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Click to view road test review picture gallery“While everybody is
  talking about the
  name of Nissan’s new
  Qashqai, the car itself
  is busy picking up
  customers and winning
  awards such as ‘Best
  Small Family Car Buy’
  in the What Car?
  Car of the Year 2007

AS A ROAD-TEST WRITER I am used to complete strangers asking me what car I'm driving, how much does it cost and is it any good?

With the Nissan Qashqai, the first question was How do you pro-nounce it? It is pronounced 'Cash-Kai' and the name comes from a nomadic tribe living in the Zagros Mountains in South Western Iran. Given that the vehicle is designed in Europe, built in the UK at Sunderland and will be sold in most countries of the world, it seems a strange choice. In Japan it will be called Dualis. However, the Qashqai name has already got people talking about this interesting newcomer that first went on sale in March.

It has already won several awards for its innovative hatchback-cum-SUV design, and it has just received the highest-ever Euro NCAP marks with a five-star rating for adult occupant protection.

Nissan see the Qashqai as an 'Urban Nomad' — tough and compact
for the city; sleek and agile for journeys away from the town. It is
a C-segment hatchback that looks like a compact SUV — or Sports Utility Vehicle. It has the broad stance of an SUV from the waistline down and the styling of a hatchback from the waistline up. From the side, the roofline falls to the rear giving it a sports coupé profile.

The Qashqai is available with two- or four-wheel drive and the choice of two petrol and two diesel engines. Prices range from £13,499 to a hefty £20,849 for a top-level specification 2.0-litre diesel, 4x4 model with automatic transmission.

Nissan expects to sell around 17,000 of the Qashqai in the UK this year and 20,000 in a full year. Customers are likely to be split 50:50 bet-ween retail buyers and business or fleet sales. Nissan feels 70 per cent of customers will opt for two-wheel drive models and 80 per cent of buyers will buy a Nissan for the first time. The first feedback from initial Qashqai sales shows that people are either moving up in size from a conventional hatchback or they are down-sizing from a larger SUV or D-segment car.

The C-segment — Ford Focus, VW Gold and Vauxhall Astra size — is the second largest sector of the UK's new car market, after the B or Supermini segment, and it accounts for 30 per cent of all new cars sold.

Customers in this popular sector like their cars to tick as many boxes as possible — looks, price and versatility are all key requirements. The Qashqai does all those things. And more. It is compact (4,315mm long and 1,615mm high), has five doors, is versatile for passenger and load carrying alternatives, it's affordable and has the option of four-wheel drive. Furthermore, it's safe, distinctive and built in Britain.

The best-selling model to date is the 1.5dCi diesel version with the mid-range Acenta trim and equipment package priced at £16,149. Visia is the entry-level specification and Tekna the highest. Again, strange names!

Even the base Visia entry-level model is well equipped regarding safety features with anti-lock brakes through to front, side and curtain air-bags. All models have automatic door locking and automatic hazard lights. Bluetooth mobile telephone connectivity is standard on all models as is electric power steering, amber ambient interior lighting, 60:40 split folding rear seats, electrically-operated and heated door mirrors, power windows, front armrest and height adjustable drivers seat. The standard specification list seems endless because climate control, glovebox cooler, on-board information computer, stereo radio/CD player and alloy road wheels are all included.

The mid-range Acenta models gain, amongst other items, a leather-grip steering wheel, automatic headlights and rain sensing wipers, parking sensors, front fog lights, uprated air conditioning, a better sound system and an alarm.

Top-of-the-range Tekna models gain full leather upholstery, privacy glass, Xenon headlamps with washers, 17-inch alloy wheels and a sophisticated keyless entry system.

There is loads of storage space, trays, hidden boxes and cup holders. In fact, you name it and you'll find it's probably already fitted — and cleverly designed as well. It clearly follows the user-friendly design for passengers pioneered by the Nissan Note mid-sized MPV.

The specification is impressive and so is the design and quality of the interior. The quality of the fabrics, the density of the seats and the layout of controls are superb. Stand-outs include the high quality surfaces of the dashboard and the high-precision finish of the alumin-ium that highlights the wheel, instrument pack, air-vents and centre console. I just wish Toyota had adopted the same ingenuity and quality for the interior of their new Auris models which sell in the same C-segment hatchback. The only downside to the design is the small side windows that make visibility for the driver difficult, especially at the rear quarters of the car.

The seats are comfortable, the boot is large (410-1,513 litres with the rear seats folded) and there is ample seating and legroom for a family of four or perhaps even five. The Qashqai looks a tempting proposition for older 'empty nesters' and it will appeal to them because of its versatility for seating or load carrying — it has a large tailgate and, of course, the equipment levels are comprehensive. You just know the Nissan build-quality and reliability will be first class.

My test model, the best-selling 1.5dCi Acenta, costs £16,149 but it had metallic paint (a £425 option), a £700 panoramic glass roof and an ESP electronic stability programme for an additional £365. Okay, £365 is not a lot of money, but with a car rated so highly for safety I had expected ESP to be fitted as standard — as it is on many of today's cars. With these 'extras' the total price of my test car weighed in at £17,639.

For the record the panoramic glass roof — optional on Acenta and standard on Tekna models — is unique in this segment of the market. Measuring 1,040mm by 880mm, the fixed roof covers both rows of seats to create a light and airy interior. It is fabricated from laminated privacy glass, which filters out damaging UV rays and contains heat soak into the cabin. On top of that, a temperate atmosphere in the cabin is maintained thanks to an advanced low pressure ventilation system. A one-touch electrically-operated sunshade can be used to add further protection from the sun and insulation from the elements. The use of laminated glass provides extra safety in the event of a roll-over crash and added security against unlawful intrusion.

However, I believe family buyers will be just as happy with the 1.6-litre petrol model with Visia specification and priced at a very reasonable £13,499. For that money, it is a lot of car. The fuel economy will be around the 40mpg mark compared to the 46.8mpg 'my' 1.5-litre diesel returned. I had expected more from a modern diesel engine in this sector and Nissan's official combined figure is 52.3mpg. Urban and Extra Urban figures are, respectively, 45.5 and 56.5mpg.

Where the 1.5-litre diesel engine, or the optional 2-litre diesel unit,
will be the best choice is for high mileage users; probably company or business car drivers. For myself, I wouldn't consider the four-wheel drive models because there are plenty of 'proper' 4x4 SUVs of the
same size for less money.

The Qashqai drives well enough: capable rather than engaging. It rolls a little during cornering due to its high stance, but it is comfortable and the suspension is compliant enough to iron out most potholes and poor road surfaces. There is plenty of grip and the steering is nicely weigh-ted and gives good road feel. Noise intrusion is low thanks to the build quality, with only minor wind noise evident generated by the large door mounted mirrors.

With 105bhp, the four-cylinder 1.5-litre turbodiesel engine is no ball of fire but it is perfectly adequate and does have 177lb ft of torque at 2,000rpm — allowing it to tow a braked 1,200kg. On A and B roads the driver will need to use the slick, six-speed gearbox to get the best out of it. But on motorways, it cruises very happily with low noise levels. There's not much not to like: no ESP as standard and limited rear headroom.

On the plus side the boldly-styled Qashqai's hatchback/SUV design mix works particularly well and offers a versatile and roomy family car. It's also well equipped, build quality is impeccable and running costs and insurance will be low. That's more than enough to bet on Nissan achieving its sales targets now and in subsequent years. What's more (forgive the pun!), Qashqai has already picked up its first commen-dation: 'Best Small Family Car Buy' in the £13,000-£14,500 category of the What Car? Car of the Year 2007 awards. — David Miles

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Nissan Qashqai 1.5dCi Acenta |
Maximum speed: 108mph | 0-62mph: 12.2 seconds
Overall test MPG: 46.8mpg | Power: 105bhp | Torque: 177lb ft

CO2 145g/km | VED Band C £115 | Insurance group 5
Visit Nissan's website Click to go there now

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