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

The world is not enough.

Image: Nissan Europe

England made the Nissan Qashqai, in both the design and manufacturing sense. Appearing from an unexpected quarter and disregarded by the industry media’s chattering classes, it not only became a European top-ten seller within three years, but also defined the parameters of its own sector for fourteen years and two generations. There was no doubt that there would be a third generation, but the world around the Qashqai was changing rapidly. To put rest to uncertainty arising from the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, Nissan confirmed in October 2016 that there would be an all-new, third-generation Qashqai, and it would be built at Sunderland.

The Qashqai J12 made its world debut on 18 February 2021. The world into which it arrived was preoccupied with other matters; a global pandemic, much of the developed world setting out legislation to end sales of internal combustion vehicles by the fourth decade of the century, and the prolonged post-Brexit finalisation of the UK’s trade agreement with the European Union.  This last was of immense significance to the Sunderland plant, as the brinkmanship exercised by both sides meant that there had been no certainty of tariff-free trade with the EU until 24 December 2020.

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Production in the north-east England plant was delayed by the strictures of infection control, and a supply chain which continues to be disrupted, but by mid-2021 lines were running, and the new-generation Qashqais – firstly in a high-specification Premiere Edition – were arriving in the showrooms and on the roads of Europe.

The metaphorical keel for the J12 Qashqai was laid down years before the pandemic, at a time when electrification seemed to be far in the future.  A textbook Alliance evolution, it is the first recipient of the latest iteration of the CMF-C platform.

It’s a thing of considerable sophistication, with Nissan-formulated ultra high tensile strength steel used strategically in the bodyshell’s crash structure along with extensive use of structural bonding to reinforce jointing where the A-, B- and C-pillars join the roof and floor pan. The doors, bonnet and bumper structure are formed in aluminium, and the tailgate uses composite materials.

Qashqai J12 BIW. Image: Nissan Europe

Nissan claim that the overall body-in-white is lighter by 60kg and 41% stiffer than that of the J11. However, overall vehicle weight has increased owing to the new mild hybrid hardware – a modest 22kg – and increased safety equipment and upgraded interior quality. Overall dimensions have also grown, with a 20mm longer wheelbase, and length, width, and height increased by 35mm, 32mm, and 25mm respectively. So still within Qashqai class. Just.

The MacPherson strut / torsion beam suspension has been thoroughly upgraded, with the engineering work refined through a comprehensive trans-European benchmarking exercise using not only competing SUVs for comparison, but also the leading C-segment hatchbacks. 4WD Qashqais continue to have multi-link independent rear suspension, which is also a standard fitment for 2WD cars with 20” wheels, and not just an option for demanding Germans.

Multi-link rear suspension. Image: Nissan Europe

SUV-watchers will have observed that within the entire Qashqai class visual presentation has of late moved from overt functionality to a more glamourous and upmarket appearance. The plain but capable girls of the mid-late noughties have become positively soignée as they reach their mature years. They have rewarded their success with time at the spa and gym, a taste for rather ostentatious jewellery, and, perhaps even discreet indulgence in cosmetic enhancement. The self-confident Hyundai and Kia duo are the most conspicuous proponents of this trend, with curves, nips and tucks in almost all the right places, augmented by LED trickery, baroque grillework, and shiny pl-alloy where black plastic would once have sufficed.

The latest Qashqai is some way shy of the extremes of the South Korean pair. The J12 iteration is an accomplished piece of work insofar as it is still recognisably a Qashqai, but picks up on currently fashionable motifs such as a floating roof, the athletic and dynamic ‘fast lines’ which strike diagonally across the flanks from front to the rear, and the boomerang LED strips which complement the slimmed-down LED matrix headlights either side of what Nissan describe as their V-Motion grille.

Image: Nissan Europe

At the rear, it’s those boomerangs again, with “graduated raindrop grain optics” claimed to create a 3D lighting effect. As with the J11, a panoramic glass roof is an option. For those who want the look but not the heat gain, two tone colour schemes are now available, with roof colours chosen imaginatively to contrast with the main body paintwork, for example gunmetal over black. Such is the new vanity that there is even an optional Exterior Elegance Pack, with additional chromework to further ornament the toned and athletic new physique.

This is what Elegance looks like. Image: Nissan Europe

At this point it’s worth taking a quick journey through the Qashqai range, and trying to make sense of those Visias, Teknas and Acentas[1].

Entry level is the £24,555 Visia, with the 138bhp engine and 6 speed manual gearbox – you have to move to the Acenta Premium, the next level up, for powertrain upgrades. It rolls on 17” steel wheels with plastic hubcaps, inside there is no mid-dash infotainment screen. It’s cheaper than most rivals’ base models, and for many people – especially the technology-bewildered and those averse to paying the price of enormous replacement tyres – this will be all the Qashqai they need. The full gamut of NCAP point-winner sensors, alerts and assistants is included, along with manual air conditioning and basic and useful technology like intelligent cruise control, and rear parking sensors.

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Most purchasers will find the Acenta Premium package at £2600 extra too tempting to resist. The wheels are still 17” diameter, but now in alloy. There’s an 8” Nissan Connect touch screen display in the centre of the dash, a proper camera for reversing, automatic air-conditioning, and some things called Apple CarPlay and Android Auto[2]. The more powerful of the 1.3 litre engines is available from this level upwards. Nissan ask £29,910 – £720 more that the 138bhp for those extra 18 horses. Acenta Premium level also brings in an automatic option for the 158bhp engine only. The CVT is Xtronic in Nissan-speak[3], and costs £1600 more than the 158bhp manual.

Image: Nissan Europe

All-wheel-drive Qashqais have no manual option, and £33,220 for the N-Connecta is the lowest price[4] for the extra capability in severe conditions.

Borgward hommage in the Tekna+ Image: Nissan Europe

Absolute peak Qashqai – at £38,885 – is the Tekna+ Xtronic 4WD, with a glass roof, 20” diamond-cut alloy wheels, and a 9” screen and 12.3″ full digital TFT combimeter giving access to technology and infotainment beyond any reasonable person’s wildest dreams.  Cow naturally features at this level of ‘qai, described as a “new premium soft leather design which takes 25 days to produce and more than 60 minutes to embroider the new 3D diamond quilted design”. If that wasn’t enough sybaritic excess, the front seats have a three-mode massage function, controlled from that all-encompassing touch-screen.

So far, it’s looking good. Smarter, safer, more spacious, but sticking with the established Qashqai strengths. I have not yet mentioned the J12’s engine story, deliberately so as it doesn’t take much of a scoping exercise of the competitors to raise concern about Nissan’s competitiveness in this area.

HR13DDT engine with ALiS Image: Nissan Europe

The HR13DDT turbocharged 1332cc in line four, with two power output options, is a carry-over from the previous series, but for the J12 it has the addition of ALiS, the mildest of mild hybrid systems, a veritable milquetoast, albeit a clever one with a 12V lithium-ion battery and a control system which as well as storing regenerated energy from deceleration, manages stop-start operation to reduce the period when the IC engine is running with the vehicle at standstill, and has a torque-boost facility which can provide an additional 6Nm torque for up to 20 seconds. The sustainability effect of ALiS is a 4g/km reduction in CO2 emissions. The mild-hybrid 2WD Qashqais’ official numbers vary surprisingly little across the board – whether 138bhp or 156bhp, manual or auto the range is 143g/km CO2, 44-45 mpg (combined).

At present the HR13DDT is all that’s on offer. There are no diesels, no full-hybrid capable of running on electric power for more than the few metres ALiS can manage, and no tax-hurdling plug-in hybrid.

What Nissan will offer later this year is something called e-POWER. It is both intriguing as an engineering achievement, and perplexing as it seems to have little relevance to European market expectations. DTW will be looking at e-POWER in more detail shortly.

Perhaps Nissan have judged correctly. Euro 6D has made diesels expensive – no more entry-level diesels costing little more than similar-output petrol engines. At a considerable cost in complexity, low capacity petrol engines have increased dramatically in power and torque, while consuming fuel almost as frugally as equivalent diesels. Perhaps 157bhp is quite sufficient for most people’s needs[5], but in the top-end Qashqais, with their premium aspirations and prices approaching £40K, the 1.3 litre four seems like a boy sent to do a man’s job.

Gone are the days when a diverse selection of Alliance engines could be served up – in the dash to electrification there is too much demand on resources to integrate, prove, and homologate outlier engine options which may only be taken up in small numbers.  However the absence of a plug-in hybrid looks risky – most of Nissan’s competitors now offer them, and will make conquest sales from Qashqai customers who are being denied the option.

It is too early to judge how well the J12 Qashqai will meet the challenges of this decade. In the unprecedented conditions of 2021, European Qashqai registrations scarcely exceeded 100,000, compared with 135,829 in 2020 and 218,946 in 2019. Competitors have posted comparable drops in numbers. The Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson, made in different European factories, but sharing platforms and engines, are already collectively outselling the Nissan, and Volkswagen’s Tiguan – the groups’ best-selling product worldwide – has held top spot in the Europe’s Qashqai class since 2018.

Perhaps the number one placing is not a concern to Nissan. The J12’s emphasis on a premium identity suggests that profit margins are taking precedence over raw volume. It will not have escaped the reader that Qashqai generations span seven years. In 2028, when the next would be due, much of Europe will be two years from state-mandated ending of fossil-fuel car sales. The Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance is unquestionably well-placed in the headlong dash to electrification, but nobody in the industry can stand still.

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Nissan’s new Ariya, an “all-electric coupé crossover”, on sale in Europe from summer 2022 is a harbinger of the company’s diversified SUV plan. The stylish fastback uses the new CMF-EV platform, shared with the Renault Mégane E-Tech Electric, and is described by Nissan as “fitting between the Qashqai and X-Trail”.  That’s not exactly a yawning chasm.

Ariya deliveries will start in summer 2022 with prices starting at £41,845 for the entry-level model. Take into account tax and energy cost benefits in its favour, and the Ariya looks like an in-house rival to the Qashqai, even with the potential to challenge its sales numbers. The signals all around us suggest that Europe’s EV revolution is now consumer-led, and happening sooner than expected, and in far larger volumes; 20% of European new car sales in December 2021 were all-electric.

Over the last two decades, Nissan have been agile and effective in arriving early with the right product in fast-growing market areas, as demonstrated by the Qashqai, Juke, and Leaf. They are also unsentimental about exiting declining market sectors and place little value on over-familiar model names – this was how the Qashqai came into being. Move on sixteen or so years, and Nissan still approach new opportunities with a bold clean-sheet strategy.  Regardless of how well the latest Qashqai sells once normality returns to the automotive supply chain, it could well be the nameplate’s Grand Finale, at least as a high-volume product designed and built in Europe.

Image: Nissan Europe

Footnotes:

[1] I have waited until the third chapter of the Qashqai series before mentioning Nissan’s recondite equipment level strata. Those who want to work out their Teknas, Visias and N-Connectas can visit the manufacturer’s excellent website. Meanwhile I am working on a parlour game for the Christmas market based on guessing which of a series of mainly synthetic words signify:
i.)  A suite of accountancy software.
ii.)  A rap artist.
iii.)  A Nissan, Citroën, Peugeot Nissan, or Volvo equipment package.
iv.)  A popular Death Metal band.

[2] But wired only. Whatever that means.

[3] Jatco JF022E, should you be interested.

[4] At the time of writing, it was possible to buy a 4WD Toyota RAV-4 or Honda CR-V for less than the entry-level all wheel drive Qashqai.

[5] If your Qashqai requirements include heavy hauling, expect to be directed to the heftier X-Trail, with its 201bhp 1.5 litre three-cylinder variable compression ratio engine and CVT with no option. But not just yet. Although the current Rogue (X-Trail to the rest of the world) has been on sale in the USA since September 2020, the Nissan UK website at the time of writing lists the previous model but states “We’re all sold out! But stay tuned, there’s something exciting on the way”.

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

  1. “Absolute peak Qashqai – at £38,885 – is the Tekna+ Xtronic 4WD, with a glass roof, 20” diamond-cut alloy wheels, and a 9” screen and 12.3″ full digital TFT combimeter giving access to technology and infotainment beyond any reasonable person’s wildest dreams.”

    £38,885 for a Qashqai, even if fully loaded? ouch.

    1. List prices these days! Better just not to look unless you actually need to buy or lease a car.

      As the series has reached its conclusion – apart from an upcoming technical side-dish – I should note that in the course of the three episodes I’ve been consistently in awe of Nissan’s achievement, but never by the car.

      The nearest I came to Stockholm Syndrome was with that red J12 Visia above, dragged out of the configurator. That it costs £25K takes some mental adjustment, but a quick check of rival prices confirms that amount doesn’t get you a lot. Perhaps the Visia fits the ‘damn good Renault’ notion best. I could live easily with the steel wheels and plastic dustbin lids, but not with the bother of doing my own gears.

  2. An excellent series, thank you Robertas. I’m sure the latest Qashqai is a fine car, but it somehow leaves me cold. That front end is ugly and aggressive to my eyes and that ‘broken’ C/D pillar styling trope is beyond tedious, now that so many manufacturers have chosen to adopt it. The new Qashqai not terrible, by any means, but just a bit ‘me too’. The Qashqai’s styling started to go wrong with the facelift of the previously clean and handsome J11 (Mk2) model and the latest model just perpetuates the loss of distinctiveness.

    Maybe it’s time, as you suggest, for another conceptual reinvention?

    1. The floating roof isn’t going away any time soon – it does help to reduce the impression of height on an SUV. and is a handy differentiator in multi-brand portfolios – for example 3008 (with) and Grandland (without).

      I genuinely think that the Nissan stylists have done a good job with the J12, but the style champion of the Qashqai class for me is the Tucson, which ingeniously conveys the impression of a coupe SUV in profile, while having a usefully upright tailgate.

      In 2D images it looks overdone, but in real life the Tucson looks far better – a well considered and confident design. The Hyundai’s engine range wipes the floor with the Qashqai’s “take it or leave it” offering. Nissan should worry – Hyundai and Kia are trying an awful lot harder.

  3. I prefer the J12 to the J11, but not the J10. It’s a stronger looking design, more crisp than the hitched-up and wobbly-sided J11.

    That entry level car fascinated me. To go as far as stripping the interior of its infotainment screen and going for steelies with plastic wheel-trims is the sort of thing that I thought had gone out with plain bumpers on the base Ford Sierra. Especially when the new Qashqai is a mid-sized SUV with top end aspirational pricing of close to £40k – I have seen it done on bottom-trim superminis/ sub-compacts like the Clio and Mazda2, for example.

  4. An excellent series indeed (just as we would expect!) on a vehicle which has never really interested me. But I now find myself viewing it more carefully – and starting to worry that I find that red J12 Visia quite appealing. Far less aggressive about the snout than most and from this angle there is, to my eyes, a nod towards a very much earlier era when body sides tapered in towards bonnet & radiator and front wheels were covered by separate mudguards….. Sorry – you’re all far too young to understand that. Best of all, though, is the lack of touch screen. And I actually like doing my own gears.

  5. Hi Robertas, bit late to the party but I enjoyed this series so thank you. I like the Mk1 with its in-between styling and stance (between a hatchback and an SUV, that is). I’ve never liked SUVs and the subsequent generations have left me cold. I was under the impression that Nissan has been flailing a bit in Europe, what with indifferent and/or badly selling Micras (the current one is nice-ish but not selling very well, I gather, possibly because it, too has few engine options), but the Qashqai is still doing relatively nicely.

    Today I saw a current one for, I think, the first time. For all its fussiness in photos, it very much blends in with the landscape. I barely registered it. I agree about the Tucson: in the flesh it’s a nice looking thing (certainly for an SUV) and I really like the headlights.

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