And Now We Rise, and We Are Everywhere – (Part One)

Evolution of the Nissan Qashqai

Image: Allcarindex

What do we think of when we think of the Nissan Qashqai? The promising 2004 concept which introduced not only the name, but also the talents of Nissan’s London design studio? The worthy but visually underwhelming crossover which made its debut in Paris two and a half years later? The sales phenomenon which led to Nissan’s Sunderland factory producing more vehicles per annum than Italy’s entire automotive industry?

For this writer, the conclusion of the fieldwork element of a four week crash-course in Qashqai Studies is that it is Europe’s incognito car champion. Once I had set the radar on the self-effacing crossover, I suddenly found them everywhere, in all generations (they seem to last well) and trim levels. Before this, I would have more readily paid attention to items of street furniture.

With cars, as with people, solid virtues are a better path to enduring success than egregious self-promotion. I’ve previously commented that part of the success of a mid-size SUV is that almost everyone can justify owning one. The Qashqai is proof in the metal. What’s remarkable is that there is no base demographic – it crosses barriers of age, gender, income group, and family size and is equally prevalent in urban and rural localities. In the gentler days before badge-snobbery raged through most of Europe, the Qashqai might have merited the description ‘classless’.  Even now, it has an ‘Every home should have one’ quality.

Let us briefly reflect on the market the Qashqai was entering in spring 2007. In its European heartland, SUV was an Americanism, something dropped boastfully into one-sided conversations about holidays in Florida. In Britain we still spoke of 4×4s; Freelanders, Fronteras, Antaras, Cherokees, Mavericks, X-Trails.  Even the in their mildest iteration – Toyota RAV-4 and Honda CR-V – they hinted at weekends at the stable or by the slipway, and an idealised Escape to the Countryside lifestyle. All of that was soon to change.

The Qashqai wasn’t the first European crossover. Other contenders had been MPVs made over to suggest more rugged aspirations, or jacked-up plastic-overclad hatchbacks and estate cars. Nissan’s angle was different, a soft-edged, family friendly five-door, taller than a regular hatchback but lower than an MPV. The height inevitably gave it presence and even an element of authority, but the Qashqai didn’t look like an escapee from a building site or battlefield.

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The concept car which appeared at the 2004 Geneva Salon gave a strong hint of fresh thinking at Nissan. All boxes were ticked at the back of the Concept Car Rulebook, with an accomplished design perhaps rather too close in its homage to the 1997 Audi AI2 show car which evolved into the A2. As a declaration of intent, the concept was a success, but two sentences in the accompanying media release gave a better earnest of what the future held:

With the Qashqai, Nissan has been concentrating on customer segmentation to improve its understanding of the lifestyles and activities of its prospective customers. As a result, Nissan is better able to identify niches which will become market segments in years to come.

Qashqai J10. Image: Autoweek

The softer-edged September 2006 Paris Mondial debutant would have disappointed those hoping for a production version of the concept, but the shape scared nobody, and proclaimed the Qashqai’s practical virtues of a commanding driving position and a spacious and versatile interior. Under the surface was a Renault-Nissan Alliance platform shared with the French partner’s 2002 Megane and Scenic. In its Qashqai iteration it featured fully independent multi-link rear suspension for both 2WD and 4WD applications. The engine range at launch drew from no less than four of the Alliance families: 1.6 and 2.0 litre naturally aspirated petrol units, and a pair of turbo-diesels in 1.5 and 2.0 litre capacities.

Sales of the Qashqai J10 commenced in February 2007. Looking back at contemporary reports, the media commentariat seem to have been bemused by what was on offer, some suggesting that Nissan were deluding customers by offering a tall hatchback with optional 4WD, masquerading as an off-road vehicle. Which of course was the essence of Qashqai; Nissan had broken the – largely European – unwritten rule that passenger vehicles with the merest sliver of off-road intent had to offer all-wheel drive across the range, and an engine of at least two litres.  The paying public had no such unease, and it was all down to vulgar money.

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In the UK, the entry-level 1.6 litre petrol 2WD Qashqai was priced at £13,500. That sort of money didn’t take you very high up in the Focus, Golf, or Astra ranges. RAV-4 and CR-V prices started just below £20K, whereas an all-wheel drive Qashqai could be had for around £3000 less. Nissan were playing to their traditional values; high levels of equipment, mechanical integrity, a trusted brand and above all, value for money. A class-leading five-star EuroNCAP rating also helped the Qashqai’s prospects.

Nissan’s production target at the Sunderland plant was 100,000 per annum, not wildly ambitious, but unnerving for those who depended on it for their livelihood and knew how much of Nissan’s European product plan had been staked upon the new product. To clear space for the newcomer, British production of the Primera P12 was ended. Primera demand across the continent had fallen to not much more than 20,000 per annum, and after 2006 would be met with Japan-supplied cars.

More significantly, there was no plan to produce a C-segment hatchback in Europe to replace the UK-built N16 Almera after it reached the end of its model cycle towards the end of 2007. In 2000 Sunderland had produced nearly 116,000 Almeras; by 2006 the number had slipped below 30,000. Nissan took the bold decision not to challenge the mighty Focus, nor the Astra H and Golf Mk.5, and instead present the Qashqai as its sole C-segment offering in most of Europe[1].

In 2007, its first production year, Sunderland built 89,919 Qashqais. The 100K per annum target was vindicated, but it took the 2008 European sales figure – 144,879 – to reassure Nissan that the early success was not just down to novelty and vigorous promotion. An encouraging portent was the Qashqai’s fifth place in European Car of the Year 2008 – a meagre 147 points, placing it behind the Fiat 500, Mazda 2, Ford Mondeo, and Kia Ce’ed. Once again the earnest jurors failed to recognise a powerful emerging trend. The charming 500 was a worthy winner, but the Qashqai was to far outsell it in Europe, and gained worldwide acceptance beyond Fiat’s wildest dreams.

In 2009 European Qashqai sales rose again to 180,486, and for the following ten years never dropped below 200,000.

In its seven year production lifespan, the first generation Qashqai changed little. In October 2008, the range was augmented with the Qashqai +2 (NJ10), the +2 suffix signifying an additional row of seats which required a 130mm wheelbase stretch, and 220mm added to the overall length. Dependent on trim level, the extra cost was £1200-1400. The +2 looked like a winner, offering seven seats at an affordable price level without going full MPV, but in reality was sold in small enough numbers that a sighting makes a Qashqai-spotter’s day.[2]

Qashqai+2. Image: Autoweek

A spring 2010 facelift for the whole range brought a restyled nosecone, and new head and tail lights, along with upgraded infotainment and across-the-range adoption of traction control.  In 2011 the 2.0 litre diesel was replaced by a new 1.6 litre unit from Renault’s R-Type range.

Those first seven years brought success to Nissan, but also several strong competitors, most notably the 2008 VW Tiguan, rather different in its visual presentation, but dimensionally very close to the Qashqai. Priced upmarket of the Nissan, the Tiguan did not trouble the Qashqai’s European chart topping position in its early years, but closed in gradually as small to medium SUVs became the default choice in many European sales territories.

Nissan’s pioneering crossover was not only a European success, but a global one, built in Japan, China, and Russia as well as its core site in north east England. After three years of production,  Carlos Ghosn declared the Qashqai to be “the most important Nissan of the decade”.

Notwithstanding its phenomenal impact on the market, the Qashqai’s continuing success was dependent on staying ahead of a growing battalion of rivals and evolution was necessary to maintain its dominant market position. In the next chapter we will look at the next Qashqai generation, the J11 presented in 2013.


[1] Nissan identified a risk to sales in eighteen European nations considered to have car-buying tastes too traditional to accept the new crossover as a substitute for a conventional saloon or hatchback. Their answer was to supply Tiida saloons and hatchbacks from their Civac factory in Mexico between 2007 and 2011. Numbers were modest, peaking in 2008 at 14,586, and totalling less than 30,000.

[2] These two small seats required almost completely different sheet metal rearwards of the front bulkhead. The investment in NJ10 probably justified itself, with a total of 270,018 Qashqai +2s produced at Sunderland between 2008 and 2013. For comparison 2007-2013 production of the standard wheelbase J10 Qashqai between 2007 and 2013 was 1,482,214.

38 thoughts on “And Now We Rise, and We Are Everywhere – (Part One)”

  1. Good morning, Robertas. My uncle had a string of Nissans: a couple of Sunnys, a Primera P10, an Almera Tino and a Qashqai J10.

    I vividly remember the P10, but the J10 didn’t really make a lasting impression. I have driven it, it was silver and had a CVT as far as I can remember, but I can’t report much else. It seems that all I can do, is confirm its self-effacing qualities. I will look out for Qashqais on my walks to see if they’r around in my surroundings.

    1. Edit: Literally the first car I saw this morning was a black Qashqai 😉 No further Qashqais were noticed on my morning walk.

  2. Thank you for taking the effort to explain a car I can´t really manage to imagine or to notice. It is an important vehicle as it is the other part of the story of the decline of cars such as the Focus and Astra which were once ubiquitous. It´s not as if the Focus or Astra deteriorated – they are as useful as ever. The market changed; it´s centre of gravity budged a little (8 cm higher) and Ford and Opel didn´t move fast enough. The last two iteration of their c-class cars ought to have been a bit higher. Now I know why.

  3. Your mention of the Tiida (from the Okinawan for “sun”, apparently) in the footnote reminds me that the Republic of Ireland was one of those conservative markets- correct me if I’m wrong, but the only Western European country apart from Finland and Greece?- to the consternation of the smart set writing for the Irish Times:

    Some crossed the border for Northern Ireland Nissan dealers to sell, and over the Irish Sea to Scotland (this site, 4 May 2021). A scan today of reveals 47 for sale in the Republic, registrations between 2007 and 2011. A good late one is worth four to five thousand euro, it seems.

  4. In many ways this was Golf for the XXI century. Similarly to Golf, it wasn’t really first of it’s kind, but the first that did everything just right. Objectively it wasn’t much more useful than Golf or Astra, but it gave a lot of MPV gains without looking like one (for some reason a lot of people hate MPV’s), and it was relatively cheap. I was surprised with low prices (here in Poland it was around 65 000 PLN – 15 000 EUR) and car swiftly became one of the top ten selling cars over here. Honestly, whereas its definitely mechanically solid, and stylistically well resolved and restrained design, I always thought that interior wasn’t up to the level of European hatchbacks. But most people don’t care about that as much as I do. Next generations had much more competition and look much more mature and bigger (more like “real” SUV) to my eyes.

    1. Agreed – the Nissan landed in the new sweet spot for pricing and packaging and mechanical competence. While I liked the concept car a lot, the market would have avoided it so Nissan judged it right with their Escort/Golf/Kadett for the new era. Unlike other revolutions, this one started under cover.

  5. I remember back in the day reading that Nissan was going to abandon the Golf/ Focus market and, as it seemed at the time, gamble on what read like a ‘segment-busting’ approach by introducing a compact sized SUV-type vehicle. I remember that my reaction was ‘that sounds a bit desperate’. Well, more fool me.

    Of course, we’d been here before, to an extent, with the Renault Scénic, which grew the compact MPV segment massively and was still a big seller at the time of the Qashqai’s introduction. Given that the compact (Golf/ Focus) segment was still strong too, it seemed unlikely that there was room for another genre in the compact segment. The Qashqai became a phenomenon – like the Tychy FIAT 500, it’s one of those cars that is such a common sight that it has become invisible. It’s also become a more durable trend than that of the MPV and still shows little sign of waning.

    I much prefer the design of the original to the facelift and then the J11 (the latter being far more contrived and busy). It’s a much more honest looking car (even if it is just as false as the Matra Rancho which was the real trail-blazer for this kind of car back in the 70s).

    All credit, then, to Nissan’s product planners and strategists of that era.

    1. Good morning S.V. Agreed, the original Qashqai in its purest pre-facelift form was by some margin the best:

      Another of those ‘perfect’ designs that defies improvement.

    2. Agreed as well, the original design is perfectly judged. Unfortunate that that perfect judgement included being inoffensive, but within that remit it’s a triumph. What I like most about the first-gen Qashqai is precisely that it’s a half way house between a hatchback and a full blown SUV. The competition – no doubt in their desperation to catch up – has been hamming up the SUV bit, making the cars ugly, unwieldy and wasteful. I loathe the trend it’s precipitated, but I really like the original (something similar goes for the Range Rover, although I’ve liked its subsequent iterations including the current one as well).

      I also seem to remember Nissan made little secret about its gamble. As with the Primera, they were being brave. From 2014, Nissan brought back the C-segment hatchback with the riveting Pulsar:

      They even made a hot hatch version that I occasionally see around.

  6. While the Qashqai is a perfectly good, practical, reliable, and capable car, it’s become a bit of a plague here. If you see one in white (or, in fact, a white Audi A3 or VW Polo, or a Mercedes A-Class hatchback in black or white), just stay the hell away – for some reason (perhaps because they’re leased), the appallingly overwhelming majority of these cars’ owners exhibit extremely aggressive and entitled driving manners.

  7. Good morning Robertas and thank you for a well-researched and informative piece about a car that has become so familiar as to be virtually invisible. To repurpose your words, it is like “street furniture”, omnipresent but unobtrusive.

    I hadn’t realised quite what a large bet Nissan had placed on its success in Europe. With the Primera fading and the Almera never more than an ‘also-ran’, Nissan was in danger of becoming a one-car company with the Micra, a small car with tight margins, and no prospect of greater returns later when its owners looked to trade up (pretty much where Fiat is today, actually).

    I think Kamil nails the Qashqai in his assertion that it was “the first that did everything just right”. It was really just an inflated C-segment hatchback, but that was all it had to be. Sadly for Nissan, the field is much more crowded now and the latest Qashqai is pretty generic looking, unlike the original which was unique in its time.

    Looking forward to Part Two.

  8. I always thought the last Primera and the second generation Almera were poor efforts, so hats-off to Nissan for nailing it with the Qashqai, and with inventing a new name.
    Where I live the Qashqai is a fading star, totally eclipsed by the ubiquitous Tuscon, which outsells everything.

    1. I agree on the Almera; I really liked the last of the Primera’s (the one they advertised with Dolphins, in the UK at least!)

    2. It was filmed in genoa that spot. My hometown. Partially also in a really rotten area.

  9. I actually find the current version of Qashqai better looking than the earlier versions. They look a bit classier and less anonymous. But I’m not in the market for such a vehicle, and even if I was I wouldn’t consider a Qashqai.

    If you do an internet search for Qashqai reliability, the results are somewhat less than average .

    The general consensus seems to be that the old Nissan reliability is no longer what it used to be, and the Renault/Nissan alliance resulted in Renault build quality coming out on top.

    1. I can only say that ‘Cashcow’ is much easier to type than Qashqai, where I’m always unconsciously inserting ‘u’s absent from the transliteration.

  10. You’re quite late to this party, DtW. I’d be intrigued to see how production recovers from the pandemic, but the suspicion is that Qashquai’s popularity in now in decline. There’s a new one now – can anyone recall what it looks like without looking it up?

    An inoffensive, popular, thoroughly forgettable and regrettable car. It ushered in the belief that everybody needs a crossover or SUV. I really don’t find much to celebrate here at all.

    The irony is, I suppose, that it turns out these type of vehicles are well suited for EVs, as they help to accommodate the battery slab under the cabin more easily. But note that car manufacturers are now trying desperately to make their products lower and more aerodynamic again, because bluff crossovers are bad for efficiency.

    The strictly on road SUV has been a depressing cul de sac in car design, just at the time when the climate crisis demanded something far, far better. Let’s hope the industry takes a better turn ahead.

    1. I can recall the new version, it’s a definite improvement on the MkII and provides a bridge to the futuristic looking Ariya EV. There is something of the most recent Evoque about it too. I do agree that its popularity seems to be ebbing and has been replaced by the Sportage in the popularity stakes, although that car’s most recent incarnation has strayed a little close to the ugly stick, and so might start to suffer too.

    2. “Late to (the) party”? Tut-tut, Jacomo.

      I prefer to think of DTW as always arriving at just the right time to make a stunning entrance, with every aspect of its discourse carefully considered and beautifully crafted to wow and delight the assembled audience. 😁

    3. I did take the unusual step of asking the DTW management if the Qashqai had been covered previously in any form, before embarking on the series. Despite its sales success, and influence on other manufacturers, the Qashqai is an extreme example of a car for people with no interest in cars. Not that I have anything against such individuals, other than wishing that most of the ones with Qashqais would drive them a bit better.

      Not giving too much away, but the current 2021-on model may yet be the most interesting. The range is still not complete – something very strange will come our way later this year – and J12 will almost certainly be the Qashqai’s Grand Finale, at least as a high-volume product designed and built in Europe for the world.

      I find myself wondering if the Qashqai will be forgotten, or whether its ubiquity will mean that it will become part of mass nostalgic recollection – it’s already been around just about long enough for people to grow from infancy to adulthood knowing no other cars than the family Qashqais.

      ‘qaistalgia might not be upon us for a while yet, and I can’t ever imagine international Qashqai clubs gathering in fields and town squares all across Europe on summer weekends in the 2040s, presumably accompanied by officially sanctioned petrol and diesel bowsers.

  11. Party? I thought it was a…

    Anyway; great article, with some amazing facts – thank you.

    When these first came out, I couldn’t see the attraction – I just thought they were a needlessly bulky version of a C-segment car. Mind you, I didn’t get the MINI at first, either. I should have taken the Renault Scenic’s success as a clue.

    I see lots of these around, including the first version. I had a lift in the MK1; I sat in the rear and the ride was intolerably hard – possibly a problem with the dampers, which is a known fault, I understand.

    My family had 2 of the MK2 version and I thought that they were very nicely made, from good materials. I like the new version, too – it’s pretty distinctive, if somewhat large.

    It’s interesting to see that, in this case, the badge doesn’t matter.

  12. Not that I’m a fan of SUVs, but the 2nd gen Qashqai has grown on me, even though I’d never buy a Nissan that wasn’t made in Japan – and hell would freeze over before I’d buy a Renault – but I struggle to walk past a Kadjar without stopping to admire the detailing……( the Mk4 Golf had the same effect on me, for many years).

    1. I think both the Kadjar and the Qashqai J10 look relatively lean and smooth thanks to the black lower fascias on front and rear bumpers.

  13. The current model is marketed as the Rogue Sport in the US but keeps the Qashqai name in Canada, a rare occurrence, and looking somewhat stale alongside the “big” Rogue. In some ways, maybe due to lack of familiarity not having seen the never-sold-here original since its’ European launch publicity, the original looks fresher.

    1. How funny – I hadn’t made the connection, but there are similar elements – the front lights and wheel arches, high rear lights, the curve of the roof, and so on. I think it’s a coincidence, though.

  14. I’m as late to the commentariat afterparty as DTW apparently was to the main event; but thank you Robertas for an excellent introduction to the Qashqai phenomenon. Nissan was clearly very clever in its early bet on the ascendance of this type of vehicle, though it strikes me as even more perplexing in the context of their range than in general: I thought the last Primera was a terrific, modern, rational design both inside and out; infinitely more appealing than this odd successor.

    Yet more proof that popular success in the car market is inversely proportional to my opinion.

  15. Great Article Robertas!

    I am in complete agreement on the popular success front with Chris above – seems like that it’s more the case for me as years go by.
    Never really saw the appeal on the Quasqai, but then again don’t see the appeal on a bunch of other commercially successful offerings. To me, this item looks like it came from a generic B-roll footage segment from a corporate video, used to show the merits of a bridge or highway that was just built followed by hired model – couples looking at daisies.
    The new models are even worse looking – went from just boring and dull to techno-pseudo-macho-boring . My next door neighbor has the 2021 iteration in anthracite grey with hideous black rims – has already scratched it and dented it (which I consider an improvement actually) – so I remember everyday how much I dislike that thing.
    Other than that – yeah, great car!

    p.s: I do unusually-like the new Jimny – so probably no sales for Suzuki I assume…

    1. Good morning, Aristeidis. The latest Jimny is a DTW favourite, so that’s probably the kiss of death! It was available briefly in Europe in passenger form, but is now only offered as a commercial vehicle, which is a shame.

    2. The Jimny is likeable because it´s compromised correctly meaning it is focused. That would also explain the high residuals Daniel mentioned. Wow. That´s a lot of money in terms of wineboxes and take-away fried chicken buckets.

  16. Good Morning Daniel. Just saw that I actually went ahead and misspelled the car’s name on my post. [looks better with a “u” in there I think though]
    I did phone up a sales rep for Suzuki here – turns out you can order the passenger version of the Jimny but they said that the window for that is closing so, suddenly my interest is now piqued and picked and peeked – oh well, not happening.

    1. I’ve just taken a look at the Suzuki UK website and, sadly, the Jimny is no longer listed under new cars, not even the commercial version. Approved used examples are priced from £26k to £35k. Yikes, that’s a lot of money for a Tonka Toy!

    2. To put those second-hand prices in context, Autocar’s most recent road test of the 2022 model quoted list prices from £16,750 to £20,750!

  17. YouTube channel, Big Car, has recently produced 3 videos on the history of the Qashqai, including an interview with one of the key people involved in the original Qashqai, David Twohig. He has just written a book called ‘Inside The Machine’, which covers the Qashqai, among other subjects.

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