Raise a glass to : The Nissan Qashqai (or should we?)

Keith Adams reflects on the British designed, styled and engineered Nissan Qashqai, and how it changed everything – for better and for worse.

Will history look on the Qashqai kindly or blame it for the proliferation of crossovers on the market today?


Nissan Qashqai: hero or villain?

Nissan Qashqai 2007

According to many petrolheads, the Nissan Qashqai is one of the most reviled cars to roll off a production line. It kickstarted the headlong rush into the mass take up of SUVs across the board, and ultimately the death of the family hatchback. Remember the Almera? Exactly…

Was it really so bad, though? Designed and built in Britain, this crossover SUV/hatchback mash-up was a leap into the unknown when it took shape in Nissan’s Paddington Design Studio in the early 2000s. Little did any of the team know that it would go in to redefine the automotive landscape when it was launched tentatively in 2006.

But the British-designed, engineered and built Nissan Qashqai changed everything – for better or worse.

The birth of a game changer

The Qashqai was the brainchild of Nissan’s Design and Engineering Team based in the United Kingdom. Its shape was crafted in a one-time British Rail maintenance depot in Paddington. The firm’s European Design Studio was the ideal birthplace, said Nissan Design Europe’s Design Director, Stephane Schwarz – as it was a car he described as an ‘urban nomad.’

Okay, that’s marketing speak, but he added that it was, ‘tough and compact for the city but sleek and agile for journeys away from the town.’ And that is on the money for a car that had multi-cultural London for its inspiration. It needed to be, as Nissan wanted to create a family car that catered to changing consumer preferences.

It would combine the versatility and attitude of a go-anywhere SUV with the agility of a compact hatchback. But, guess what – not all the automotive press quite got it when it first appeared. In January 2007, Autocar concluded: ‘A good enough family hatch, but not the convention-shifting car it’s sold as.’

Nissan Qashqai design sketch

CAR was pretty lukewarm, too, summing up, ‘It drives well, looks good, and makes a practical alternative to mainstream hatches and MPVs.’ Don’t think I’m picking on anyone in particular here – it wouldn’t even register on AROnline‘s radar until it hit Mk2 form in 2014. Oh, well…

It proves what car journalists know about buyers in the real world. This innovative concept immediately struck a chord with buyers who sought a vehicle that hinted that they could navigate urban jungles as effortlessly as rural terrains – without actually needing to. What they wanted was a car that hinted that the driver was an outdoorsy, fun-loving kind of person. In short, Nissan hit the zeitgest with this one.

For better: the Qashqai transformed the market

  1. It kick-started the crossover craze
    The Qashqai’s success gave rise to the compact crossover segment and a million imitators, which quickly became one of the most lucrative in the industry. It forced other manufacturers to follow suit, resulting in buyers being offered with more grown-up features for their money.
  2. The British car industry hugely benefited
    At a time when the British automotive industry was grappling with challenges in the wake of MG Rover’s collapse, and Jaguar and Land Rover’s ongoing issues pre-Tata, the Qashqai breathed new life into it. Nissan’s Washington plant became a symbol of expansion, with thousands of jobs created, and ended up churning out more than half a million cars a year.
  3. Global recognition
    The Qashqai showcased British design and engineering prowess on the global stage. Its acclaim not only brought prestige to the UK but also highlighted the UK’s role as a vital hub in the global automotive arena.

For worse: it’s killing the traditional family car

  1. Small family cars are fading away
    As crossovers gained traction, traditional family hatchbacks started to lose their long-held appeal. Mid-sized mainstays such as the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra would slowly have the life squeezed out of them, to such a point that today, neither feature in the UK Top Ten sellers’ list.
  2. The MPV is now on life support
    The rise of crossovers also spelled trouble for MPV which, since the mid-1990s, had been a favourite for family car buyers seeking practicality and space. The Qashqai’s popularity and its competitors have killed the likes of the Ford C-Max, Renault Scenic and Vauxhall Zafira stone dead.
  3. Me-too car design
    The success of the Qashqai led to a certain homogenisation of car shapes across the industry, with many crossovers being hard to tell apart. This could be seen as a negative consequence for those who valued diversity in vehicle design, although it’s equally an accusation you could have put to the hatchback generations of the 1970s and ’80s.

There’s no doubt that, although SUVs have a similar footprint to their hatchback counterparts, they are taller and generally heavier, and that has led to an undeniable environmental impact. Cars in general ballooned in weight throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, and the arrival of the mass-market popularity of the crossover has certainly accelerated this trend.

For better: improved fuel efficiency

  1. Overall efficiency gains
    Crossovers like the Qashqai have become more fuel-efficient over the years – the credit for this should be laid firmly at the doors of Powertrain Engineers and Aerodynamicists who continue to grapple with the demands of making these bulkier cars slip through the air with the minimum amount of drag. Improved engine technology and the widespread adoption of hybrid variants have therefore at least lessened their potential environmental impact.
  2. Shift towards electrification
    The success of crossovers and their huge profitabilty have spurred on manufacturers to invest in electric and hybrid variants. This shift towards electrification is a step in the right direction for reducing exhaust emissions and pollution in cities.

For worse: higher emissions compared with smaller cars

  1. Environmental concerns
    Despite improvements, crossovers still produce higher emissions than smaller cars. The larger size and weight of these vehicles contribute to their higher energy consumption – a Ford Focus gets better mpg and kicks out less CO2 than a Puma, and is considerably nicer to drive.
  2. Congestion in cities
    While the Qashqai’s compact size made it ideal for urban settings, the proliferation of crossovers undoubtedly added to urban congestion. Larger vehicles on crowded city streets posed challenges for parking and traffic management.

Conclusion

The British-designed, engineered and built Nissan Qashqai undoubtedly changed the automotive landscape in many profound ways. It redefined market segments, revitalised industries, and elevated the status of British design and automotive engineering.

However, its impact is not without its drawbacks. In giving buyers what they wanted, the Qashqai led to the decline of the family hatchback and contributed to increased urban congestion. This process is now being echoed across all market sectors – from the humble supermini to the luxury saloon. They’re all being replaced by SUV/crossovers.

In the end, whether the Qashqai’s impact has been for better or worse is complex. On one level, its legacy could be that we’re all driving less efficient cars that aren’t as enjoyable in bends. But ,on another, it’s been great for UK manufacturing, design and engineering.

For me, the jury’s still out…

Nissan Qashqai 2021

Keith Adams
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18 Comments

  1. For Better:
    High riding SUV style is far easier (and far less painful!) to get in and out of for old crocs like me with a bad back!

  2. I think you missed a few points when doing your review Keith. Look at what Nissan had produced before, the Almera and it’s Mini MPV the Almera Tino. The Almera was not bad to drive, but even the memorable advert based on The Professionals, couldn’t save it, while the Tino was just Horrendous. The Quashqi jumped on the growing trend for 4×4 (we didn’t call them SUV at the time), which at the time was either expensive to buy and run, or just to big for most people to own (remember the big uproar on bull bars!). Although it was just a pumped up hatchback, the mock 4×4 look really buy into this.

    Another point goes back to the Tino. Hatchbacks were already dying, as the mini MPV had taken off. The Zafira, Scenic & Co had really eaten into the traditional market. The Quashqi was something different to what was becoming a crowded market place.

    Another point is that a large number of Quashqi drivers are women. I know about 4 women who loved them. It makes them feel safer, with its higher driving position and what is perceived as more metal. The mini SUV market is now buying into this.

    Another one missed but was sort of in the article was it was British! In an era when MG Rover collapsed, and Nissan dealers did push it was made in Britain. At the time, Nissan was recording at Washington some of the best productivity and high customer happiness standards, which also helped.

    Cons – is there any more space than a conventional Hatchback? No! Two of my colleagues own the latest Arkana, which is basically a Renault version, and there is no more room than my Uncle’s current Focus. It’s just perceived space. A bit like the big push for the mini SUV in the late 90s/early 00s, where cars with little more space than the equivalent estate gained traction.

    My opinion. Well the original Quashqi was dull to look out, but was put together pretty well (unless you owned the troublesome auto box) and drove well. I think it was the better looking mk2 that caught my eye. Now it’s just one car amongst a crowded marketplace and we now need the next big think. Hatchback anyone? Hyuandi Ioniq 5?

  3. Picture the scene when two different buyers might have walked into a Nissan showroom, just after the Qashqai was launched. Firstly, young parents; our over-riding concern now is THE KIDS. We’ll have to get an MPV. Everyone at the school gates has them. They’re easier to get the kids in and out of, you can cram all kinds of stuff in them, and the driving position is high up, with all the vans and other MPVs. Yeah, they don’t drive as nice as that little hatchback we had before the kids came along, but it’s not about us any more – it’s about THE KIDS. Anyway, odd holiday aside we only drive on the school run and the commute anyway – so long as it’s OK to drive, that’ll do. What’s that thing over there? That looks chunky and safe, and a lot less like a van. There’s a hint of something more posh and interesting about it – a bit like a Shogun or something, without being too big. Oh look, it’s just as high up as our current MPV. The boot’s OK. Bit smaller, but we could manage. I prefer the look of this to our Almera Tino. I think I might be able to justify this. Only front wheel drive, you say? Well it won’t cost any more to run than an MPV then … We like it! Secondly, a retired buyer; time’s come to replace the Almera. What’s that thing over there? That looks chunky and safe, and it’s not much more than a new Almera. Look, it’s higher up – much easier to get into. Still room for the grandkids and our friends to get in the back occasionally. Looks a bit like one of those posh 4x4s, and don’t that young couple a few doors down have one? Look at these bits round the wheelarches – that’ll save the paintwork a bit, and I have scraped the Almera here and there. Front wheel drive only, and the same engine as the Almera you say? Well it looks a bit nicer than the Note we would have considered. Let’s take a test drive then…. Plenty of showroom appeal when the Qashqai was launched – I can see why they did well.

  4. Maybe Nissan were only following what the Land Rover Discovery kicked off in the UK. FWIW I had an Almera Tino – nice practical car with a pleasant interior – until the dreaded front crossmember rot kicked in. I’m not sure that MPV’s are quite dead. Be interesting to see what the effect of EV’s will be – a lot of the more affordable EV’s like the MG4 hark back to hatchbacks.

  5. I had an Almera for a short time: it was cheap used as the Note and Qashqai had killed its used values and hardly anyone wanted one, it was cheap to service and was economical, but it was a totally forgettable car and offered little in the way of driving enjoyment. You can see why Nissan wanted to move on from such a boring car and the Qashqai and Note, a mini MPV with the same running costs as a Micra, were a big leap forward for Nissan and sold in much bigger numbers. The current Qashqai looks excellent as well and a lot classier than the original.

  6. My Dad bought a Qashqai in 2012 when his 2002 Mondeo was beginning to get old, & was really pleased with it. Even the dealer was helpful ringing up to see how things were going.

    He was planning to replace it in 2020 with a new one, but events went against this & My Mum is still driving it.

  7. So the Qashqai killed small hatches – but small hatches killed the small family saloon cars that proliferated in the 60s and early 70s. Its evolution. Nissan gave people what they wanted and what they wanted was still a small hatch, just one with crossover styling and a slightly higher ride height. Is that really so terrible?

  8. Cars evolve: remember when you could buy family cars with two doors, or two door estate cars, they died out in the eighties because people found them impractical. Also mass market executive cars from companies like Ford died out in the nineties and noughties as the brands weren’t glamorous enough and the depreciation was terrible, and family sized cars from non premium brands are going the same way.

    • When talking of 2 door & Estate cars, the Escort, Viva, and Magnum spring to mind also Datsun Cherry etc. My Dad had a 2 door Corolla for 14 months. But My favourite 2 door cars were the Cavalier Coupe & Hatch, plus the wonderful Capri

      • The Cavalier Sportshatch was something else, a sporting version of the Cavalier saloon, but with the practicality of a hatchback and a beautiful design. The 2000 GLS could really motor and felt like a quality product. However, you could buy two door Cortinas and Cavaliers, which had a following among people who wanted a cheap large saloon as these were the base models and were cheaper than four door models.

  9. “We’re all driving less efficient cars that aren’t as enjoyable in bends”. Really? How much slower around the Nurburgring is a (new) Puma compared to a Fiesta? or a Captur compared to a Clio? And do new car buyers care?

    The Qashqai is what mainstream transport looks like in the 2020s. It’s the new normal. People will go to the Festival Of The Unexceptional in 20 years time and say “my dad had one of those” when they see a Qashqai, just as people currently say the same thing about the Sierras and Mondeos that appear at the FoTU right now.

  10. I really liked the Qashqai hire cars that I drove for a couple of weeks in the late 2000s so I can see why it has been popular. What disappoints me is that for the latest generation it has grown in size again.

    This site celebrates British vehicles and it’s easy to think after reading the article that the Qashqai was a great British idea, but that’s not the case. The British team designed and built the car but had no responsibility for the concept. If you read the excellent “Inside the Machine” by David Twohig – one of the Nissan UK managers responsible for designing and developing the Qashqai – the real reason is laid out. The Murano SUV had been a huge hit in the USA, although it flopped in the UK as it was too big, expensive and thirsty. When the Almera replacement was cancelled at the concept stage the Product Planning team in Japan asked the UK team to create an Affordable Crossover for Europe – a vehicle that was 80% of the Murano. The design team saved time and money by incorporating parts from other Nissan vehicles. For example, some key chassis, suspension and inner body parts came from the Nissan Lafesta MPV. The rest is history, the UK team did a great job and the Qashqai was a deserved hit.

  11. A friend who works in the leasing business refers to the Qashqai as the Cashcow because she leases so many of them!!

    They are reliable and have good residuals when the happy client hands it back after 3 years/36K miles and gets a new one.

    Some of her clients are now defecting to either Kia or JLR though, why go with a Qashqai when for a bit more a month you can have an Evoque?!

    I see the Qashqai as a car well matched to the market, and if Nissan can churn them out profitably then that’s just great, they are at least a lot better than the nasty Almera with the camshaft chain made from knicker elastic that would go so slack that the crank angle and camshaft position sensors fell so far out of registration that the damned thing wouldn’t start- and that after only 40K miles!!

    Yes, Qashqai is neat – a lot better than the Honda thing that is sold into the same market-space. That horror only seems to appeal to grandparents and the like.

  12. Although it’s not something I’d consider buying, I quite like the look of current the current model Qashquai. I think each version has looked better than the previous. And they don’t come across as overpowering and aggressive in the manner of some other SUVs.

    I assume they’re bought mainly by people who think they’re still buying Japanese reliability; unaware that it’s almost a Renault.

  13. The first generation was sold in Australia as the ‘Dualis’ with the cars coming in from Nissan UK. We bought a 4-year old model for my wife to drive and we both still miss how solidly built that car felt. The CVT was an acquired taste but gave us no problems. It was certainly interesting when tinkering to see how many British/European-made parts were fitted to the ostensibly ‘Japanese’ car.

  14. Chrysler/Talbot must be rotating in the automotive grave! A Quasquai is a 2006 Matra Simca Bagheera, but with 4 doors. Oh how they missed a trick in the mid 1970’s!

  15. The Qashqai, Honda CRV and Toyota CHR have marked a move away from the full size, full on SUVs that the Japanese became very successful at producing in the nineties and noughties. While cars like the Toyota Land Cruiser and Mitsubishi Shogun excelled in their roles and were built to last and take plenty of punishment, they were thirsty, heavy duty vehicles unsuited to somewhere like inner London and not exactly fashion statements. The new, smaller range of Japanese crossovers and SUVs, which can be bought with 4wd, are far more sensible for someone who lives in a city and wants an SUV with the same running costs as a Ford Focus. Also being tall and with large boots, they are ideal for families and people with dogs.

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