Nissan’s British-built Qashqai takes tech-first stance for 3rd-generation
Working from a premise of ‘building excitement’ into its immensely popular mid-size SUV, writes Iain Robertson, Nissan has gone tech-happy and engineering-wise in ways that will add assurance and consumer worth to its promised value champion.
Snapped on the north Pennine’s hilly, challenging but accessible back-doubles, on a trial route familiar to the Sunderland-based factory test drivers, a better than mere ‘sneak preview’ is being provided for the model that became unwittingly Nissan’s ‘cash-cow’. In 2007, at the original Spanish press launch of the tongue-twisting newcomer, Nissan was uncharacteristically unsure about the real potential of its ‘new’ class of family car. The new compact Juke, while on the drawing board, was still three years away from production and the larger trend-setting X-Trail was enjoying steady sales. Qashqai was a middle-ground novelty.
Despite a bullish target of 100,000 annual registrations, nearly twice that quantity was in demand and Nissan Sunderland needed to regauge most of its forward planning. Qashqai was unusual in the class for offering a predominantly front-wheel drive platform, with 4WD option available at the top end of the range. The brand was continuing to set trends and was instrumental in forging the crossover market segment.
The first-generation lasted for seven years, before the itch to replace it became unbearable. The second-generation was swoopier, more organic and adventurous in style and was becoming the default SUV for Millennials, selling as strongly and dependably as the original version. Nissan continued to be surprised by the consumer response but its confidence was growing consistently. Qashqai had earned its stripes.
Due next year, the much revised model is a technological tour de force, with huge attention directed at its flat-floor construction, the combination of high-strength steel, aluminium and bonding techniques and the introduction of electric, not engine-driven wheels on its first hybrid offering. Although not visible on these hastily snapped and disguised images, aerodynamic efficacy has been drawn to the fore, along with adopting a key weight-saving policy.
This is Nissan’s first application of the CMF-C platform that represents state-of-the-art structural integrity. Retaining the ‘right-size’ approach is vital to the five-door family model. However, the greater use of lightweight materials and both welding and ‘gluing’ techniques to increase strength, while slashing kerbweight, are crucial. The composite hatchback door, for instance, saves 2.6kg. Apart from increasing tensile rigidity by 41% and, thus, inherent strength, structural bonding has been applied where the A-, B- and C-pillars join the roof and floor-pan. The front and rear doors, front wings and bonnet are produced from aluminium, saving 21kg over the out-going Qashqai. In fact the overall savings amount to 60kgs in a significantly stronger structure.
Refinement levels, fluent ride quality and improved responses, allied to enhanced security (should it be crashed) are tangible benefits. An updated, vertically aligned Macpherson strut suspension set-up features at both front and rear of the car. Front-wheel drive Qashqais, running up to 19.0-inch diameter wheels, feature a torsion beam rear axle. For 20s and all-wheel drive versions, a multi-link set-up is applied. Further changes made to the electrically assisted steering improve centring, feedback and overall fluency at the helm.
Two versions of the low-CO2 and economical 1.3-litre turbo-petrol engine with mild hybrid technology will be available. Nissan is already an acknowledged pioneer in electrified drive systems and an innovative e-POWER electric motor-driven system will herald responsible performance, without range concerns. Only a 12v system, the hybrid relies on a separate lithium battery mounted under the floor, with a belt driven generator that harvests braking energy, which is used to extend the ‘stop:start’ duration, allows coasting but also provides acceleration torque support.
Efficiency gains come from the aforementioned flat floor that ensures smoother airflow beneath the car, while an active grille shutter only opens when the engine requires cooling. The front-end design of Qashqai also generates an ‘air curtain’ that directs air flow smoothly and reduces the drag generated by the front wheels.
Nissan’s e-POWER system offers full electric motor drive, meaning that the wheels are driven by the electric motor. This first deployment of the system includes a high-output battery and a powertrain integrated with the petrol engine, power generator, inverter and the electric motor. In conventional hybrids, the wheels are driven by the electric motor and a petrol engine. In the e-POWER system, the petrol engine is not connected to the wheels, as it only charges the battery, but unlike a full EV the power source is the engine, rather than just the battery. Contrasted with other hybrids, the electric motor is similar to that of a pure EV, which translates into instant acceleration responses preferred by EV customers. The engine-driven generator maintains the battery charge but can also provide electricity directly to the motor for additional power. The engine operates at an optimal rev-range promoting fuel efficiency, while being tuned to minimise noise and provide a natural, connected feel during hard acceleration.
As you might imagine, with Nissan’s commitment to autonomous driving technology, the range of upgradable ADAS is extensive. Distance cruise, lane-keeping and road-sign recognition work alongside semi-autonomous braking, acceleration and steering inputs. Extending the use of sensors and both radar and cameras to provide 360-degree protection are all part of the much-vaunted Pro-Pilot package developed by Nissan.
While the final specifications and packaging, as well as exterior and interior design cues will be forthcoming over the next few weeks, one of the key improvements has been made to the LED lighting arrays at both ends of the Qashqai. While multi-module LED units have featured on Qashqai since the outset, a fresh and standardised intelligent headlamp system that avoids oncoming dazzling of other road-users, as well as auto-dimming and long-distance illumination benefits, adds to a wealth of enhanced technology to improve the model’s future prospects.
Conclusion: Despite Renault’s dominance in the strategic alliance with Nissan, the Japanese and British carmaker has been playing a conservative game that has been largely fruitful. The Sunderland plant is renowned for its adherence to high-quality and dependability standards and Qashqai buyers can continue to feel confident in their model choices.