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

The Qashqai’s ascent continues. 

Nissan Qashqai J11. Image: NTV

Notwithstanding its phenomenal impact on the market, the Nissan 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. The next generation Qashqai, codenamed J11, was presented in November 2013, and sales commenced in February 2014. With the J10’s success, Nissan Europe had already entered an new era of design and business confidence, evidenced by the bold and controversial design of the 2010 London-styled Juke[1], a pioneering B-segment SUV.

The new Qashqai was far less adventurous than the wilfully quirky Juke, carrying over some cues from the J10 original to a more angular and rugged form. The articulation of the flanks, a clamshell bonnet, and a more aggressive face, hinted at Nissan’s upcoming ‘athletic’ global design vocabulary, soon to appear in the mid-decade Maxima, Micra, Leaf, and Altima.

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At the time of the J11 introduction, Nissan gave notice of some forthcoming European launches; a new Japanese-sourced X-Trail[2] offering three-row seating, and aligned more closely with the Qashqai in styling and components, and a European-built new Almera[3], to keep the hardened  crossover-recusants from deserting the Nissan camp.

The J11’s footprint scarcely increased – 55mm longer than the outgoing model, and wider and lower by only a few millimetres.  The +2 option did not continue into the new generation; Nissan’s market research had revealed that those who bought the longer version mostly chose it for the larger luggage compartment rather than the two extra passenger places, so the J11 brief included not only more boot space, but also better access and more versatile compartmentation.

Interior quality was also a priority for improvement. The outgoing model was just good enough in this area, but far more Qashqais than expected were being ordered in high-end specifications, and the customer feedback was that the interior appointments should aspire to premium standards.

The major chassis change for the new generation was replacement of the multi-link independent rear suspension on 2WD cars with a torsion beam. 4WD cars retained the multi-link system, which was also offered as an option on 2WD cars in the German market only.  The engine line-up featured the Alliance’s new 1.2 litre HR12DDT four cylinder turbo as the entry level petrol offering, supplemented by 1.6 litre turbo from the larger MR series, and the MR20DE, a non-turbo 2.0 litre four. Diesels were carried over from the previous generation; the widely-used 1.5 litre Renault K9K, and the newer high-output 1.6 litre R9M.

The small capacity turbocharged engine was marketed as the DIG-T 115; the figure almost states its power output:  116 Pferdestärke, or just 114 of the slightly stronger British horses. The K9K diesel was identified as dCi 110, signifying marginally less power. Surprisingly, the 1.2 litre petrol engine also had the diesel beaten on torque, with a impressive 140 lb. ft at 2000rpm. In most of Europe, customers were not seduced by the impressive power and torque outputs of the little petrol turbos, and chose the familiar 1.5 litre diesel with its lower CO2 (and therefore tax) ratings, and better real-world fuel efficiency[4][5].

Image: Honest John

In March 2017, the J11’s mid-term facelift was revealed at the Geneva Salon. There was nothing headline-grabbing, improvements were mainly technology updates and a new front nosecone with a slightly supercilious countenance. Perhaps success had got the better of the once-amiable Qashqai – towards the end of 2017 Sunderland was to produce its three millionth Qashqai, and also announced that J11 production had reached 1,250,175, less than three years after going on sale.

In 2018 the small petrol engines were upgraded to the 1332cc HR13 DDT with a choice of 138 or 157bhp outputs. The following year, the 1.6 litre R9M diesel was replaced by the 20bhp more powerful 1.7 litre R9N.

The importance of the Nissan Qashqai will inevitably be measured out in sales numbers. By the time of its introduction, the J11 Qashqai faced sharply targeted rivals in Europe from Ford, Hyundai, Kia, and Volkswagen, but was able to hold its leading position in the sector, consistently exceeding 200,000 annual sales in Europe, and peaking in 2017 with 247,199 Qashqais finding homes. The following year was the Qashqai’s fourth best, with 229,382 sales, but the Tiguan, its foremost predator, cast an ominous shadow by breaking the quarter-million barrier in Europe.

Long before even its second generation, the compact crossover section was widely referred to as the Qashqai class. Even now, its competitors appear wary of deviating far from the dimensions it has established – a length of 4450-4500mm and a wheelbase between 2660 and 2700mm. Kia and Hyundai, who have been particularly assiduous in their challenges to the Nissan, have made the latest European-market Sportage and Tucson with a 75mm shorter wheelbase and overall length reduced by 145mm compared with those produced for the rest of the world. Even the premium makers are not immune; the BMW X1, Jaguar E-Pace and Volvo XC40 keep tightly to the Qashqai footprint size.

For the first few years of the J11’s life it seemed that the Qashqai, and the factory in north-east England which produced it, were invincible, but on the morning of 24 June 2016, an unwelcome shadow loomed over the plant’s future as the UK voted to leave the European Union. In October 2016, to allay speculation, and calm industry-wide unease, Nissan announced that come what may, production of the all-new, third-generation Qashqai would be based at Sunderland.

Qashqai J12. Image: Nissan Media

In February 2021, keeping to the seven year cycle of its predecessors, the Qashqai J12 was presented to the world. A new chapter had begun, and the story will continue in an article of its own.


[1] Despite the reservations of the automotive media’s chattering classes about the acceptability of the Juke’s avant-garde styling,  it was an instant sales success, with over 100,000 European sales in 2011, its first full year, and similar numbers maintained for the life of the first generation.

[2] The difference between the J11 Qashqai and T32 X-Trail might be compared with thinking you recognise a friend or neighbour in the street, then realising that it’s his rugby-playing, body-building big brother. Despite evincing a bit of attitude, the big lad’s not a bad fellow at all, and a bit of a well-kept secret among the Nissan faithful, as it costs little more than the high-end Qashqai (4WD was available at a cheaper trim level), has more space and supposedly superior Fukuoka build quality.

[3] The new Almera arrived in 2014, reviving the Pulsar name on a Barcelona-built version of the China and Russia market Tiida C13. Nissan promoted the Pulsar as the car for those who sought the positive qualities of an SUV – defined as generous interior space and a commanding driving position – in a conventional looking hatchback. It proved a hard sell. 43,267 Pulsars found homes in Europe in 2015, its first full sales year, compared with 230,661 Qashqais.  After this, demand declined rapidly and production in Barcelona ended in 2018.

[4] At launch in 2014 the K9K was priced around £1750 higher than the 1.2 litre petrol engine.

[5] My experience of the K9K in an early low-spec J11 suggested that the car and engine enjoyed a synergistic relationship. The Renault motor wasn’t the most powerful or refined of its type, but was willing and unobtrusive. As for the car itself, it acquitted itself better dynamically than I would have expected of a tall, high-riding vehicle, and the ride on 17” wheels was a revelation to anyone used to German machinery with sporting pretensions. I found myself concurring readily with the notion occasionally expressed at the time that Nissan had produced a damn good Renault.

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

  1. Good morning Robertas. An excellent account of a pivotal model for Nissan in Europe. The second generation model was a cautious and sensible update of its predecessor. Thankfully, Nissan played it safe with the styling and didn’t try instead to produce a larger Juke. Your description of the contemporary X-Trail is very good! Its only when you see the two side by side that you appreciate how the latter has been subtly ‘bulked-up’ without losing the essential shape:

    Seen in isolation, the X-Trail could easily be mistaken for a Qashqai.

    I drove a J11 Qashqai in North American ‘Rogue Sport’ form for a week back in 2019 and it made no strong impression on me. It was comfortable, spacious, as agile as one could reasonably expect from a crossover, but otherwise completely unremarkable, which is exactly what it needed to be.

    Your detail image of the successor J12 model captures the disappointing fussiness of its styling, but I’ll wait to read your judgement in the next instalment!

  2. I remember when the J11 was launched (so nice having a very simple progression of model codes to which to refer) that one of the motoring magazines described Nissan’s evolution of the Qashqai as similar to how VW has evolved to Golf – with conservative progressions focusing on enhancing the sense of quality. It seemed to make sense at the time and explained, perhaps, my disappointment that the J11 did not advance the genre further. But then, having created a sales phenomenon, Nissan could not afford to alienate its customers.

    I can see the improvement in perceived quality in the interior, but I find the overall effect very busy and not particularly nice on the eye. For me, the boot is also too small given the exterior form – surely 600 litres is achievable given all that height. There were nicer, more appealing competitors out there during this car’s lifetime, so it’s not a surprise that its star has started to fade.

  3. It says a lot for the Qashqai’s influence that the Tiguan is now Volkswagen’s best seller (911,000 produced each year, from 120,000 in its first year in 2007). I wonder if the Tiguan would have been such a success without the Qashqai. The Tiguan strikes me as being more of an off-roader than the Qashqai, or at least having started out that way.

    It surprises me that both Ford and GM both seemed to miss the boat with this trend, given their marketing expertise. I also feel a bit sorry for brands such as Honda, who theoretically ought to have had more success with their CR-V, which was launched a decade before the Qashqai. Product planning and marketing are tricky businesses.

    It’s been interesting to look back at these models, as they play an important part in so many people’s lives, just as cars like the Cortina did in previous decades. I hope some Qashqais are preserved for posterity.

    1. Even Toyota have only just come to market with a direct Qashqai competitor, the Corolla Cross. The C-HR on the same platform matches the Qashqai ‘footprint’, but is more of a coupe-SUV.

      Ford have done pretty well with the Kuga / Escape, which is close to Qashqai size but until the present generation has been pitched a bit upmarket of the Nissan.

    2. Maybe karma has come back to bite Honda in the behind? It was alleged that someone in Rover accidentally sent Honda full body technical drawings of the first Freelander during its development process, from which Honda produced the first CR-V, beating Land-Rover to the market by a year. The resemblance between the original Freelander and CR-V is striking and seems unlikely to be coincidental. Here’s the full story on AROnline:

      On the other hand, karma might have nothing to do with it. It might just be Honda’s increasingly repellent styling (though the CR-V has suffered less in this regard than some other Honda models).

    3. The Dacia Duster is of similar size, and considering that the wheelbase of the Escape/Kuga is within half an inch of the Qashqai, and Freelander 2’s wheelbase is only about an inch shorter. It appears that Nissan’s triumph has been one of marketing, reflected only in Qashqai having hit a sweet spot in its price point. I can’t find anything unique about it that is technical or design related. The Kadjar is practically the same car, but it is built in Spain, not Sunderland, what am I missing here?

    4. Almost two years passed between the CR-V launch in Japan in autumn 1995 and the Freelander unveil in the UK in autumn 1997. It seems too much time to think Honda stole the design from Land Rover.
      Futhermore, it would have been a bad copy. Despite its success, the first generation CR-V seems ungainly and weak, a big mistake in this segment. The Freelander was considerably “beefed-up”, had more presence and looked a lot better. Some details in the Honda, like the door handles and the rear hatch hinges in particular, are awful.

      Alas, the customer is always right. And the CR-V boot floor could work as a portable camping table!

    5. Hello gooddog, I guess the Qashqai’s success is down to several things: having enough SUV cues to stand out, but also not looking utilitarian at the same time; Nissan badge signalling reliability; reasonable pricing. Do people just buy them because other people have them / they hear that they’re good?

      I find the latest Corsa fascinating – it’s amazingly popular, especially where I live, seemingly. It’s a nice enough car, but according to the reviews, it doesn’t perform fantastically in any particular area and it’s not particularly cheap. Nevertheless, it’s a runaway success.

    6. Hi Charles, that is a fascinating set of observations to me because the only thing that differentiates the Corsa from the 208 (and please correct me if I’m wrong) its skin deep appearance. I think that the 208 has a rather eccentric looking dashboard.

      Taken with your comments on the Qashqai, it seems to suggest that design still matters, inasmuch as ugliness or at least lack of design coherence doesn’t sell.

      But there is a clear cleavage in the “small utility” market which is being exploited by Ford in the US with the Bronco and Bronco Sport. While some people might prefer a soft car-like appearance like the Qashqai or the current Kuga has, there are still those who want to project a more rugged, squared off, trucky, active lifestyle-ish persona. I think LR has tried to square that circle, as it were, with it’s uncharacteristically rotund Discovery/Disco Sport, but these send mixed messages about their image/personality/purpose. The Qashqai and its buyers know it is bland white goods, and perhaps it’s better off for not pretending to be anything else.

    7. gooddog – yes, you’re right about the 208, and about the looks of the Discovery ranges, come to think of it.

      It’s funny – there are several types of SUV design: cars like the Qashqai, which are ‘soft’; ‘harder’-looking ones, which may / may not live up to their off-road looks; genuine 4x4s, which would actually be used by those working in the countryside, which often don’t look aggressive at all.

  4. Vauxhall Opel seriously dropped the ball on having a foothold in this market with their terrible Mokka which looked like an over-inflated football. It’s apparently Astra based, but looks like a Corsa that needs to burp.

    The Kuga (Mk1) actually feels like it’s improving with age. It looks more like a Mondeo in size than a Focus – I think the size of these always feels odd as the height sort of confused normal perceptions of interior size.

    The Mk2 Tiguan is designed to be a visual bully and looks like a fist in the rear view mirror of those ahead of it.

    I really like these generation Nissans now they’re on their way out- the X-Trail as ‘bigger brother’ is a really nicely resolved thing, and the Cashcow though less good, I think benefits from the X’s halo effect.

    The car no-one is mentioning that maybe is the grand-daddy of all of these, ahead of the CR-V, the Freelander, is of course the 1st-generation SF5 Subaru Forester.

    I’m biased as it’s our daily car – but it really is the inception point of all that followed.
    Take an Impreza, put a short-stop wagon body on it and raise it about an inch. Add some Volvo boxiness, some 80s style box flares on the fenders and bob’s your uncle. If only they were more economical!

    1. I wondered if someone like Suzuki or Subaru had got there, first. The Forester is quite estate-like – would people want something higher and shorter?

      Speaking of size and perceptions, I saw a new-ish Discovery on the road, today and was surprised to see that they aren’t all that huge. In my mind, all SUVs are filed under enormous, or at least too big.

    2. “…looks like an over-inflated football” or “…a Corsa that needs to burp.” are definitely the DTW phrases of the day. Chapeau, Huw!

    3. Harsh on the Mokka. I wouldn’t have one, but find it interesting that it faced its market with a restrained design rather like the first series Qashqai, rather than trying to emulate the Juke’s avant-garde boldness – although I have a distaste for these trims on the trailing edge of the Mokka’s C-pillar which artificially widen the rear window DLO.

      Price and practicality – much bigger boot than the Juke for example – helped the Mokka, along with a wide range of petrol and diesel engines, and a 4WD option – not always a given in B segment SUVs

      The first Mokka also sold well, peaking at 169,886 European registrations in 2017, substantially outdoing the Juke. At the time it was a rare bright spot for pre-PSA Opel/Vauxhall. Its numbers slipped a bit after 2017 as it had to compete in-house with the similarly sized and priced Crossland, one of Opel’s two “before they were married” SUV joint ventures with PSA. While they were both in production, the GM-developed SUV consistently outsold the PSA designed one.

      The Grandland (it’s not really called the Bigland!) is the nearest Opel/Vauxhall have to a Cashcow rival. Peak sales performance so far is 91,575 registrations in 2018, so probably not Nissan’s biggest worry.

      There’s far more to the worth of a vehicle than sales figures, but for these B and C segment SUVs it’s what I keep going back to. Analyse what’s available and although they look at bit different from each other, they fit within a very close range of dimensions, have very similar engine types and suspensions, and comparable levels of trim, equipment and connectivity. The only area of technical interest is electrification, either hybrid or BEV. More on that later…

    4. I’ve alway been equal parts repelled and mystified by the first generation Mokka. It’s hideous, but it’s also not very SUV-like for an SUV, like they were designing an MPV and suddenly the SUV wave hit. The current Mokka though, I like very much, especially in the flesh.

    5. In pre-facelift form with the chrome Buick grille, I always thought it looked like a Pokemon of a Buick. Particularly in blue.

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