This year, Nissan introduced the 2017 Qashqai, a vehicle that is expected to quickly become one of the brand’s bestsellers. Its unusual name (which is practically begging for spelling mistakes) comes from a group of Turkish tribes that live primarily in Iran.
So is the 2017 Qashqai all-new? Not really. This vehicle has been sold in Europe for 10 years already, and it has been pretty successful there to boot. In the U.S., it will go by the name Rogue Sport, as they figure it’ll sell better that way. The funny thing is, the Qashqai is totally different from the Rogue. It’s smaller and its starting price is set at just under $20,000, indicating that it’s lower on the totem pole. In fact, this subcompact SUV will be challenging the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V and Subaru Crosstrek in what is the country’s fastest-growing segment.
If you’re thinking that Nissan already has the JUKE in this segment, you’re right. But the JUKE is a tad smaller and it’s definitely more of a niche model by design. The Qashqai is much more sedate and will therefore cast a wider net. JUKE enthusiasts are sure to remain loyal to their first love, so there’s little chance of cannibalizing its sales.
Updated for the occasion
Style-wise, the latest Qashqai is just like before, but more modern inside and out. It was refreshed to mark its arrival on our side of the pond, while the European version’s exterior design was also updated. Overall, this vehicle looks a lot like its big brother, the Rogue, though the Qashqai’s signature is its round auxiliary front lights. The vehicle’s rear is in line with the rest of the family with boomerang-shaped C pillars. You need to look carefully to tell it apart from the Rogue. In a brilliant move, they introduced brighter body colours, including Monarch Orange and Nitro Lime. Finally a little fun in what is all-too-often a monotonous landscape!
You won’t need to think too hard about the drivetrain, as there’s just one engine offered. It’s a European import making its debut in North America. With 2.0 litres of displacement, it offers 141 horsepower and 147 lb.-ft. of torque, which is not overly zealous, but nonetheless on par with the competition. Only the Honda HR-V offers less displacement and, most notably, less torque with 127 lb.-ft.
That means the only decisions you’ll have to make concern the drivetrain and transmission. The Qashqai S comes with your choice of a six-speed manual or a continually variable automatic, which Nissan calls Xtronic. If you go the manual route, you’re forced to take the front-wheel drivetrain. That’s really too bad, but Nissan says they’re working on it. The SL trim kicks things up a notch with factory standard all-wheel drive and the Xtronic system. Good news: for just over $24,000, you get a Qashqai AWD, whereas the competition charges more for the same setup—up to $28,000 in the case of the Jeep Renegade.
The cabin is nearly identical to the Rogue’s, especially the dashboard. It’s nicely crafted and modern, with an attractive visual presentation. There’s sufficient head and legroom for both front passengers, though things get a little tighter in back. The cargo hold has a raised floor with two small compartments underneath. The question is, will they make up for the loss in vertical clearance?
On the road
Finding a comfortable driving position is easy and the steering wheel has a good feel—to the point that you can practically drive the Qashqai with your fingertips. We were a little disappointed with our first test drive, however, because the steering seemed to lack precision when entering corners. But after mentioning this problem to the Nissan team, we tinkered with the onboard computer and found—hidden deep in a sub-menu—a Sport mode feature. It’s much better than normal assistance, offering better precision and control.
We didn’t get the chance to try the manual gearbox, but the CVT was very, for lack of a better word, CVT-like. It helps save on fuel, but it also makes the engine rev faster when challenged, which increases noise levels substantially. The vehicle seemed to have enough power, with a good amount of torque released quickly. At the end of the day, the Qashqai isn’t as dynamic as the Mazda CX-3, but it has more spring in its step than the Honda HR-V. If you’ve been disappointed by the Rogue in the past, the more dynamic Qashqai may win you over to the brand’s SUVs.
If we can get used to its name, the Qashqai is sure to become a contender in this segment. Nissan carefully planned its price point and equipment level, and the vehicle stylishly balances comfort and fun.