JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng – Launched in 2007 not only as a spiritual successor to the body-on-frame Terrano II, but also representing Nissan’s entry into the then still-burgeoning compact crossover segment, based on local sales to date the only stumbling block eager South African buyers have encountered before parting with their hard-earned rands has been around how to pronounce the name, Qashqai.
Indeed, in true South African style, rather than looking to adopt one of the car’s other names (the Australian market, for example, used the Dualis moniker for the first-generation Qashqai), Nissan SA forged ahead with a suitably fun-loving marketing campaign that, at one stage, even featured South Africans arguing over how to correctly pronounce the name based on the various dialects spoken in our wonderfully diverse country.
To date, eleven years after the introduction of the original Qashqai, some 30 000 South African owners have had fun pronouncing (and, at times, spelling) the name of Nissan’s current best-selling global model; one that sold 22 549 units throughout Europe in January 2018 alone.
While the 2014 launch of the second-generation Qashqai aligned the car’s previously quirky styling more closely with that of its more conservative big brother X-Trail, this month’s introduction of a mid-life facelift hands the funkier Qashqai that much more distinction compared with its larger sibling. Along with the adoption of Nissan’s latest “V-motion” grille design, styling updates to the Qashqai range include new bumpers front and rear, revised tail-lamp clusters and the choice (depending on specification level) between new 17- and 19-inch alloy wheel designs.
A welcome inclusion within a reworked and generally upgraded interior is the fitment in all but the entry-level Visia derivative of a leather-bound, flat-bottom, multifunction steering wheel. A masterstroke on Nissan South Africa’s part, it’s an item that not only looks great, but is also brilliant to hold, adding a touch of sophistication often not accessible at this price point.
While there’s leather upholstery to be found in Accenta Plus and top-of-the-range Tekna models, the cloth-covered items fitted to the rest of the Qashqai range are among the most comfortable on offer in this segment. I was also impressed to discover a height-adjustment function on both the driver’s and front passenger seats. If the rear bench offers acceptable levels of head- and legroom, it’s disappointing (especially for this segment) to note and absence of dedicated air vents for occupants of these seats.
Auto headlamps and wipers, LED daytime running lights, climate control, electric windows, cruise control and a comprehensive audio system, including Bluetooth, are all standard on mid-spec Accenta models. While a touchscreen-based satellite navigation system is fitted to Tekna models, the standard audio interface offered throughout the rest of the range is both neat and intuitive.
Simplifying its model line-up, Nissan South Africa’s updated Qashqai range now comprises four 1,2-litre turbopetrol derivatives and three 1,5 dCi turbodiesel options. Where the entry-level 1,2 T Visia is available exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission, two further petrol-powered models (in Acenta and Acenta Plus spec) are coupled with a CVT. The gearboxes in all three 81 kW/260 N.m diesel derivatives are manually operated.
At R367 000, it’s the new 1,2 T Acenta model that offers a compelling combination of value-for-money specification, efficiency and relative performance. With 85 kW and a modest 190 N.m of torque on offer, it’s a powertrain that requires optimal revs to keep steady momentum, yet thankfully this is easily achievable via Nissan’s slick and precise manual transmission. Never sounding too overworked, the powerplant is more than happy to put in the hard yards around town before settling into a comfortable cruise. That said, as with any small-capacity engine, it’s best to take it for a long test drive before buying so as to best understand the intricacies of keeping it “on the boil”. The reward, in turn, is a claimed (and, based on my time with the vehicle, believable) fuel consumption figure of 6,2 L/100 km.
That aforementioned sportscar-sourced steering wheel also plays towards the Qashqai’s inherent wannabe hot-hatch aspirations. And, while in the 1,2 T in particular there may not quite be sufficient go to fulfil those dreams, it doesn’t stop the Qashqai from feeling amusingly sprightly and surefooted around town.
With its combination of ever-impressive perceived build quality, noteworthy overall ride quality, just a hint of warm hatch prowess and Nissan South Africa’s reconsidered standard specification lists (including a six-year/150 000 km warranty), it feels as though the much-loved Qashqai has been granted a fresh lease on life. One wonders how the Top 12 voting for this category may have altered had its launch been just a few weeks earlier…