If there’s one car that has grasped the high-riding nettle, it’s the Nissan Qashqai. The jacked-up family hatch is the original family crossover and, while it’s no longer the default choice in this sector, a great-value price, generous equipment and smart looks still mean it’s a force to be reckoned with. For evidence of this, you only have to look at the UK sales charts – it’s the sole vehicle from this segment to make it into the top 10.
It’s easy to see why buyers have embraced it. The car in our pictures is a lowly Visia model, but the n-tec version tested looks even better, with larger wheels, dark-tinted windows and classy roof rails. It also appears much less fussy than the glitzy DS4.
Inside, the differences are equally stark – and they’re mostly down to the Nissan’s lower price and more dated roots. You won’t find the kind of glossy high-class plastics that identify the Citroen. There’s also a simplicity to its design that is alien to the DS4. But what it lacks in material quality, the Qashqai makes up for with equipment and space. In n-tec trim, a user-friendly touchscreen sat-nav system, iPod connectivity and Bluetooth are all standard. And the £22,695 Nissan is £255 cheaper in the first place.
Family buyers will be more concerned about the DS4’s impracticality, rather than any lack of kit. The model is well specified, with Bluetooth and part-leather upholstery fitted as standard, but no amount of gadgetry can disguise its shortcomings as a family car.
Put simply, if you intend to carry rear passengers on a regular basis, the Qashqai wins hands down, as the DS4’s narrow back door openings and fixed rear windows are a real pain. In other respects, there’s less to worry about. The Citroen’s 385-litre boot isn’t much smaller than the Nissan’s 410-litre load bay.
From behind the wheel, there are some key differences beyond interior quality and specification. If you want a coupé-like experience, the Citroen is sure to appeal. Its raked windscreen, narrow side windows and black rooflining create a sporty ambience inside.
In contrast, the Qashqai feels similar to a conventional hatchback, with a lighter cabin and bigger glass area. This provides obvious benefits, as visibility is greatly improved, making it easier to manoeuvre the Nissan in tight spaces – regardless of the rear parking sensors fitted to both cars.
Get away from the confines of a car park, and the Citroen begins to make more sense.
Sharper handling helps to distinguish it from the Qashqai. With an extra 13bhp and 20Nm of torque, it’s faster than the Nissan, but this in itself isn’t significant – both cars feel lively on the move, and we preferred the smoother power delivery of the Qashqai’s 2.0-litre diesel engine.
Instead, the DS4 stands out with the way it tackles bends. The taller Nissan’s softer suspension is good for low-speed comfort, yet the Citroen is more composed at high speeds and suffers from less body roll in corners. As a result, it feels more agile than its rival, while its stronger grip inspires greater confidence on B-roads.
However, the same problems that afflicted the DS4 in its test against the Golf grate here. The slack gearshift and over-sensitive brakes let it down, while the ride is firm around town, where the car thumps and bumps over small surface imperfections and potholes.
Keen drivers will enjoy the Citroen more on twisty roads – and it’s a superior mile-muncher – but the Qashqai is far from unruly and a better choice if you rank comfort ahead of sportiness.
At the pumps, there was little to separate our duo. The Ds4 had the edge by 1.1mpg, with a decent return on test of 37.9mpg. It also emits less CO2 – the 134g/km figure makes the 155g/km Qashqai look filthy, and means the Japanese car is a more expensive choice for business users. Will this be critical in the final analysis?
WHY: The Qashqai was the only crossover to make the UK top 10 best-sellers list last year. It looks stylish and is good to drive.