THE HARD-FOUGHT battleground of the small SUV is littered with cars vying for your attention, and itís becoming increasingly difficult to offer a unique entrant, especially at the lower end of the price spectrum.
The UK-built Nissan Qashqai ST does things differently, though, presenting more like a medium SUV that majors on practicality while also offering the drive experience of a more substantial crossover.
Each Qashqai in the range comes with a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 106kW/200Nm. The $29,490 ST we have on test includes a CVT, which is impressive in how it steplessly arranges the appropriate revs to keep things near the modest summit of the power curve. Even then itís the equal slowest-accelerating car on test, highlighting the fact that - in this 1375kg crossover at least - there just arenít enough herbs in that 2.0-litre unit to go around. On the flipside, although itís one of the bigger cars here, the Qashqai returned a respectable 8.6L/100km fuel consumption average, aided by the undoubted efficiency of that CVT.
Despite being one of the larger SUVs in this particular class, the ST still offers a keen change of direction and is easy to manoeuvre about town thanks to light (though lifeless) steering and a fairly wide track. However, thereís not much in the way of a fun steer to be had and the Nissan displayed a particularly late ESC intervention a number of times on test, especially over gravel where we rated it as the worst.
Its lack of dynamic prowess is compensated by a well-packaged and practical interior with quality touchpoints. A quite lovely flat-bottomed, leather-wrapped steering wheel features clear controls, and the instrument cluster contains a neat colour display showing driving data and a digital speed readout (unlike the Suzuki Vitara) between the speedometer and tacho.
Thereís a commanding driving position and the ride quality is fairly supple, even with four adults on board. Those sitting in the back are also well catered for in terms of space, with decent leg and head room, as well as space to tuck in feet, but something that may annoy taller people is the low-mounted seat base which has knees waving about in space. Plus, while road noise is mostly kept in check, thereís a degree of reverberation in the second row which can grate on longer drives.
The rear pews arenít quite as luxurious as those up front, either. The door cards are hard and the black plastic door handles arenít the nicest to use. Thereís also a gaping hole in the centre console bin where rear air vents would reside in higher-spec variants.
The infotainment system on our base Nissan struggled to connect to a phone through Bluetooth and the system itself is far from the most intuitive of this group thanks to clumsy menus and poor graphics.
While the Qashqai is not as cleverly packaged as the Honda HR-V, thereís no shortage of space. The boot which is a capacious 430 litres - one of the largest in this segment.
Considering its $29,490 spend, itís hard to excuse some of the Qashqaiís weaker points, such as the infotainment, and the drive it offers is not sufficiently engaging to compensate. However, its roomy interior and the bold statement its external dimensions make on-road ensure it retains appeal as an ownership proposition.
Model Nissan Qashqai ST