm. OK, the car is maybe never going to be on pole position in the traffic light Grand Prix, but why would you buy a Qashqai if that was your sole interest in life, anyway?

The brakes were smooth and positive, giving reassuring control at all times. Similarly, the steering felt delightfully well-weighted and gave stable, neutral cornering. The ride quality was mostly surprisingly smooth, with even the worst of Surrey’s shocking road surfaces being heard rather than felt, even on the 19” rims worn by the test car. Handling-wise the Qashqai felt more like a nimble saloon than a crossover, with little body roll, allowing corners to be tackled enthusiastically and confidently. Dynamically, the only slight letdown was the gearshift, which felt a little rubbery, although it shifted smoothly enough.

Small engines in big cars have a reputation for their real-world fuel economy being far worse than manufacturers claims – the Ford 1 litre Ecoboost having been particularly criticised – however the Qashqai fuel economy was for the most part pretty respectable. Motorway cruising at the legal limit-ish achieved around 45mpg, with a stint at an only slightly lower speed suggesting that Nissan’s combined 50 mpg should be achievable with a slightly lighter right foot. These figures were no doubt helped by very tall gearing – 60mph for example saw only 2000 rpm on the revcounter. Such high gearing is usually accompanied by the need to drop a cog or two at the slightest gradient, but the Qashqai happily shrugged off all but the steepest grades.

Cog-swapping would of course be equally necessary with the diesel version, which most people would automatically opt for in this class of car. Yet diesel power is increasingly becoming considered anti-social, and is certainly not recommended for low-mileage drivers at least. So the 1.2 petrol engine should really be considered as an effective alternative to the diesel, nearly as economical and with the bonus of being a huge £1,750 cheaper to buy.

We gave the Qashqai a thorough workout over a variety of driving conditions, which it took in its’ stride. Motorway cruising was smooth and effortless, whilst piloting the car along country roads was equally effortless. Some pretty difficult and mainly low-gear cross-country work around the lanes in South Wales saw the fuel consumption drop briefly to the mid 30’s, with an overall average of 42mpg being achieved over our test – pretty impressive considering the size of the car.

Load-lugging can be an important consideration for crossovers, and here the Qashqai drops a few marks against some of its competitors. The boot is fairly shallow, at least with the boot floor in its upper position, whilst the floor lip at around 750mm is a fair bit higher than for example the 660mm of the Honda CR-V, which could be an important consideration if for example Mum is hoisting a buggy aboard, or an elderly Labrador needs to perform gymnastics to hop into the back. The sloping rear window and inward-tapering flanks also reduce the effective loadspace compared to the practicality of the squared-off if unglamorous profile of, say, a Skoda Yeti.

Although prices have increased recently, the Qashqai scores highly in value for money, with an impressive equipment list in most trim levels. On the road prices start from £17,995, whilst the top-spec £23,580 Tekna trim level features just about every toy known to man, including Nissan’s Safety Shield Technologies, a whole range of award-winning safety features including Nissan’s 360o camera array, the Around-View-Monitor. This proved surprisingly useful for ensuring that the big Qashqai was slotted tidily into parking bays, as it showed the bay markings either side of the car very clearly. As is becoming increasingly common, the Qashqai features not one but two colour screens.

Nissan Qashqai 1.2 DIG-T

The Qashqai’s two display screens. Little information overlap between them – good! Photo: A Goundry

The bigger touch screen in the centre console controls the excellent sat nav as well as the usual radio and media screens. Hooking up smartphones or iPods is very straightforward, either by Bluetooth or USB connection. Full album artwork etc. is shown on the screen – a neat touch. A smaller screen is slotted between the speedo and tacho which can be configured to provide a raft of driving and other data such as fuel consumption. If the sat nav is active but the touch screen is switched to show multimedia information, both screens display turn-by turn navigation information when necessary, a useful feature which it would be good to see on all cars. The sat nav screen could, however, do with being a little bigger, as the map area was partially obscured by other bits of information such as distance to the next turn.

The 1.2 Qashqai is available only in 2-wheel-drive form, however don’t let that put you off even if you feel 4-wheel-drive is essential for winter roads. As a number of comparative tests have now demonstrated decisively, fitting winter tyres on a 2-wheel-drive car gives far better traction that the same model in 4-wheel-drive form on summer tyres – and is cheaper, too! Overall, it is easy to see why the Qashqai has been a huge success for Nissan, with over 1 million sold since it was launched just over seven years ago. If you are in the market for a refined, economical and fairly spacious crossover that doesn’t break the bank, why not give the 1.2 Qashqai a try – you might be very pleasantly surprised!

Interested? Find out more here: http://www.nissan.co.uk/GB/en/vehicle/crossovers/qashqai.html

Nissan Qashqai 1.2 DIG-T

a little bit of mood lighting! Photo: A Goundry

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