Nissan Qashqai (2021) first drive: Softroader gets soft electrification

There's no question that the Nissan Qashqai has been a success. Just look out of your front door, in any car park or outside any school gate. There are Qashqais everywhere.

Nissan basically invented the crossover segment and the popularity of practical softroaders, for which the Qashqai has always been the poster child.

That question of when we'll see and electric version, however, has been on the lips of green-leaning suburban families for some time - and while electrification is firmly in the messaging, the Nissan Qashqai isn't quite there yet, choosing in its first step a mild hybrid arrangement.


What you'll find instead is a newly designed Qashqai. Instantly recognisable, but picking up a lot of design moves we saw previously on the updated Juke. The Qashqai has been designed to be more muscular and sporty, it's longer and wider - but what you'll see is the larger grille on the front and a roof that appears to float.

Everything is harder and more angular than the previous version, the wavey shoulder line is gone, replaced with a neat crease running front to rear. There's a hint to some of the design we've seen coming out of VW models - and things feel a little more serious.

One the Tekna+ you now get 20-inch wheels - with a different suspension setup to accommodate them - and it's clear that Nissan wants to raise its game to compete in what is a very congested segment of the market - and the most popular.

There's a full range of trims, starting with the Visia, although that still has steel wheels, so it's really there to give that enticing £23k starting price, while realistically, most will buy in the N-Connecta or Tekna trim.

Tenka+ was introduced on the last update to the Qashqai, designed precisely to hook in those buyers who wanted a Qashqai but with a slightly higher standard - and it's the Tekna+ that we drove on our test drives in exceptionally foul weather.

There's an interesting detail to note about the rear doors: these now open at a wider angle, designed to give greater accessibility and that's going to be useful for those putting a car seat in the back, or reaching over children to make sure everyone is strapped in properly.

An interior lift

There has been an considerable reorganisation of the interior of the Qashqai, with a step from the lower two trim levels to N-Connecta, which is where the digital driver display comes in to make everything look a little more modern.

The biggest change is lifting the central display out of the dash to sit on the top, so it's easier to glance at when driving and to put it more at the heart of things. That's allowed the bulk of the dash to look slimmed down for a more spacious feeling.

collection: internal

We've not driven all the trims, so as can't comment on those lower down the line, but on the Tekna+ you get a great finish. It's not quite as plush as you'll get from an Audi, but there's a good deal of sophistication, a sense that this car as grown up slightly.

Nissan hasn't ditched all the buttons, however, keeping those to aid navigation on the central display, so you can easily get to main areas like audio, maps or the cameras, but there are some odd choices, like having the dark mode (day/night) as a physical button. Once you start using the touch display you'll find duplication of all these controls too, so it's not as seamless as it could be.

But we like that there are physical dials, easy to adjust the volume or temperature without having to look and find a button to press.

There's a combination of materials, and a good sense of attention to detail and a feeling that everything is more modern now, with a minimalised gear selector on the XTronic version seen here.

As the car is longer and wider there's more interior space, with the optional panoramic roof doing its part to lift things further. A pleasant place to be then and perfectly comfortable, with more space for the rear bench.

The boot will give you 504 litres of storage space which is reasonable, while it has a false floor meaning you can secure things out of sight or enjoy the benefit of a flat floor, or remove the panels for a larger lipped boot.

As we mentioned earlier, we test drove the Qashqai in terrible conditions, so we can't comment on how noisy the cabin might be, because all we could hear was the lashing rain - that obscured road noise and engine noise, so we'll have to come back to those things.

The technology loadout

Nissan has, for the past few years, been keen to put technology at the fingertips of buyers. That's seen a substantial shift on what is offered in the Qashqai. There was a considerable update to the previous model and that continues again in this latest model.

We've mentioned that there's a digital cockpit, a 12.3-inch driver display that does away with the dials and gives you more customisation over what information you have in front of you. It's not quite as accomplished as you'll find from others - Audi notably - who very much kicked off this trend and still seem to lead the way.

collection: display and ui

Nissan has stuck to offering digital version of its dials, while letting you leaf through major sections between these dials. That can give you stats for your drive, mapping, music details and so on, although we can't help feeling that with a digital display on offer, the visuals could have been slightly more exciting - although during our drive we were more focused on the road, so there's more exploring for us to do.

That extends to the central display too. Although this is a new system, it doesn't feel hugely modern. You can customise the home screen, with the ability to drop widgets into place with your finger, but it looks like a smartphone from the past decade.

In reality it hasn't changed, graphically, from the previous iteration so that's a bit of a let-down, relieved by the fact that from N-Connecta trim upward you can have wireless Apple CarPlay or wired Android Auto, which we suspect most buyers would opt to use instead if they're serious tech heads.

Nissan is keen to talk about the head-up display, however, which comes in on Tekna level cars. This is pretty large, able to give you a range of information so you don't have to shift your eyeline to glance at essential details like where the next turning is coming up.

One area where Nissan is rather more generous is with driver assistance, with all models getting things like emergency braking, lane guidance, intelligent cruise control, traffic sign recognition and parking sensors - and that's just on the entry-level.

Once you hit Tekna, you get the ProPilot system for more advanced self-driving skills.

On the road

The appeal of the Qashqai has always come from the elevated driving position, that feeling that you can see a little more and can live life a little on the high side. That's really driven the SUV boom, rather than anyone having any serious ambitions about going offroad. Indeed, Nissan says that only about 2 per cent of buyers opt for the all-wheel drive version.

While Nissan is talking about electrification, on the Qashqai this is initially a mild hybrid setup, with an e-Power model coming in the future. E-Power will be interesting, using a petrol engine as a generator to drive an electrified system, but for those first out the door, it's the mild hybrid.

That's about the lightest of electric touches that you can get, with mild hybrid systems harvesting excess energy to run a secondary electrical system that can aid with the start-stop system, allowing electrical systems to keep running without the engine on during coasting, and providing torque assistance when pulling away.

There's a 1.3-litre petrol engine in this mild hybrid setup, with options for 138hp or 156hp outputs. There is a manual option, or the Xtronic automatic, based on a CVT (continuously variable transmission). This CVT, however, offers paddles for manual steps if you want them in an attempt to make the drive a little more assertive.

The CVT gearbox will behave differently based on how you are driving it, designed to offer smooth gentle acceleration, or larger steps when driving more aggressively. As we said, thanks to bad weather on our test drive, we really didn't have the chance to put this to test, it was more cautious wading down partially-flooded country roads, with very little chance to hear of feel what the engine or gearbox was doing.

The reported figures from the car's memory suggest an average of 38mpg from the 156hp Xtronic Tekna+ model - something we'll look out in longer driving tests in the future.

Beyond that, we can't really comment on ride, handling or road noise, having not had the chance to drive in what we'd call regular conditions, unless you want us to confirm how well the wipers work. (They're fine, by the way.)

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