Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Driven:- Nissan Qashqai Tekna 2.0 DCi

Crossover, baby. Take a walk on the wild side. Yes, wild. These slightly pumped-up, mildly macho looking off-roaderishly styled cars are hot property right now. They hint at an active, rugged lifestyle and provide a twinge of excitement while you drive to the shops or take the guinea pig to the vet.

You can get a small crossover from any of the major manufacturers these days, Fords Kuga is probably the best of the lot, the rest of them all co-exist in an identity parade that can be difficult to differentiate between. Today I’m driving a Nissan Qashqai; my first time behind the wheel of a car that guarantees my spell-checker instant meltdown.

Crossover is generally interpreted as midway between regular saloon / hatchback and Sport Utility Vehicle; but the niche is really far harder to pin down than that. For a start, a look at the Quashquii reveals only the fleetest glimpse of Sport, and precious little Utility, either. There are five seats and an impressive amount of headroom to be had, and a capacious luggage compartment, but the packaging is no more innovative than a regular small estate car and rear legroom is at a premium. This ain’t no shrunken Nissan Patrol.

Externally it’s a handsome enough thing, in a non-threatening, undemanding kind of way; it’s probably among the most amorphous of the crop with no gnarly side “air intakes” or ankle-thwacking running boards. The nose treatment comes pretty close to looking butch; but the premise pretty much dissolves within eighteen inches. All in all, extremely OK.

Step up a moderate distance; about a cushions thickness higher than a Primera, and slide into the command position, where all the controls are laid out in an easy-to-manage fashion, everything being where you’d expect with the exception of a few anomalies; the switches for the heated seats are up on the centre console for no rhyme or reason; one of those strange quirks in Asian car design that comes from the packaging being designed before the features are finalised.

Ahead of you is a neat little pod of instrumentation, all that you need, all displayed in a tidy, current way without any unnecessary stylistic flourish. In fact, to my eyes the whole dashboard ensemble is presented in homage to the Mercedes-Benz ML series; the centre air-vents are similarly designed and the HVAC switchgear follows the same format. A nice big double-din sized stereo with integrated Bluetooth rounds off the equipment roster and the seats are leathered quite pleasantly. 

But the feeling of quality isn’t all-pervasive. If your eyes wander around the cabin then all seems well, but should your hands stray from the dashboard to the door panelling something strange happens; the materials look the same but sure don’t feel the same. From being heavy and inert to the touch, the new feeling is scratchy and echoic. It’s a shame, because it actually gives you something to criticise and inspires you to dig deeper to look for further faults.

This model has got keyless go so you needn’t go through the intolerable hardship of having to put a key in a hole, but it still gives you a little thingy to turn, just like a key, underneath the steering column where a key would go. It makes you wonder what the point is. It has magical key-free locking, too, which is more useful. But the dashboard issues endless bells and klaxons that remind you to close the door, or turn the lights off, or take the key with you or any number of things you were going to do anyway.

The blurriest photo ever to feature on these pages, but you get the idea.
The main fault with the car is simply that it isn’t as good as it could be. It’s nice, agreeable even, but radiates adequacy in every move it makes. The gearshift would be absolutely perfect, were it not for the fact that there are several cars in which it feels better. The way the car moves on the road; it has a ride quality that’s good enough to be forgotten about, but not good enough to be remembered. The car turns into corners accurately and with surprising poise, but so does it in a Vauxhall Antares or a Toyota Rav 4.

On this particular example, showing twenty-seven and a half thousand miles, the clutch feels very strangely weighted and it sent me rocking too and fro in my seat. It either meant the clutch needed adjustment or my left foot needs recalibration, but I found it tricky to make smooth progress. No matter, once through the initial lunge the grunt from the two-litre diesel engine feels as impressive as it needs to. 

The diesel engine does sound slightly old-school, though, but this might just be me looking for ways to pick faults. It reminded me of when I worked at BMW and used to loathe the X3 when fitted with the two litre diesel; I claimed at the time that it reminded me of driving a Sherpa van, and the memories came flooding back when I tried the Qashquy.

So I wanted to drive it somewhere where I could take photos for this little review, and thought it might be rather fun to have it sitting in a semi-rugged, gymkhana type of an environment, the kind of place that the buyers of slightly actiony looking cars might have dreams of venturing into. There’s a grassy field not far from where I work that’s easy to trespass onto, I duly parked there, leaving the lazer death-beam xenon headlamps lit for photographic effect, and took a clutch of photos.

Then I got back into the car, put it in gear, and didn’t go anywhere. What gives? I’m on a grassy surface that’s heavily damp, but I certainly wouldn’t call it wet. I’m in a car that hints at exploring the great outdoors, and yet the Quashkai showed no interest in traversing the thirty-foot fen-flat patch of grass between it and the road. And then the vast cash-bag full of pennies dropped. It’s a front-wheel-drive one, this Kwashquai, it couldn’t drag its way down a buttered slope if it had Saturns gravity helping it.

Second blurriest. It was getting dark, OK?
Then it hit me, with a degree of inevitability unrivalled since Will Young was revealed to be gay. There’s nothing even remotely adventurous about this car at all. It’s no more capable off the road than a Scalextric car is away from its slot. In all reality, this is what ordinary people buy because they think it isn’t an ordinary car. 

People’s expectations have been raised over the years, with exposure to celebrities of unlimited wealth, with the increased availability of low-cost technology and luxury, everybody wants a slice of the high life. Everybody thinks they deserve it. Therefore companies can make big money from selling stuff that fools the great unwashed that they’re buying something interesting. In actual fact, it’s nothing but a Nissan Sunny for the twenty-first century.

Seven years ago, all the teenagers were listening to Blink 182 and Limp Bizkit. Seven years before that they were listening to Happy Hardcore and Jungle compilations. Today, if you ain’t R’n B, you ain’t shit, in every possible sense of the phrase.

It’s just a thing that happens. It’s fashion, it’s a cyclical thing. Maybe ten years hence people will have realised that what they really want is a nice little hatchback. Like a Nissan Sunny, except nice.

The Nissan Qashqai is a car that’s nice enough and will make lots of people very happy indeed; the sort of people who buy mountain bikes and hiking boots and never get around to using them. If I wanted to be hounded off the internet for the rest of my life I’d call it a pointless car for pointless people.

But I don’t, so I won’t.