After months of teaser pics, impressive marketing campaigns and a pre Christmas unveil at Dublin’s RDS, the new Nissan Qashqai is finally available on Irish roads. We were lucky enough to get a recent invite to view the Nissan Sunderland plant and more importantly the birthplace of the all-new Qashqai. After this we would get a first drive opportunity to see how the new Qashai stacks up. The new sport utility vehicle has been created by the experts at Nissan Design Europe in London, along with Nissans Technical Centre Europe based in both Cranfield and Barcelona. Today I will see a Qashqai assembled in the Sunderland plant and learn what it takes to replace the worlds best selling SUV. On entry to the Nissan plant we are blown away by the vast acreage and sheer scale of what is now the UK’s largest plant. Over 7000 employees work here both on Qashqai, Leaf and soon a new Infinity. Billions have been invested in this state of the art facility and when the doors open it’s nothing short of jaw dropping. After the 15 tonne rolls of steel which are delivered in bulk daily are pressed into the various body panels the car moves on to a body shop for door fitment and spraying.
After this the conveyor brings the shell into the assembly area where we are today to be fettled by a team of highly skilled individuals that work in harmony with the robots. The factory started out producing just 3000 Nissan Bluebirds a year but now churns out 10,000 Qashqai’s a week. Over 500,000 units will be made this year and shipped out to 132 markets worldwide. This means there is a Nissan Qashqai rolling off the production line every 61 seconds. The ironic thing is, it probably still wont be enough with demand out numbering supply every year. Each step of the build process is met with a methodical approach and timing is everything. For example I watched two guys fit a dash in 3 seconds before the next guys fitted the entire wiring loom in 15 seconds. The precision is hard to believe unless you actually get to see it first hand. After the 40-minute tour we attended numerous presentations detailing facts and figures.
For Ireland pricing will start at just €24,495 for the entry level 1.2 Petrol and will go up to €34,495 for the range topping 1.6 Diesel SVE 4×4. There are 3 engine variations available including 1.2 Petrol, 1.5 Diesel and 1.6 Diesel as well as 3 grade levels XE, SV and SVE. The new Qashqai range will also offer a new 1.6 Diesel CVT, 1.6 Diesel 4×4 option and on top of the 1.2 Petrol and 1.5 Diesel manual. Nissan Irelands initial expectations are that the 1.5 Diesel SV will be the strongest selling model. The optional extras that we mentioned in our preview piece before Christmas include a safety pack with Safety Shield. This system has traffic sign recognition, high beam assist, lane departure warning & autonomous emergency breaking. Front and rear parking sensors along with an automatic dimming rear view mirror are also included. Next on the list of boxes to tick must be the Nissan Connect Pack. This generation 2 version has a 7-inch touch screen display with rear view camera and digital audio broadcast. I can’t imagine the interior without this screen, as it looks so good! Finally you can beef up your safety further with the Driver Assist Pack, which adds blind spot warning, moving object detection & fatigue alert. It also has a trick intelligent parking assist to help you in those difficult situations. Add to this all the usual refinements you would expect from a modern SUV and you pretty much have the perfect cockpit for any journey. Once I had digested the various specifications and options I was given the keys for my first test-drive. My route would take me out of Sunderland, over the Yorkshire Dales and motorway bound to Leeds Bradford to fly home. I got a manual 1.5 Diesel SV and set off on my route. My first impressions were good if not somewhat familiar. It took me no time to get used to the Qashqai and I felt right at home in minutes.
Everything is within easy reach, well positioned and it just felt right. This in effect is a testament to Nissan’s intuitive design and user-friendly approach to car manufacturing. The 1.5 Diesel engine produces 150 horsepower and feels perfect regardless of what incline you ask it to climb. The 6-speed manual feels tight and perfectly spaced on the flat surface although on sharp inclines be prepared to drop a couple of gears to keep the turbo on song. Through the twisties of Yorkshire the Qashqai feels surefooted and planted. Some of its predecessor’s body roll issues have been eliminated and confidence is inspired at the input of any direction change. I clocked up just shy of 200 kilometers and thankfully I have nothing concerning to report. Will the 1.2 Petrol perform as good? I’m not sure but we will endeavor to get an Irish test in the near future. For now I can do nothing but confirm that Nissan have made the best SUV even better.[table “164” not found /]