Nissan Qashqai

Nissan's Qashqai flagship is a competent all-rounder and the 4x4 transmission adds versatility and genuine off-road ability

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Every model in the Qashqai range is a great all-rounder, and this flagship is no exception. The 4x4 transmission adds versatility and rough-road ability to the Nissan's usual excellent package. However, few drivers will ever really need more traction than the front-drive chassis offers. Go for the two-wheel-drive version instead and save £1,600.

Part SUV, part compact family hatchback, Nissan's Qashqai is a jack of all trades - but is it really as tough as its butch styling suggests?

It all depends on the specification of the car you buy. If you want your Qashqai to have genuine rough-road credentials, you can opt for a version with the same 4x4 system as its brother, the latest X-Trail off-roader.

We've already fallen for the charms of Nissan's unconventional Ford Focus rival in its standard front-wheel-drive form. Now it's time to see if the car holds the same level of appeal in this 4x4 spec.

To prevent owners of front-wheel-drive Qashqais feeling upstaged, on-lookers are given no visual clues about how many of the wheels are powered. Without a single badge to distinguish the more costly 4x4 version from the standard car, one looks as chunky as the other.

Even once you're inside, a single knob is all that gives the away the 4x4's identity. Drivers can select one of three modes: 2WD, Auto and Lock. To maximise fuel economy, the first setting disengages the rear wheels altogether. Switch into Auto and the Qashqai will cleverly feed power to the rear when the front tyres struggle for grip. The Lock function forces power continuously to all four wheels for off-road driving.

During everyday motoring, the all-wheel-drive system rarely makes a discernable difference. Occasionally, when exiting tight corners, the switchable arrangement helps you avoid spinning an inside front wheel, but it's seldom called into play on the tarmac. Only if you tackle rough tracks on a regular basis will you experience the benefit of the 4x4 drivetrain.

Otherwise, the flagship Qashqai shares the strengths of lesser versions. While the steering feels over-assisted, the handling and body control are surprisingly impressive given the five-door car's tall stance. The ride quality is even better, smoothing out bumps around town and proving comfortable at motorway speeds.

With 148bhp, Nissan's 2.0-litre dCi powerplant delivers punchy acceleration. However, when coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission, it lacks refinement - the gearbox is reluctant to kick down and makes occasional jerky shifts. The cheaper manual is undoubtedly a better choice.

The car we drove came in range-topping Tekna guise, which left it wanting for little in terms of standard equipment. Sitting at the top of the range, this Qashqai's durable cabin has luxuries that are above and beyond what buyers in the compact family class will expect. Everything from leather trim to rear parking sensors is included - but there is a price to pay. In automatic 4x4 guise, the Qashqai Tekna costs £21,949, and for that you could drive the larger and more versatile X-Trail. Stick with the superior six-speed manual box and the luxurious all-wheel-drive Qashqai is yours for £20,849. Opt for front-wheel drive, however, and the price drops a further £1,600. Buyers after an automatic won't have that option, as the self-shifter is only available on 4x4 models.

Viewed as a distinctive alternative to the Ford Focus, the Qashqai makes most sense as a two-wheel-drive crossover model. If it's all-wheel drive you're seeking, the latest X-Trail is a better bet.

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