2018 NISSAN QASHQAI S FWD ROAD TEST REVIEW
July 23 2018, Southside Nissan
LOWEST PRICED SUV BIG ON FEATURES AND QUALITY
If you previously perused my 2017 Qashqai SL AWD road test you'd already know I've become a fan, and I must say this 2018 Qashqai S FWD had me even more enamoured. It's the Nissan Micra of SUVs, and I mean that in plenty of good ways. The Qashqai is inexpensive, comfortable, solidly built, reasonably well equipped, economical, and plenty of fun to drive, which is exactly the type of small SUV that first-time or fixed-income British Columbians need.
Proof of this is in the sales numbers that do a fairly good job of showing a vehicle's popularity, the new model having quickly jumping into first place with 3,748 units sold over the initial three months of 2018. That total makes it 414 examples more successful than the Subaru Crosstrek, plus a shocking 993 deliveries more impressive than the longtime bestselling Honda HR-V. Not a bad start to the year.
The numerous keys to the new Qashqai's success include attractive styling, strong performance, an efficient powertrain, interior comfort and quality, practicality, and generous features for the money, that last point especially true being that the Qashqai S FWD being reviewed here starts at just $19,998 plus freight and fees, making it the most affordable SUV in Canada-at least until the $17,998 Nissan Kicks arrives this summer. See what I mean about it being the Micra of SUVs?
LARGE AND ROOMY FOR ITS SUBCOMPACT SUV SEGMENT
Of course, the Kicks will soon take over that mantle in both price and size. The Qashqai is actually a bit larger than the class average despite its value proposition. It measures 4,379 millimetres from nose to tail, with a 2,647-mm wheelbase in between, while it spans 1,836 mm in width and reaches 1,587 mm from the base of its tires to the uppermost point of the roof.
As you might imagine that extra size creates more space for driver and passengers, plus it provides the most cargo space of all when the seats are laid flat at 1,730 litres. Its 648-litres capacity with the seats upright is impressive as well, albeit only second in the segment behind the aforementioned HR-V.
Changing gears, both figuratively and literally, a key reason my Qashqai S FWD started below $20k was its standard six-speed manual transmission. You can get the same SUV with a fully automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT), but it pushes the price up to $22,698. The CVT comes standard in the two upper Qashqai trims, SV and SL, so if you want the manual you'll need to stick with the S FWD model. Alternatively if you want AWD you'll need to accept the CVT, that model starting at $24,898.
VERY WELL EQUIPPED FOR ITS BEST-IN-CLASS PRICE
As noted the Qashqai is also available in SV and SL trims, with the former starting at $22,698 and including 17-inch alloy wheels, a remote engine starter, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, a powered moonroof, a heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob, cruise control, satellite radio, a Divide-N-Hide cargo organizer system, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and more, while the latter model is priced at $30,298 and features 19-inch machine-finished alloys with painted pockets, silver roof rails, a six-way power driver's seat, leather upholstery, a 7.0-inch NissanConnect infotainment touchscreen with an AroundView 360-degree parking monitor, navigation and Mobile Apps, etcetera.
It should be noted that moving up to AWD in base S or mid-grade SV trim not only includes the standard CVT, but also forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, while the SL can be upgraded with a $1,900 Platinum package that adds LED headlamps with automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, Nissan Connect Services, Lane Departure Warning, and Intelligent Lane Departure Prevention, while a pedestrian detection feature gets added to the Intelligent Emergency Braking function.
Walking around this stylish little SUV brings to light silver metallic wheel covers that look surprisingly convincing from a distance, while I was even more impressed by the bright chromed grille and side window surrounds, the equally dazzling LED daytime running lights within the projector headlamps, the ultra-slim LED turn signals integrated into the body-colour side mirror housings, the body-colour door handles, body-colour rooftop spoiler, and the SUV's overall classy appearance in its aforementioned coat of metallic grey.
AN IMPRESSIVELY FINISHED, WONDERFULLY COMFORTABLE CABIN
The front and rear doors open nice and wide, making access easy. The little SUV's height advantage over a car helps in this respect too, and I have to say Nissan does driver's seats better than a number of others in this class as well. Despite being a base model without the SL's powered actuation or adjustable lumbar support it was inherently comfortable, with good lower back support and excellent side bolstering.
Setting up a good driver's position was easy, and while this might be expected this day and age, peoples' varying body types are often overlooked. For instance, my longer legs and shorter torso means that I need more telescopic reach than some others, and a few brands aren't too generous in this respect. Such is not a problem with the Qashqai, allowing me to fit in ideally.
WELL DESIGNED, HIGH-QUALITY CONTROLS THROUGHOUT
The steering wheel isn't wrapped in leather, but it's comfortably thick and padded just the same, plus it's shaped as if it's pulled out of a sports car with nicely carved thumb spats and a flat bottom no less, while a cool looking metallic silver trimmed dual lower spoke flows up to visually support the two spokes just above, the one on the left side filled with high-quality audio and multifunction display buttons, and the spoke on the right receiving a simpler assortment of phone controls.
Framed behind the steering wheel is highly legible chrome-trimmed electroluminescent primary gauge cluster centered by a large colour TFT multi-information display, which once again is something only expected on a higher trim level, while a quick glance over to the piano black lacquer surfaced and chrome-adorned centre stack shows a small yet useful display audio system. It's not a touchscreen but it worked well enough, and the aforementioned standard rearview camera was especially helpful. The same can be said for the nicely laid out manual HVAC interface that sits just below, while the knobs and buttons here and everywhere else were tight fitting and well damped.
Nissan provides a USB charge port, aux plug and a 12-volt charger at the base of the centre stack, just above a tray for your cell phone, which sits right next to a chrome-trimmed electromechanical parking brake. Two-way seat heater rocker switches are positioned toward the rear of the lower console, flanking a deep bin that's ideal for a larger smartphone. Of course, dual cupholders are integrated within the lower console too, as is a storage compartment under the centre armrest, and once again it's all put together well and looks more upscale than the Qashqai's entry-level price should allow for.
Nissan also houses a handy console overhead, featuring a felt-lined sunglasses holder and LED reading lights for both front occupants. Even the sunvisors are finished nicely, including the lidded vanity mirrors.
PLENTY OF ROOM TO STRETCH OUT DESPITE SUBCOMPACT SIZE
It's normal for taller, larger drivers to shy away from the subcompact SUV class, but I think they should give the Qashqai a try, as there's a lot of room available in every direction. The same goes for front and rear passengers, with the back compartment providing more than enough space for my medium-build five-foot-eight frame when sitting behind a driver's seat that was set up for my height. In fact, I had about five inches remaining ahead of my knees plus loads of space to move my feet around while wearing boots. Additionally, there was about four inches left above my head and another five or so next to my shoulder and hips. I'm not going to say the rear seats were as comfortable as those up front, because that would be difficult to match, but they certainly were supportive, and even provided some side bolstering.
Back in the driver's seat, the six-speed manual transmission lever is as nicely finished as the previously noted steering wheel, with a black lacquer trimmed shift knob, a leather-like boot, and a satin silver and black lacquered surround. Again, this could be in a premium sports car, let alone a bargain-basement subcompact SUV.
STRONG PERFORMANCE COMBINES WITH GOOD FUEL ECONOMY
Once the Qashqai gets up to speed it's thoroughly engaging and fun to fling through the corners, feeling a lot more like a compact hatchback then anything traditionally SUV-like. Of course, it's aforementioned ride height advantage and subsequent good view of the road ahead and surrounding area reminds that it's indeed an SUV, while its expansive greenhouse leaves almost no blind spots at all, but it still drives like a little sports car in comparison to most utilities.
With such a willing engine that's certainly fun to take to its limit, and a shifter that slips so easily into each gear, plus clutch take-up that's just as easy and light yet positive and engaging, speed can ramp up quickly. Fortunately the Qashqai's steering is direct and responsive too, while the little SUV's high-speed stability is actually very good for such a small vehicle thanks to that relatively long wheelbase mentioned earlier. Likewise, braking is excellent, the Qashqai coming standard with ABS-enhanced four-wheel discs that only had to stop 1,425 kilos of as-tested curb weight, resulting in good all-round performance that delivers way more enjoyment then its paltry price should.