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The Qashqai replaces the Dualis in Australia. Different name but the same fundamental compact SUV concept. Now only available as a front-wheel drive and with five seats, the Qashqai offers more choice under the bonnet, where there is still a 2.0-litre petrol or 1.6-litre turbo-diesel engine. There are four specification grades, ranging from the entry-level $25,850 ST to the luxury $37,990 TL. That pricing is keen, and indicative of the high hopes Nissan has for the success of the Qashqai, which has been a big seller internationally.

Well, you can't say Nissan doesn't have a sense of humour. The new boss Richard Emery says it's got a vanilla image, so what happens at this week's launch of the Qashqai compact SUV? The journos are handed vanilla slices for morning tea.

That's funny.

More importantly we were also handed the keys to the new Qashqai and after a varied drive through Brisbane and its varied hinterlands, we can say this: It's no joke.

Which is just as well, because if Nissan does have a personality, it's mostly tied up in SUVs, accounting for 50 per cent of its Australian sales.

The Qashqai – pronounced 'kash kei' – replaces the Dualis in Australia, which was known as Qashqai everywhere else already. In the last couple of years of its Australian life, the British developed and built Dualis was accounting for around 1000 sales per month. That's not class-leading, but it's in the upper echelons, close enough to the likes of the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai ix35 and Subaru Forester to make its successful replacement important to Nissan's ongoing fortunes.

We've already gone into the details of the new Qashqai's pricing and specification here, it's new capped price scheduled service and culled lineup here, its freshly announced five star ANCAP rating and the debate over its safety equipment level here.

But to quickly reprise; Where there were eight Dualis variants, there are now six flavours of Qashqai. There is no longer all-wheel drive or seven-seat options, both of which now reside with slightly bigger brother X-TRAIL. So all Qashqais are front-wheel drive and five seats.

There is still a 2.0-litre petrol engine mated to either a six-speed manual or Xtronic CVT and there is also still a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel that is now tied exclusively to a CVT (was manual). Fuel economy is improved for the petrol, but is 0.4L/100km worse in the diesel at 4.9L1/00km.

The body and luggage space has grown from the Dualis five seater, but still undercuts the old +2. Kerb weights are roughly the same and the turning circle has grown.

There are four badges – ST and Ti for the petrol and TS and TL for the diesels. ST and TS are low grade, Ti and TL (should it be IT?) upper grade. Pricing starts at $25,850 for the petrol manual ST, rising to $37,990 for the TL diesel auto. Across the range there is very little dollar difference to Dualis. You'll pay $2640 extra for the CVT in the ST and $2500 extra in the Ti.

Compared to its rivals that pricing is keen and competitive.

Equipment highlights include alloy wheels (17s lower, 19s higher grade), LED DRLs, reversing camera, six airbags, Bluetooth, NissanConnect with access to apps for Facebook, Pandora and Google Online Search and idle stop-start (diesels). All bar ST get six-speaker audio, dual zone climate control and an intelligent key.

The two high-grades get sat-nav contained in a colour touch screen, leather trimmings, heated front seats, a powered driver's seat, LED headlights, a panoramic glass roof, roof rails and a series of high tech safety aids including an around view monitor and moving object detection.

There are eight colour options of which only two are standard. The spare tyre is a space saver.

More esoterically, we'd argue the Qashqai is an exterior styling step forward from its predecessor, retaining some lines – like the flattened wheel arches and rising window line – yet sharpened up in sync with Nissan's latest styling languages (see Pathfinder, X-TRAIL, new Murano etc).

We drove three different examples of the Qashqai; the ST manual and auto and the Ti. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Ti emerged as the driving favourite. The little diesel still pumps out 320Nm and that means it has the sort of mid-range response the 200Nm petrol engine lacks.

You lose some civility, because the diesel is noticeably louder, but it is still not intrusive. Tyre noise on the 19-inch rubber tends to be more noticeable once you are rolling.

The diesel also operates at its best between 2000 and 4000rpm, which means it doesn't sound stressed, or vibrate noticeably. Instead, you get pretty good punch for hill climbing and overtaking that the petrol engine lacks.

The idle stop/start works quite smoothly and a read-out in the instrument panel tells you how much CO2 isn't being pumped into the atmosphere each time the engine shuts down.

The Xtronic actually provides stepped changes – like an orthodox auto – during harder acceleration and that helps quell the intrusive droning CVTs can induce. When accelerating more gently, the CVT does its thing smoothly and quietly. With the diesel doing its best work at lower revs, this drivetrain combination is really terrific. And if it gets anywhere near its claimed fuel consumption in the real world, then economical too.

A shorter run in the auto ST showed the CVT worked well here too, it just had a less grunty engine to help it. The manual version had a nice and light change and a malleable clutch, but in auto fixated Australia it's hard to see too many buyers going for the cheapest option.

Unsurprisingly, the ST also looks and feels the cheapest inside. For instance it's the only model that misses out on piano black dashboard trim and the configurable cargo system, while rear-seat passengers miss out on seat pockets and an arm-rest. Actual space for passengers is good no matter which specification level, but younger kids will struggle to see out of the small rear windows.

The 430 litre boot will easily fit the week's shopping and rear seats that split 60:40 grow that space considerably.

The Ti certainly looks significantly more impressive inside, especially with its seven-inch colour monitor and leather accents. The front seats are comfortable, as is the steering wheel, which adjusts vertically and horizontally. But reversing vision is poor and the quality of some of the materials and the way they were plugged together leaves a little to be desired – and some obvious gaps.

Back on the road, the difference between the versions shod with 17-inch and 19-inch wheels and tyres is obvious. On the bigger wheels and taller tyres ride is slightly more forgiving and bodyroll a bit more pronounced. The Ti was shod with Continental Contisportcontact 225/45R19 rubber and there's no doubt they contributed to it feeling a more connected and responsive drive.

The Qashqai sits on a shorter version of the same new CMF (Common Module Family) architecture as the new X-TRAIL, which includes electric assist steering, MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link rear-end.

The steering can be set for normal or sport, the latter offering more weight but no more feel or response. A feature dubbed Active Trace Control claims to aid cornering by braking individual wheels. Another feature, Active Ride Control, claims to improve ride on undulating surfaces by applying brake and torque.

We'll take that under advisement, but certainly the Qashqai is a well tuned vehicle and is more dynamic than the X-TRAIL, which makes sense if you are trying to differentiate two similar vehicles competing in the same part of the market. You could even say the Qashqai has a bit more personality.

Indeed, the Qashqai is pretty convincing all-round. Certainly, its competence and keen pricing will be no laughing matter for Nissan's rivals.

2014 Nissan Qashqai ST Xtronic pricing and specifications:
Price: $28,490 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Output: 106W/200Nm
Transmission: CVT auto
Fuel: 6.9L/100km (combined)
CO2: 159g/km (combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP

Review Source: Nissan Qashqai 2014 Review -
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