Quite often the cars I get to test are the top-of-the-range versions and it’s easy to be dazzled by the nice seats and extras and ignore important things, such as how the car drives.
Not that I’m complaining – it’s fantastic driving around brand new cars with all the bells and whistles. But it’s also nice when you get a base model and love it for the car it is.
A case in point is the new Nissan Qashqai, part of Nissan’s comprehensive SUV range that includes the Pathfinder and X-Trail.
The 2WD Qashqai doesn’t pretend to have the off-road credentials of the other two. It doesn’t even come in an AWD version.
Truth be told, it’s an overgrown hatchback, which is one of the most competitive segments of the Australian car market.
There’s myriad cars such as this on the market. They’re all reasonably fuel-efficient, versatile, practical and aesthetically pleasing.
So what separates the UK-built Qashqai (pronounced Cash-kye) from the rest of the compact-SUV crowd that I have driven?
For me it was the fact that it was really nice to drive It just felt right, from the seat height and forward vision to the responsiveness of the 2.0L petrol engine and feel of the gear stick.
I looked for any reason to go for a drive in it, which is what you really want from a car – all this in a little manual without sunroof, satellite navigation or powered leather seats.
That’s not to say the base model ST is a spartan copy of the Land Rover Mk1. It comes with smartphone integration, reverse camera, daytime running lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and electronic park brakes.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine with manual is reasonably fuel efficient – giving about 7.7 litres/per 100 kilometres combined, which isn’t too different from smaller cars with engines of the same size.
The interior, including the dashboard, is very similar to slightly bigger X-Trail.
The rear seat splits 60-40, creating a large cargo area. With the seats up, the 430-litre boot space is bigger than most of its competitors.
For an extra $7000, the TI version comes with a host of extras including panoramic glass roof, lane-departure warning, satellite navigation and the excellent Around-View blind-spot monitor. The TL has all those extra options but with a 1.6 litre diesel engine.
The Qashqai is a nice choice for anyone looking for SUV practicality and car-like performance.