We drove the Qashqai around rural Victoria and loved it, mostly.
We drove the Qashqai around rural Victoria and loved it, mostly. Kieran Bicheno

Hands-on with the new Nissan Qashqai small SUV

IT'S been a long time since a Nissan has impressed me, so I deliberately approached the new Qashqai (pronounced Kash-Kai) with as few expectations as possible.

My first impressions were mixed. It's hard to get worked up about small SUVs, but the magnetic red ST-L Qashqai is a looker both on the outside and inside.

The body lines give it a staunch, almost muscular, appearance without hitting the overbearing science-fiction-like angular motif you see coming out so often these days.

Nissan says they've redone and upgraded the integrated bumpers and fins on all but the base model and everything from the tires to the roof racks works together in a purposeful design I could see still being fun to look at after having owned the car for a while.

The interior is as smart as the exterior, with the ST-L model I drove packing leather everywhere, a spunky D-shaped steering wheel, and a 7-inch touchscreen in the intuitively-laid out dashboard.

Driving through Victoria's regional Daylesford and Trentham districts is a gorgeous day on its own, but the Qashqai's interior comfort amplified the effect noticeably.

The ride quality is a high-point here. The steering is relaxed without being floaty, and even during the 'getting used to it' phase in the first five minutes of driving, I felt like it knew exactly what I wanted to do and was more than happy to oblige.

Bumps in the road are aptly filtered through the suspension and feel more like haptic feedback in your feet, seat, and hands than annoyances.

The engine is a 2.0-litre unleaded unit pushing out 106kW and 200Nm of torque. Sadly, this is a moment of disappointment.

The engine note is the weakest, least satisfying sound I've ever heard a car make. This is somewhat fitting as the engine, at least through the CVT (auto) transmission, felt like it was struggling to respond to the accelerator when real pickup was needed, such as when going up hills or overtaking.

The throttle is well-behaved and sitting on the speed limit without watching the speedo was easier here than in most cars I've driven. Nissan's quoting some reassuring numbers with fuel economy - as little as 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres, and the movement in the petrol indicator after a weekend of driving seemed to bear that out.

My favourite feature had to be the reversing camera and matching top-down camera next to it.

The reversing camera operates the same way most do, though I suspect this one's slightly more accurate than average, and the top-down camera is nothing short of hocus pocus, with multiple camera images from around the vehicle stitched together to make parking the car utterly trivial.

Again, staples like Bluetooth, cruise control, rear parking camera, parking sensors, and auto hold for the brakes are standard on all models.

The Qashqai comes with most of the safety features you'd want from a car of its price range. Everything from the base model and up comes with Intelligent Emergency Breaking, Forward Collision Warnings, and Lane Departure Warning. I saw the Forward Collision Warning in action when the sedan ahead of me failed to indicate and braked suddenly. An alarm sounded, and a light on the dash lit up instantly.

The Lane Departure Warning never went off while I was driving it and I was unwilling to contrive a situation where the Intelligent Emergency Breaking activated.

While I didn't review the Qashqai's off-road credentials directly, it did seem to handle gravel, dirt, and grass identically to most modern small cars so I wouldn't expect it to have the adventuring chops of its more expensive siblings, though this is speculation.

The folks at Nissan say the Qashqai is for couples who have an active lifestyle and no kids, and I'd agree, though it is comfortable enough that having one or two kids would be completely fine.

There are currently three models, the ST, the ST-L, and the top-of-the-line N-Tec. The latter will be replaced by the more kitted-out Ti model when it becomes available in mid-2018. It's available in seven different colours, and I can recommend the magnetic red.

The Qashqai is an easy SUV to grow accustomed to. It's stylish, mature, and well-behaved. You can pick one up starting at $26,490 plus the various drive-away costs.