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Nissan Qashqai+2 Acenta 1.5 dCi 4x2

Click to view picture gallery“With ‘downsizing now a way of
  life, Nissan have added their 1.6-litre
  petrol and 1.5-litre diesel engine
  options from the original Qashqai
  line-up to the newer Qashqai+2
  range as customers move to smaller,
  more fuel-efficient and less tax-
  hungry engines

APART FROM PICKING UP NUMEROUS AWARDS for their multi-use design, Nissan's Qashqai ranges have also picked up considerable sales both in the UK and mainland Europe.

With 20,814 registrations in the UK last year, the Qashqai/Qashqai+2 shot to the top of the SUV sales sector, outselling the Honda CR-V, Land Rover Freelander, Ford Kuga, VW Tiguan and Toyota RAV4 to name but a few. Not a bad performance in a sector when fuel prices, higher taxation, the anti-4x4 lobby and the recession all contributed to sales dropping overall by 22 per cent to 136,525 units.

Downsizing is now an all too familiar word in today's economic climate with sales of 'small' cars showing the only increase in demand. But in Nissan's case, with their versatile, easy-to-live-with Qashqai+2 SUV-cum-MPV, downsizing refers to the two additional engine options that will now run alongside the established 2.0-litre petrol and diesel units. The 1.5-litre dCi diesel engine and the 1.6-litre petrol newcomers are available with front-wheel drive traction (which explains the '4x2' tag) — not 4x4.

Starting at 15,495 for the Qashqai+2 1.6 petrol and 16,995 for the 1.5 dCi diesel, 'downsizing' also refers to purchase price and vehicle taxes. Currently, road tax for the 1.6 petrol is 145 and, for the 1.5 diesel, 120 — against 210 for the 2.0-litre petrol and 170 for the 2.0-litre diesel.

A reminder of what the Qashqai +2 is all about: it is aimed at families who have the need for seven seats (or five seats and extra load space) in their vehicles. The wheelbase, over the standard five-seat Qashqai, has been extended by 135mm and the overall length by 210mm to 4,525mm. The roof height at the rear is increased by 40mm to 1,645mm and this results in 16mm more front seat headroom plus 10mm more for the middle row — along with 23mm more knee-room for the middle row seats as well. The Qashqai+2 also has restyled front and rear doors as well as a new tailgate with a deeper rear window.

With all seven seats in use the boot space is minimal but fold them flat (without having to remove the headrests) and the load space is 550 litres. Fold both the rear and centre row seats flat and the maximum load space increases to 1,520 litres.

On top of that, the Qashqai+2 offers competitive pricing and running costs, sharp good looks, a high level of specification and safety equipment and even better ride comfort and compliant handling than most SUVs and some MPVs — whichever configuration you decide on, the '+2' Qashqai is a good purchase.

At the recent press launch for the additional wallet-friendly Qashqai models I had a brief test drive in the 1.6-litre petrol (113bhp/115lb ft) model which has front-wheel drive and a five-speed manual gearbox. Officially, this engine will return 40.4mpg in the combined cycle and my test vehicle, over a combination of typical UK roads, returned a competitive 38.7mpg. Given that its CO2 emissions are 165g/km, this means a road tax bill of 145 — increasing to 175 from April 2009.

The petrol engine is certainly willing although it gets very vocal under hard acceleration and whilst cruising at 70mph. Clearly it could do with a six-speed 'box for motorway travel. The acceleration isn't brilliant either, as you might expect from a small engine in a biggish vehicle. The 0-62mph official time of 12.9 seconds sounds better than it really is and 108mph is the top speed. This unit is fit-for-purpose, family travel into town, holidays and so on but its performance is limited and it makes driving hard work.

The better option is the 1.5-litre turbodiesel unit with 102bhp but superior torque: 177lb ft from 2,000rpm. Top speed is 109mph and 0-62mph takes 13.3 seconds. However, the greater torque means this is a much better engine to drive in real-life conditions. It is more flexible; it makes lighter work of going up hills and dealing with low speed roads and turning into side roads without the need for changing into first gear at walking speeds. The added benefit of having a six-speed gearbox also means high-speed cruising is quieter — with this torquey engine, the fairly large Qashqai+2 just rolls along pretty well in a relaxed manner.

The official average consumption figure is 49.6mpg, although my test car only returned 40.3mpg — less than the 43.2mpg I recently achieved for the same type of driving conditions with a 2.0-litre diesel Qasqai+2 2WD. Small engines need to be worked harder and sometimes that means less fuel economy.

Despite the +2's longer body, legroom is very limited and access poor for rear row passengers — in other words, it really needed to be longer still. On the plus side, the larger Qashqai has smart SUV styling, family hatchback running costs, a high standard specification, refinement, a comfortable ride, good grip, nicely weighted steering and the extra two seats/more load space. And, compared to the 2.0-litre models, owners will pay 50 less annual road tax and 1,200 less in purchase price. That said, I'd still opt for the 2.0-litre diesel: it makes more sense; if not in wallet-friendly terms then definitely in driver friendliness. — David Miles

Nissan Qashqai+2 Acenta 1.5 dCi 4x2
| 18,495
Maximum speed: 109mph | 0-62mph: 13.3 seconds | Overall test MPG: 40.3mpg
102bhp | Torque: 177lb ft | CO2 149g/km | Insurance group 6