Nissan banks on 1.2-litre version of its popular compact crossover to drive sales
Cashing in on the Qashqai Boasting a small, powerful engine in a decent-sized body, the Nissan Qashqai 1.2 has everything a Singapore car buyer would want. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Among Nissan's range of crossovers, the Qashqai is arguably the most attractive. It is neither offbeat like the Juke nor blobbish like the Murano.

Designed by Nissan's European styling studio, it has a Continental flavour that seems to withstand the passage of time better than most other Japanese designs.

And as history has proven time and again, a car tends to do well in the showroom if it is well designed.

Indeed, the Qashqai is one of Nissan's most successful models, even among its non-SUV line-up. It is so successful that other models are now being based on it. The new Nissan X-Trail is one such example.

In Singapore, the arrival of a 1.2-litre turbocharged variant will certainly drive up sales. The car has everything the heavily taxed Singapore car buyer would want: a small, powerful engine and a decent-sized body.

The latest iteration of the car is powered by a zesty road tax-friendly 1.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. It produces 115bhp at 4,500rpm and 165Nm of torque from 1,750rpm.

At the wheel, those figures make it very comparable with its normally aspirated 2-litre sibling, which has 144bhp from 6,000rpm and 200Nm from 4,400rpm. Not only that, the 2-litre car is 94kg heavier - the equivalent of two petite passengers.

So, you are getting a lot more accessible shove from low engine speeds and more meaningful acceleration all round on account of the lighter body.

Over a three-day test drive, the Qashqai 1.2 proves to be adequately nippy in everyday traffic. It surprises with a liveliness you would not think is possible with such a diminutive power plant, which pulls readily across the rev range. While its stated 0-100kmh timing is a leisurely 12.9 seconds, it does not feel so on most days.

It is only when real urgency is called for that the car's inadequacy surfaces. It is totally excusable, though. After all, such a small engine is usually employed in a far more compact car such as a Volkswagen Polo.

In the Qashqai, the engine's modest output is put to good use by a continuously variable transmission that is both efficient and entertaining.

The stepless gearbox mimics the characteristics of a conventional autobox rather closely. So you barely have to suffer the irritating whine that CVTs are known for.

It also helps that the car is fitted with cruise control, a frill you do not expect of an "entry-level" model. Nifty controls on the steering boss allow you to practically drive the Qashqai with your right thumb toggling between Cancel and Resume.

The car is fitted with other little luxuries, such as keyless access and ignition, electronic parking brake, dual- zone climate control, stop-start system and Nissan's Nasa-inspired "zero gravity" seats (said to offer fatigue-free drives over longer distances).

It is hard to say if the seats are responsible for how comfortable and complete the car feels - despite its rather European (read: hard) ride characteristics.

What I found especially endearing, though, are the car doors. They are light yet able to hold their position - no rebound or hinges sprung so hard you have to open the doors gingerly in a perpendicular parking space.

It may be a minor thing, but it shows how this rather modest model beats some premium cars in an aspect which users can appreciate day in and day out. No fanciful gadgets or sophisticated technology. Just plain, old-fashioned attention to detail.

On the whole, that is the other thing that impresses you about the Qashqai. It has a more-than-decent level of fit and finish. The refinement you see and feel in the cabin ties in nicely with the creditable drivetrain. Both certainly contribute to the Qashqai's attractiveness.