The Qashqai’s ascent continues.
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, 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.
At the time of the J11 introduction, Nissan gave notice of some forthcoming European launches; a new Japanese-sourced X-Trail offering three-row seating, and aligned more closely with the Qashqai in styling and components, and a European-built new Almera, 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.
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.
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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 At launch in 2014 the K9K was priced around £1750 higher than the 1.2 litre petrol engine.
 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.