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The longer, wider and lower new Qashqai has a well-balanced stance and a shape t<span class="truncate"><span class="truncate-preview">hat hints at a more <span class="truncate-full-screen">purposeful intent</span></span></span>

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Cabin materials are right up there with the best in class

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The exceptional ride and body control are key features

EVERY now and then a car comes along that is a game-changer for the manufacturer.

Notable recent examples are the Mini and Fiat 500 in the small car class, and Nissan Qashqai and Kia Sportage in the crossover category.

In fact, such was the original Qashqai’s success that global sales have continued to increase every year it’s been on sale, defying the expectations and predictions of experts everywhere. The problem is that there isn’t much room for improvement - in sales terms at least.

There were a few gripes with the car affectionately known as the Cash Cow, most notably the gutless petrol engine and perceived quality. Both of these issues, and many more besides, have been tackled in the new car.

The latest Qashqai looks nothing like the old one. Any first-generation model owners who appreciate familiarity when upgrading have preferred a less drastic stroke of the designer’s pen.

In the metal the longer, wider and lower new Qashqai has a well-balanced stance and a shape that hints at a more purposeful intent than before.

Nissan, no longer a maker of regular saloon cars, is gunning for all and sundry. Climbing into the driver’s seat you’re greeted by a more upmarket interior and the higher-spec N-Connecta model tested here is packed with kit, too. The leather steering wheel catches my eye, along with a seven-inch Nissan Connect touch screen for navigation and entertainment and the automatic air conditioning.

This cabin is a solid piece of design and layout, and the materials are right up there with the class best.

Seven engines are available, with two quiet diesels and a new, turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engine in place of the decidedly feeble old 1.6. The diesels, at 1.5 and 1.6 litres, are similar in character but here they use very different gearboxes.

In a rather clever move with the 1.6 diesel, Nissan has engineered its continually-variable automatic transmission (CVT) to simulate the ‘stepped’, linear behaviour of traditional gears under hard acceleration.

The engine itself, like its slightly smaller sibling, is amazingly quiet in normal use before high revs make it as rowdy as a bucket of piglets. The 1.5 actually has a slight edge in refinement after significant development, and with new gearing for its six-speed manual shift it sneaks down to a remarkable 99g/km of CO2 emissions. Performance is adequate rather than impressive.

The petrol engine is still slightly weak for this car. Its battle against tall gearing and weight, which although reduced by 40kg is still fairly high, is best fought in town and suburbs, where it copes well.

Practicality has taken a turn for the better, with more interior storage including a biblically large central bin between the front seats. The boot has a clever arrangement of panels that as standard flatten the load lip, but, with a quick switch, can stop your shopping sliding around or increase the overall boot capacity.

The new Qashqai is massively impressive in many areas, not least the exceptional ride and body control. The overriding feeling to take away from it is one of quality. It feels like the real deal, and it’s not a factor that the slightly underpowered engines can compromise.

It’s bigger than its key rivals, has more boot space and materials quality to match anything else for the money. The price is not cheap, but the goods are worth it.

l Nissan has also added a N-Vision version to the Qashqai line-up, priced from £23,790. The model builds on the N-Connecta specification with a panoramic glass roof with one-touch shade, satin silver roof rails, alcantara and graphite part leather trim, heated front seats and electric driver seat adjustment.