Linking the compact footprint of a C-segment hatchback to the tall stance and more aggressive presence of a sports utility vehicle, the Nissan Qashqai is a handsome, convincing alternative to conventional car choices. Now Nissan has introduced a limited-edition N-Tec version to add even more lustre to the package. But why?
When Nissan launched the Qashqai a little more than two years ago, it pressed all the right buttons: Decent value, good space and practicality, and individual, SUV-inspired styling. The only limit on Qashqai sales at the time was a lack of supply.
The result? A queue of willing buyers.
When we tested the top-flight diesel model last year, we were impressed by its balanced dynamics, versatility, space and quality of execution. And our opinion hasn’t changed.
Against that backdrop, why introduce a limited-edition N-Tec version? Well, because a new, updated Qashqai with revised styling will be on its way to South Africa shortly and some impetus is needed to move the current versions.
Enter the Qashqai 2.0 N-Tec, a limited-edition model based on the midrange two-litre Qashqai Acenta, but boasting a series of external embellishments for not too much extra money.
The most obvious addition is the presence of 18-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, which add a measure of urban chic to the car. Also new is the tinted privacy glass, and the dark chrome finish applied to the grille, door handles and roof rails.
The rest of the Qashqai package remains very much unchanged, which means you get a poised and compact vehicle with SUV attitude and hatchback practicality. The taller stance improves all-round visibility, but also adds useful ground clearance when heading off the beaten track.
If anything, those big wheels add a touch of street-smart sophistication to the Qashqai package – although the low-profile rubber contributes a firmer, more uncompromising ride. The overall effect is more resolute, but also more sophisticated than the standard Qashqai.
Move to the interior and there are further differences. But beware – not everything you see here is included in the standard N-Tec deal. In fact, only the alloy pedals are part of the package, and our test car came without those …
The rest – rather garish two-tone leather upholstery, and a high-tech entertainment system – forms part of an accessory package introduced at the same time as the N-Tec model, but available across the range.
The accessories pack costs R18 000, and its most obvious component is the aftermarket Planet Electronics multimedia system. It combines a universal disc player, FM/AM tuner, television, satellite navigation system, Bluetooth communication and an MP3 player interface in a single unit, complete with touch-screen display.
It all sounds very impressive, but the reality is somewhat different. For starters, the LCD screen is prone to reflection, causing poor visibility in bright sunlight and rendering the unit all but useless during normal daytime driving. Even worse, the installation is obviously aftermarket and poorly executed, spoiling the Qashqai’s otherwise quality execution.
For instance, the aperture cut into the dash for the unit isn’t quite big enough, and the unit is too deeply recessed, making it almost impossible to access the mini-USB port. Talking of which, why a mini USB when most MP3 players (read iPod) and memory sticks use full-sized USB sockets?
The television can be operated even while the Qashqai is on the move, which poses a safety risk. And the user interface is less than intuitive, even for technophiles. It works best when you’re stationary, but something as simple as swapping between preset stations on the tuner requires too much user input.
Yes, there’s a stylus and a remote handset, but the latter only makes operating the system more fiddly, while the remote control is best operated by passengers, rather than the driver … Bottom line? The R18 000 for the accessories pack would be better spent elsewhere.
However, the rest of the interior has much to recommend it. The finishes are classy, the accommodation is capacious front and rear and the standard kit is more than comprehensive enough. The boot offers ample space and the split rear seats fold forward to increase cargo capacity.
Nissan has also stuck to the tried and trusted route as far as the drivetrain is concerned. Since it’s based on the two-litre Acenta, the Qashqai N-Tec employs the same four-cylinder fuel-injected powerplant.
It’s credited with maximum power output of 102kW, linked to a torque peak of 192Nm. That urge is delivered to the front wheels via a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox.
The engine is a willing unit, operating smoothly throughout its 5,200rpm range, and offering enough midrange punch to ensure decent tractability. The gear ratios are nicely matched to the power unit’s characteristics, but the shift is a little sloppy and the extended clutch pedal action feels more utility vehicle than passenger car.
Still, progress is swift and agile, adding sporty flair to the Qashqai’s overall persona.
That’s borne out by the performance figures. The Nissan sprints from zero to 100km/h in a useful, if hardly tar-burning, 10,8 seconds, while top speed comes to 192km/h. At 8,2 litres/100km for the combined cycle, fuel consumption is reasonable on the open road – although you can expect to burn around 11 litres a 100km around town.
The straight-line performance is matched to decent road manners and car-like handling. As already mentioned, the 215/55 low-profile tyres on the N-Tec’s rims firm up the ride, but that’s not a bad thing on tar surfaces. The steering is positive enough, with easy turn-in and too much power assistance, but in general, the Nissan feels nimble and user-friendly.
Tackle dirt roads and the relatively low mass and raised ground clearance ensure tidy, predictable handling without any nasty surprises. Understeer filters in when you start pushing too hard, but the overall approach is benign and confidence inspiring.
In standard trim, the Nissan Qashqai is a fine compact crossover by any standards, and the N-Tec is no different in that respect. The extras provided by this limited edition model boost visual appeal at an attractive price, adding further value.
However, R18 000 for the poorly executed accessories package is just too much. It compromises the interior and costs too much. For our money, a standard Qashqai Acenta diesel remains the best bet.
But wait: there’s also the 2010 Qashqai to consider. It’s essentially the same car as far as technical underpinnings are concerned, but the styling is fresher and there will also be a stretched, seven-seat version. Preliminary details are already on Nissan SA’s website.
Which means that you should be able to push for an even better deal on the current model …
By Deon Schoeman
Nissan Qashqai 2.0 N-Tec
In-line four-cylinder, 1 997 cc
102 kW @ 5 200 rpm
198 Nm @ 4 400 rpm
11,0 l/100 km (tested)
R289 500 + R18 000 (Accessories Pack)
"Go down this set of stairs and then just run - run as fast as you can." ~ Lt David Brink, 9/11