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Nissan Qashqai+2 2.0 dCi Acenta 4x2

Click to view picture galleryFrugal and versatile are the key
  words for car buyers in 2009,
  making the New Year a good time
  to cross over to a ‘crossover

  model — and Nissan
s Qashqai+2
  is both frugal and versatile

FRUGAL TO RUN AND VERSATILE TO USE should be the guidelines for any purchaser thinking of buying a new car in 2009. Downsizing has been the most common buzz word in the latter part of 2008 and 'crossover' has been another.

Unless you are a professional footballer, a WAG or so-called 'celebrity', all new and used car buyers will have to be more focussed with their criteria when changing their current car, or cars. Even two car families are now looking at making do with one versatile, family-friendly motor. As most customers will be looking to pay less to buy, or lease, a new model, switching to a more practical and versatile vehicle will be their best option.

And they do not come more versatile than the British-built Nissan Qashqai range. Nissan has enjoyed real sales success with the Qashqai since they launched it in five-door, five seat crossover form in 2007. It looks part SUV, part medium size family hatchback or MPV people carrier. In October 2008 the range was extended with the Qashqai+2 models, still with five doors but a bit longer in order to accommodate either seven seats or five seats with added family baggage/load carrying capabilities.

Another smart move by Nissan was offering 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines — but the smartest decision of all was offering two- and four-wheel drive versions. Guess what? Two-wheel drive models account for 75% of sales and the split between petrol and diesel power is 50:50.

What these figures show is that although sales of SUV/4x4 type vehicles have fallen, people still like the looks and the high and versatile seating positions they provide. Despite the recession, the dual purpose (SUV/4x4) segment is still the fourth largest group for new car sales although final end of 2008 registration figures will not be published for a week or so.

The Qashqai has proved so popular in the UK that is has jumped to the top of the SUV sales segment, ousting the long-time leader, the Honda CR-V, and the next best-sellers, the Land Rover Freelander and Toyota RAV4. I could argue that the Qashqai shouldn't be classed in this segment because 75% of its sales are for two-wheel drive versions. But it looks like an SUV and it proves that all-wheel drive isn't, for most people, the real reason to buy when the financial times gets tough.

For 2009, Nissan has another ace up its sleeve regarding the best selling Qashqai+2: the frugal 1.6 petrol and 1.5-litre diesel engines will be added to the line-up. These are already available for Qashqai five seat models and, in the case of the +2 variants, these engines will lower the purchase price to a starting point of 15,495 for petrol and 16,995 for diesel — plus they also reduce fuel costs and road tax charges.

These new models have yet to be tried and tested by the motoring press but my report will follow shortly. In the meantime the 2.0-litre Qashqai+2 range starts at 17,199 with the petrol engine and 18,599 with the diesel unit. Five seat Qashqai models are priced from 14,349.

As with all prices quoted these days, they are the official ones but dealers will 'deal' = so haggle hard.

Until I can get my hands on the new additional Qashqai+2 models, I have been driving a 2.0-litre diesel dCi Acenta with SatNav — the two-wheel drive, seven seat version priced at 21,499 and potentially the best selling model. Leave out the SatNav option and the price is 20,149.

I was initially mightily impressed at the media launch test drive in October by the Qashqai+2 for several reasons: namely the practicalities of seating and load space combinations; the choice of two very good engines; and the really very good driving performance and comfort this vehicle offers whether it has two- or four-wheel drive. So having a vehicle for an extended driving spell really did allow me to work out whether my short term views were accurate under day-to-day, real-life usage.

Nissan GB says UK sales are split 50:50 between 2.0-litre petrol and diesel models; that 90% of customers choose the manual transmission option and that 75% choose a two-wheel drive version. Also that the Visia specification attracts 25% of customers; Acenta 50%; and the range-topping Tekna 25%.

Aimed at families who have the need for seven seats (or five seats and extra load space), the +2's wheelbase has been extended over the standard Qashqai's by 135mm and the overall length by 210mm to 4,525mm. The roof height at the rear is increased by 40mm to 1,645mm, resulting in 16mm more front seat headroom and 10mm more for the middle row. There is 23mm more knee-room for the middle row seats as well, also thanks to the added length. The vehicle 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 the rear row flat (no need to remove the headrests, either) and the load space is 550 litres. Fold both the rear and centre row seats down and the maximum load space increases to 1,520 litres. Adding two extra seats and providing more leg and headroom throughout has ensured the Qashqai+2's appeal to families for whom having seven seats is an important requirement.

But, more likely for most customers, five seats will be enough and the major reason for purchasing one will be the added load area space. Be aware, though, that there's limited access to the third row of two seats, which offer very little legroom and are best considered 'occasional' seats.

So far as the 2.0-litre engines go, there is the choice of a 148bhp dCi or 138bhp petrol, both four-cylinder units. Both, too, are available with six-speed manual or CVT/auto transmissions. Fitted as standard across the range are: a panoramic sunroof, rear privacy glass, electrically-operated windows and door mirrors, air conditioning, stereo radio/CD sound system, on-board computer, split/folding second and third row seats, front, side and curtain airbags, roof bars and an electronic stability programme.

I am advised the additional new 1.6-litre petrol and 1.5-litre diesel models will have similar specification levels — although I'm less than impressed that the electronic stability programme is not standard but only available as an option. Not very clever for a family vehicle, I think.

Acenta versions include added specification in the form of automatic wipers and headlights, cruise control, upgraded sound, air conditioning and some leather trim. The Tekna models have added leather upholstery, Xenon headlights and headlights washers and SatNav versions get what it says on the label.

So for me the Qashqai+2 is the complete package of what a relatively compact family vehicle should be. Suitable for purpose, functional, well equipped, a nice and good quality feel to the interior trim, a very good and fuel-efficient diesel engine and multiple seating and load carrying layouts.

But best of all for the type of vehicle it is, it just drives and handles so well: really better than most family cars. The conventional power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is really precise and sharp with plenty of feedback and the cornering grip is immense given the size, height and weight of this 'people-carrier'.

The suspension is totally compliant and it gives a comfortable ride without being sloppy. In truth I cannot think of a better handling SUV/MPV type vehicle on the market today.

Overall the Qashqai ticks a lot of the right boxes and in particular, it is good to drive, has surefooted roadholding and comfortable ride qualities, is well made with a nice interior design and soft-feel trim, provides flexible seating and load carrying arrangements, has an economical and responsive engine and a slick transmission.

It's not altogether perfect, though, because the styling is pretty bland and there is a very significant price hike over standard five seat models. It is an easy vehicle to visually take no notice of — but do not overlook the Qashqai in any form because it is a thoroughly good vehicle. — David Miles

Nissan Qashqai+2 2.0 dCi Acenta 4x2 SatNav
| 21,499
Maximum speed: 118mph | 0-62mph: 10.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 42.9mpg | Power: 148bhp | Torque: 236lb ft
CO2 177g/km | VED Band E 170 | Insurance group 9E