Test Drive: 2017 Nissan Qashqai SL AWD

Rare is it that a car makes it to North America with as much fanfare as did the 2017 Nissan Qashqai. I specify “North America” because it’s a crossover (or is it a compact crossover? Don’t they have the Juke for that? And don’t they have the Rogue to fill just the regular “crossover” bill?) that has been available all over the world, and selling in droves in Europe. So much so that Nissan counts 2.5 million examples sold worldwide since 2007.

Nitro Lime! On a mass-market crossover! Car colour names will never be the same again!

With the massive success of the Rogue in North America – a car that shares so much of its engineering with the Qashqai – it was time to “Qashqai” in on that craze. Thing is, it’s only a “Qashqai” in Canada; in the US, it gets the “Rogue Sport” designation. Obviously, when a nameplate sells as well as “Rogue” does there, you want to ride that wave as much as possible.

It remains “Qashqai” here, though, either because Nissan knows we Canadians like a sexy-sounding name on our crossover’s tailgate, or because we tend to associate more with Europe, especially in Quebec. Okay, if not sexy-sounding, then different-sounding anyway: the Qashqai name comes from nomadic Persian tribes that exist in Iran to this day. How many compact crossovers they drive, however, we’re not sure. So we get the cool name, and pretty much everything else the ’Muricans get when it comes to features, paintjobs, and so forth.

Believe it or not, the paintjob on our particular tester is actually one of the more subdued examples Nissan offers, even though our “Caspian Blue” tester still offers a lot more to take in than the silvers, blacks, and greys we normally see associated with quick-turnover vehicles like this. If you really want to turn some heads, though, options like “Monarch Orange” and “Nitro Lime” – Nitro Lime! On a mass-market crossover! Car colour names will never be the same again! – may better fit the bill. Indeed, it’s a rare thing in this industry when the bright colours available for a car actually outnumber the standard black, grey, and white colour options, but with the Qashqai, they do.

It all speaks to Nissan positioning the Qashqai like a more youth-oriented take on the Rogue, which is available in just six colours for 2017, four of which are variations of those blacks, whites, and greys we talked about earlier.

The interior of our tester isn’t quite as exciting, but it is, surprisingly, finished in leather as standard on our Qashqai SL trim. That’s the highest of the three available AWD trims (S – $24,198, SV – $26,798 and SL – $29,498), though the big news in the discount section is the fact that front-wheel-drive-equipped Qashqais come in two trims and start at below $20 grand – sort of the Micra of the crossover world, then. To put that in perspective, the front-wheel-drive versions of the Hyundai Tucson start at $24,999, and the base Honda CR-V FWD starts at $26,890.

To get closer to the Qashqai’s price of entry when it comes to the competition, you have to move to the subcompact CUV class and the likes of the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3, both vehicles that are smaller than the Qashqai.

Ours being the top trim, however, means the addition of all sorts of goodies from leather seating, navigation and around-view monitor to exterior niceties like 19-inch wheels and fog lights. It’s a surprisingly upscale-looking thing, though I imagine most people will be looking to the SV trim once it comes to laying out their hard-earned, er, cash.

Add our tester’s Platinum option package and you’re as loaded as you can get, though I wonder how many will be going the Platinum route with the Qashqai. Its $2,700 is a pretty big chunk of change at this level, though it adds a whole heck of a lot of features including intelligent cruise, blind-spot warning system, rear cross-traffic alert and more. It would be nice if you could have some of the more commonly used features such as blind-spot warning or high-beam assist without having to opt for the entire package. Don’t get me wrong: all that other stuff is nice to have, but maybe not as expected at this level.

Perhaps it could be more like what they did with the infotainment content: with the SL, you get a bigger display (a 7-inch screen as opposed to the 5-inch display that comes as standard), six-speaker audio (also standard on SV trims), navigation and Sirius XM as standard. No need to opt for any additional packages here. Is it too much to ask for Nissan to have included a few more safety features without having to “go Platinum”?

As far as space is concerned, while the Qashqai is supposed to be the squatter, more compact version of the two Rogue siblings, you actually don’t lose more than a few millimetres of space when it comes to head- and legroom in both the first and second rows. Indeed, I didn’t find space to be an issue in either row, though I did find the driver’s seating position to be a little high, even though it is six-way power-adjustable on SL models. Wasn’t expecting that considering how compact the Qashqai looks on the outside. You do get a cool flat-bottomed steering wheel, though, which is pretty unexpected for a vehicle in this segment.

The real loss comes in the cargo capacity department, where you lose almost 40 percent of your cargo capacity behind upright rear seats when you move to the smaller vehicle. If you fold the second row seats, however, the situation isn’t quite as dire, as you only lose about 12 percent of your cargo capacity. Do wish there was a 40/20/40 fold option, however. When you’re working with less space in the first place, it would be nice to not have to lose an entire adult seat in order to fit hockey sticks or skis. It’s a 60/40 split here, though, no matter the trim.

What you do get that’s shared with the Rogue, however, is the Divide-N-Hide adjustable cargo bay floor. With it, you can fit smaller or flatter items below twin folding floor panels, with everything else on top. Yes, you lose a bit of height – which you have to be careful of thanks to the Qashqai’s steeply raked hatch – but play your cards right, and you should be able to fit a family of three’s worth of stuff in here. Wouldn’t look half bad with a nice, streamlined cargo box on its roof either, and all but the two base trims get roof rails as standard. The bottom line? If you’re willing to be creative, there’s a good amount of space in the Qashqai.

Actually, more so than that, the one thing I kept coming back to during my week with the car was that even though you do lose that cargo space, the Qashqai seems a bit of a storage champ in other ways. I’m a huge fan, for example, of the narrow storage cubby that sits between the armrest and cupholders; it’s perfect for wallets. Or, if you don’t want to use the somewhat hard-to-reach bin at the base of the centre stack for your cell phone – though it’s perfectly sized for that – you may be able to use said cubby for that, too. Does it eat a little into the surface area of the main storage bin? Perhaps, but that’s deep enough to make up for it and it will still hold plenty of goods. Everything – from your wares to your climate controls – are so within reach in the Qashqai, and that’s something that will never get old.

Like the Rogue, the Qashqai gets a four-cylinder naturally aspirated motor, albeit one that’s down 0.5 litres on the Rogue, to 2.0 litres flat. It’s good for 141 hp and 147 lb-ft of torque, down about 30 each on the Rogue. It’s also down a little on the Juke, whose turbocharged engine gives it a welcome boost in the power department, and brings it a little closer to hot-hatch territory than the Qashqai. Which, I’m sure if you ask Nissan, is kind of the idea.

At any rate, the Qashqai tips the scales about 200 lb lower – depending on spec – than the Rogue, so you won’t feel the power deficit quite so much. In fact, I’d say the Qashqai does feel the zippier of the two, even though power is fed to the wheels through the same continuously variable automatic as is found in the Rogue. Somehow, though, it feels a better fit here, even though there are no paddle shifters to speak of to help you pretend cogs are actually being shuffled. You can do so via the shift lever, but that’s just not quite the same, is it? One hundred percent of the power is fed to the fronts when cruising, and sent only to the rears on acceleration or while turning. You can, however, override all of that by pressing a button marked “AWD” mounted left of the wheel.

Also regarding the powertrain: I find it really surprising that Nissan is claiming 9.1 L/100 km in the city for the Qashqai. We drove 234 km – 120 of which were spent on the highway (Nissan claims 7.5 L/100 km here) – altogether and saw 14.5 L/100 km overall. Yes, the highway was an undulating mountain road and the weather was quite hot meaning we had the A/C running pretty high, but a five-litre gulf? That’s a little much. Then again, our car had less than 2,000 clicks on the odo, so perhaps a little more engine break-in is required.

While the power delivery was surprising for me, the handling was even more so. It has been developed to curb body lean over the Rogue, for a more nimble feel altogether. Slightly tuned suspension (over the Rogue) and a lower centre of gravity means it’s easy enough to thread through traffic and the like, although I’d have to say that a slightly firmer chassis and heavier steering would do a better job of justifying the Qashqai’s modus operandi, as well as that “Rogue Sport” name it gets down south.

Then again, the argument could easily be made that you have the Juke for that, and if an engaging drive is priority number-one on your punch list, you should go that way. With the Qashqai, I’m sure most will forfeit that sportiness for the ride, the packability of its small package, and the fact that it starts at such a tantalizingly low price. After all, how much power do you expect from a sub-$20,000 asking price, anyway? That’s what I thought.

2017 Nissan Qashqai SL AWD
Engine Displacement: 2.0
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 141 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Peak Torque: 147 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Fuel Economy: 9.1/7.5/8.4 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 648 L/1,730 L rear seats folded
2017 Nissan Qashqai SL AWD
Base Price $29,498
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,950
Price as Tested $34,383
Optional Equipment $2,835 – Platinum package (Intelligent cruise control, forward collision warning, auto emergency braking w/pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, intelligent lane intervention, high beam assist, LED headlights, NissanConnect roadside assistance) $2,700; Metallic paint $135
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.4
7 Styling
6 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
8 Practicality
7 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
6 Fuel Economy
7 Features
9 Value