NISSAN is getting tough with the Qashqai compact SUV as it chases more than 1200 sales a month.
The soft-roader previously known as the Dualis has had a midlife makeover that is more about parts replacement than cosmetic surgery.
Beyond the expected frontal tweaks and a shiny new steering wheel, the engineers have replaced every suspension component with stronger, less bendy bits. The result is improved roadholding at the expense of some of the mild manners for which that last version was known.
The diesel option has been deleted in response to buyers' dislike of oilburners in this class, which ranges from the dynamic ability of the Mazda CX-3 and Volkswagen Tiguan to the pricepoint relevance of the Mitsubishi ASX.
Newly arrived Nissan Australia managing director Stephen Lester says the Qashqai has to maintain relevance as buyers' tastes change.
"There's not just one competitor as there was when the Dualis was brought into Australia (in 2008). There are now 28," he says. "We're competing with the best of them and this car is a response to customer surveys that called for more technology and a sportier ride."
Nissan Australia can't clarify if that global request was mirrored by local owners. Given the last model tallied more than 38,000 sales since 2014, Nissan can't afford to get it wrong.
The other significant updates relate to improved noise reduction and the inclusion of autonomous emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring on the three spec levels. Nissan expects the sales split to be roughly equal.
Prices start at $26,490 plus on-roads for the ST, topping out at $37,990 for the Ti version. The latter is due in the middle of next year with the likes of adaptive cruise control and active lane keeping, where the car auto-steers to stay between the lines. Revised front and rear bumpers add 17mm to the Qashqai's length but width and height are unchanged.
ON THE ROAD
The steering wheel is the first point of contact in the new Qashqai and it feels far more premium than its predecessor. The buttons are now flush with the wheel and not painted a plasticised low-rent chrome.
Subtle adjustment to the interior quality include touch points in soft plastic. The infotainment set-up uses app-like tiles to make navigation simpler for the smartphone set.
The continuously variable transmission has seven presets to emulate a conventional automatic and largely avoids the dreaded drone. It flares under hard acceleration between 5250rpm-6000rpm but is far more reserved when driven up to city pace or when slowing.
Performance, as with most vehicles in this segment, is good rather than great. The Qashqai's naturally aspirated engine gets serious at about 4000rpm, which means the CVT has to match those levels to unleash its top torque.
The suspension has been overhauled, from bushes to bump stops. Owners of previous models wanted a firmer ride and Nissan has obliged.
Roll bars, dampers and springs are thicker and the Qashqai consequently sits like a sporty hatch more than an SUV - existing owners trading up to the new versions may need time to adjust to this.
This car will get the jitters at low-speed over slight corrugations where the outgoing version had a softer, more relaxed ride that reduced the bump impact but had more fore and aft cabin pitching.
There is an upside: the bigger the hit, the better the Qashqai behaves. The SUV tackles big speed humps with aplomb and, even over a stretch of rim-crushing potholes, rides without effort.
Nissan has sharpened the steering ratio to improve cornering response and it has made the change of direction marginally faster. Whether it returns to centre any quicker is debatable.
Nissan is working hard to keep the Qashqai relevant and this makeover does enough to achieve that. It will appeal to buyers coming from firmly sprung passenger cars; the suspension might present a challenge for the Qashqai faithful.
PRICE The base ST is $26,490 for the six-speed manual, a rise of $500 that's offset by active safety aids. The continuously variable transmission - standard on all other grades - adds $2500. The new ST-L variant adds bigger wheels, seven-inch screen with satnav and power driver's seat for $32,990 plus on-roads. The headline act (for now) is the N-Tec at $36,490 with auto headlamps, panoramic sunroof, more safety tech and semi-automated parking.
TECH All versions are fitted with autonomous emergency braking and lane-departure warning software. Top-tier examples pick up blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert, along with active lane keeping. Smartphone mirroring is standard.
PERFORMANCE Given this is a midlife update, Nissan hasn't touched the 2.0-litre engine and CVT. They're no dynamic duo but they are ideally suited to this category and match such rivals as the Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishi ASX and Honda HR-V.
DRIVING Customer feedback got Nissan to stiffen the suspension and ditch the pillowy ride of the previous iteration. Some will love the way the Qashqai sits flatter when cornering, others may not be as impressed with the way it jiggles over road ripples. The feel behind the wheel is now far more sedan-like than SUV.
DESIGN The changes are skin deep, with the expected tweaks. There are a more pronounced grille and revised foglights, shark-fin antenna and new designs for the 17 to 19-inch wheels. Existing owners may notice; others will struggle to pick the difference unless the cars are side by side. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is far more obvious and the control buttons now look integrated rather than apparent add-ons.
Nissan Qashqai $26,490-$37,990
WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km (so-so)
SERVICE $746 for 3 years/30,000km (average)
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 106kW/200Nm (ordinary)
SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, lane departure (smart)
THIRST 6.9L-7.7L/100km (manual)
CARGO 430L (impressive)
SPARE Space-saver (typical)