Blame the Nissan Qashqai for the end of the world

by Matt Master
23 May 2022 4 min read
Blame the Nissan Qashqai for the end of the world

We were blissfully unaware of a lot of terrible things in the late 1990s. Al Qaeda, Facebook, subprime mortgages, the multi-platinum boyband Blue, all of which had a significant destabilising effect on the western world for the next couple of decades. But atop this list still sits the real catalyst of our impending societal collapse, the single most damaging creation of the new millennium: the Nissan Qashqai.

Flashback again to the Nineties, a golden era for the motor car, when petrol was cheap, cylinders plentiful and microchips only really the concern of middle-aged men still living with their mums. These were the days of the McLaren F1, the Lamborghini Diablo and Ferrari F50. But also of the Renault Clio Williams, VR6 Golf and Subaru Impreza WRX STi. It was an age of ambition but also inclusivity; performance for all. And not a soft-roader in sight.

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Meanwhile, in a murky boardroom in the Parisian suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, Renault CEO and escapology enthusiast Carlos Ghosn was hatching a plan that would result, in a matter of a few short years, in a paradigm shift in automotive design, the effects of which would lay waste to the entire motoring landscape forevermore.

Renault had signed a partnership with Nissan with the objective of radically overhauling its tired European product portfolio. Initial attempts at creating another hatchback would soon be abandoned in favour of an entirely new concept: a compact pseudo-off roader. Project P32L aimed to offer the styling, presence and thereby cachet of a 4×4 within the footprint of a more conventional five-door hatch. Nonsense, clearly.

Nissan Qashqai concept 2004

What would become the Qashqai was first unveiled to an unsuspecting public at the 2004 Geneva Motor Show, daft enough with its suicide doors and cumbersome Noughties concept styling to fool us all into thinking there was no-way the newly formed Renault-Nissan Alliance would actually build it. Two years later, there it was.

The name Qashqai seemed like a joke at our expense. The Nissan Cashcow? And so it would prove to be. The Qashqai, whose name actually belongs to some Iranian nomads, quickly began to move with a mania Nissan’s rapidly revamped plant in Tyne and Wear could barely keep abreast of. There had been ‘compact crossovers’ before, such as the Toyota RAV4, but they didn’t capture the public imagination across Europe in the same way the Qashqai did. The first-generation model sold almost 1.25 million units in Europe alone in its seven-year life cycle. Ghosn and his cronies had played a blinder, and in the process not just opened but ripped the lid clean from the Pandora’s box.

The original Qashqai hit its insipid brief to perfection. It was economical, affordable, practical and boring, with no rational justification for its existence. And in that, it was also the progenitor of a curious epiphany that ordinary folk had not realised they were about to have. For what the Qashqai did was convince a world of unquestioning saloon and hatchback drivers that what they really needed in their lives was a boil-washed faux-by-four. Two decades later, it’s an idea that still hasn’t gone away, that has spread, virus-like, to preoccupy the minds of buyers and therefore designers for every major car manufacturer in the world.

The Qashqai was a sea-change for the worse. Like all SUVs/soft-roaders/whatever, its excessive mass and tall centre of gravity meant it handled hopelessly compared to the hatchbacks it failed to better in terms of practicality or, indeed, off-road ability. Fuel economy was also hampered by the increased weight and drag inherent in any such design. All it had in its favour was what motoring journalists quickly chose to refer to as a ‘commanding driving position’, meaning an extra inch or so of seat height and marginally improved forward visibility. That last, and the amorphous and highly debatable ‘desirability’ that came with such disingenuous off-road status, struck an inexplicable chord.

Nissan Qashqai profile

A groundswell of copycat product followed in the Qashqai’s wake, and with it a near-universal acceptance from Joe Public. The industry quickly dug in and every conceivable small and medium-sized hatchback was soon available with a jacked-up ride height, a stupid name and bigger price tag. There are too many to list today, besides which, every trunk road, residential street and car park attests to the fact. But Volkswagen serves as a useful exemplar, with the ascending scale of Taigo, T-Roc, T-Cross, Tiguan and Touareg, the meaningful difference between the first three only really determinable by clairvoyants and VW press officers.

Meanwhile, the saloon was quietly being put to the sword and even the ubiquitous city car earmarked for extinction. Ford of Europe announced in April of this year that it is dropping the three-door Fiesta, a car that has been keeping the regular British motorist moving for 45 years. What are people buying instead? You guessed it…

What the Qashqai did was land upon a winning formula that simultaneously ruined the car industry while deftly accelerating mankind’s premature demise. Creating a fashion for large, inefficient cars as the spectre of global warming morphed into climate change and a full-blown climate crisis, Nissan was running gleefully onto the fist of Fate. And everyone else simply followed suit.

Now in its third generation and grown unrecognisably from the dumpy little novelty act of 16 years ago, the Qashqai continues to shift hundreds of thousands of units worldwide each year as just another generic lifestyle statement alongside the scores of identikit products it has inspired. Today, SUVs account for roughly half of all car sales in Europe at precisely the moment when everything they represent – excessive size, consumption and emissions – has become plain wrong thinking.

The public gets what the public wants, and it wanted the Qashqai. But almost two decades in, this hollow edifice of style over substance has at best set the evolution of the car back for generations, at worst created an existential crisis from which it will never recover. With fuel in increasingly short and pricey supply, the appetite for internal combustion all but lost and the path to electrification effectively enshrined, the ubiquity of the SUV is as ridiculous as it real. Up a blind alley and running out of time to reverse, we have the Qashqai to thank.

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  • Simon Andrews says:

    Spot on Matt. Funny/True/Tragic.

  • J leyton says:

    Brilliant observation – although the (grammatically incorrect) Qashqai is outgunned in the absurdity stakes by the even smaller Juke (I can’t help but think there’s something telling in the name that mixes puke and joke)

  • Christopher Baglin says:

    I will stick up for the Qasqai- as boring as it is (and I’ve driven dozens) it is actually a very practical family car, unlike the even uglier Juke, which has little to recommend it (driven dozens of those too- I was a delivery driver for a company that had the UK demonstrator fleets for Nissan/Infiniti UK, Mazda UK and Vauxhall UK).

    Would I buy one? Hell no…

  • Brian Bremer says:

    Whist yes I drive an SUV, being Disabled I need space for my Mobility scooter and hoist. However I also drive a Mercedes ML 4X4, there’s no comparison to road behaviour and manners. The Mercedes may drink more fuel, but in difficult driving conditions the SUV has no chance.

  • Andrew says:

    I honestly don’t understand the use cases for which SUVs are better than estate cars. Are there many? Any?

    I almost have to hand it to the car industry on this one though, they’ve managed to persuade the majority of new car buyers into buying something dynamically worse than the proper car equivalent, for about 20% more cash. Bizarre behaviour.

  • Owen W says:

    Totally agree and often thought the same. Had one as a hire car once and it was dreadful (diesel auto). On pressing the accelerator at motorway speeds the noise levels increased materially but nothing much else happened. I’ve had to bite my tongue over the years though as a sibling bought one….. He redeemed himself by replacing it with a VRS!

  • Matt says:

    Brilliant piece!

  • Pierre Noir says:

    So glad to know I’m not the only one to think/feel this way.

    Very well-written; chapeau, Matt.

  • C says:

    One of the reasons for preferring a higher car is that is much easier to get babies and their seats in and out of them without killing your back, but maybe the writers of car reviews haven’t experienced that problem yet.

  • Andy Brown says:

    I have 2 must be good one for me and one for her

  • Laurence T says:

    Fantastic article. Sadly you neglect to mention how dangerous SUVs and CUVs are for pedestrians – a person hit by one is 2 to 3 times more likely to be killed than one hit by a car, a fact made more tragic by knowing that they don’t brake as well, either.
    The one justification I can think of for them is people with disabilities or old-age afflictions, but there are (or were) plenty of other vehicles that worked better for them. The Renault Modus, Ford Fusion, Honda Jazz etc. were all excellent for this and nowhere near as dangerous or inefficient as SUVs or CUVs are.
    Glad to see someone writing against this awful trend – most journalists seem to know which side their bread is buttered on, regardless of their actual feelings.

  • B dunster says:

    The new qashqai is very noisy becouse of the tyres and the sound system is so very bad ill neverget another qashqai.

  • William Phillips says:

    Had 2 Quasqui s happy with both petrol and diesel .. however the petrol car was auto and very unresponsive not powerful enough .. found out its belt driven gearbox … also seats not very comfortable .. wouldn’t buy another one

  • Angela says:

    Matt Master, what a depressing read.

  • Fotis says:

    Have ordered a Tekna automatic for next motabilty car. Had a test drive was very pleased with how it performed and in my opinion responded very well. Have owned 3 previous Qashqais and I found all 3 very reliable. Have owned saloons in the past but now find it much easier to get in and out of a higher vehicle as does my partner who is disabled.

  • Ap says:

    I own a Qashqai diesel 1.6 I get on average 5.2 liters per 100km which is better than most other cars. I probably achieve this as I normally drive at the speed limit which for some people and possibly this author a boring drive, and the reason we’re heading away from the Otto motor is because primarily of the VW scandal which involved not only SUVs but also small hatchbacks and saloons. And as an other commenter wrote an SUV is more likely to kill a pedestrian I disagree a youngster in a cheap hatchback is probably just as capable of that. The point is SUVs are to big they take up to much space blah blah it was only a few years ago they said almost the same about people, to big for aircraft to heavy must pay for two seats ect. Ect. Sounds like the same shakers moving on to the next group.

  • Chrissie says:

    I still have mine, had it 6yrs and its cost me dearly, MOT always needs something, approx £450 every year, unfortunately I need a high driving position being disabled only thing I can say it’s comfortable, but times up now looking for another car…

  • Andy porter says:

    I own a Qashqai diesel 1.6 I get on average 5.2 liters per 100km which is better than most other cars. I probably achieve this as I normally drive at the speed limit which for some people and possibly this author a boring drive, and the reason we’re heading away from the Otto motor is because primarily of the VW scandal which involved not only SUVs but also small hatchbacks and saloons. And as an other commenter wrote an SUV is more likely to kill a pedestrian I disagree a youngster in a cheap hatchback is probably just as capable of that. The point is SUVs are to big they take up to much space blah blah it was only a few years ago they said almost the same about people, to big for aircraft to heavy must pay for two seats ect. Ect. Sounds like the same shakers moving on to the next group.

  • Carroll BARHAM says:

    The rise of the ‘small’ 2WD SUV over a similarly-sized, usually bigger-booted saloon/hatch/estate is just another example of how unthinking/daft the ‘general public’ is. Just taking a look at the sort of people they vote into power is another.

  • John Colebrook says:

    The SUV provided 3 things in the public imagination. 1. They stop the bulling behavior of real 4×4 such as the range rovers and the big bread of pickup trucks.
    2. Owners feel they are safer.
    3. Status, it appears more expensive.

  • Trevor says:

    It also helped to kill off the MPV. Not sure if thus is a good thing or not…

  • Steve Love says:

    Sorry to disagree. Our 2018 Tucson has tons more space for our family needs, is the quietest, comfiest car we’ve ever owned, (that includes Volvos), is easy to drive and easier than any car or estate car to step into and get out of, for those of us with even the slightest of creaking joints. And it looks great. So there.

  • Peter JOHNS says:

    You have missed the key advantage – ease of entry and exit. I just don’t want to be crouching down and squirming my way into a low vehicle – and saloons seem to be getting lower and lower with silly faux coupé rooflines. The silliness for me, as a past owner of a Seat Alhambra, Toyota Verso and a VW Touran is that faux by fours have killed the MPV – they really DID offer practical advantages over the saloons and estates!

  • Andyj says:

    What has failed to be mentioned is that because euro crash side protection demands reinforcement at 40cm above the ground, it’s a lot easier to pass that test with the sill that high up, whereas in a non-SUV it requires reinforcement to the doors- which costs more & is not as easy to engineer.

  • Jon says:

    SUVs are for people who only want a car for transport and have lost all intrest in actually driving for fun, they are bought with the head and not the heart. I used to have a proper 4X4 i.e. A Land-Rover which could and did go off road through conditions which would break a SUV. The sooner these go out of fashion the better.

  • Mr Alan Cooper says:

    It’s not really ‘the public gets what the public wants’, it’s great marketing combined with the lemming effect where people follow the herd. No one is supposed to think outside of the box these days.

  • nr8209 says:

    Excellent article. I have more space and better economy in my 2012 Civic than my friend does in his new cashcow. Marketing created this monster as it generates more money for the auto companies. People are also bigger so feel they need a matching obese vehicle to drive.

  • David Hiddleston says:

    I don’t necessarily agree, but I love the way it’s written. Nice to find someone who can actually use the English language properly.

  • Richard Knock says:

    Well, I’ve had everything from Hillman Minx, 2 x Triumph Herald, through Morris Marina, 3 Volvo 340s, 2 Volvo estates, one Peugeot 3008 to what I now have, Volvo XC60, and SUV or not, this last one is the best. Best for access, load carrying, comfort, driving, even fuel economy, believe it or not! — and also for my ailing back.

  • Trevor says:

    The SUV has replaced the relatively short lived MPV. Will the SUV last? What would replace it? Who knows? Cars are subject to fad and fashions just like everything else. Loved the article BTW. Ease of access King among the reasons for the success of the MPV and SUV. MPVs had a sad-family-guy-mom image that helped to kill them off, even though they are far more practical than SUVs.

  • Martin Pedel says:

    Absolutely spot on. It looks horrible with its silly high arches and bulgy shiny bits.
    False 4×4 and totally good for nothing.
    Its the Gary Glitter of the car world

  • Richard Piper says:

    Matt Master of the word

  • bryan hammond says:

    bought Qashqai, real good deal at auction. very comfy and both in our seventies easy of access is brilliant , plenty of room , large boot, holds full size wheelchair, and surprise surprise wirh Renault diesel, 20 quid road fund licence and 60 mpg, no flying machine but plenty quick enough to get to Cornwall and back, without refuel, whats not to like?

  • Dudley Stringer says:

    Whatever were Nissan thinking, actually making a car that so many drivers wanted to buy? Ridiculous!

  • Dave says:

    I have a 1.25 18 plate techna absolutely love it. On a trip to Barnstable using all types of roads recorded 56.6 mpg not bad for a petrol. It’s how you drive them and by sticking to the speed limits. My only down side is trips to town where I get 21-23mpg that’s because it’s an automatic.

  • Paul says:

    Not sure the blame for this type of vehicle was the first to set the trend in this type of vehicle. We owned a Lexus RX300 in the late 90’s and it wasn’t much different from 2015 Qashqai.

  • Melvyn anthony Price says:

    Got a 360 cvt.
    Had it 18 months.
    Unlike Ford, BMW, Audi, and many others the QQ doesn’t allow you to learn how to do car repairs.
    Every make of cars I’ve had I had to learn how to fix them.
    This damned thing won’t break down.

  • Rob Turner says:

    I’ve had one of each generation and tbh I love them. The newest auto is much improved over the previous gen: no more lag from standing start.
    They aren’t the biggest, they aren’t the quickest, but they are comfortable, smooth and safe. In 12 years and 7/8 different cars I’ve had two breakdowns: one turbo pipe and one software update both fixed within 2 days.
    People need different cars for different lifestyles and Qashqai suits our family.

  • Alan Swannack says:

    Great piece. Certainly seems the public have lost interest in car design when you look at the plethora of SUV boxes on our streets (was it an industry plan to get us used to taller cars so they could put batteries in?).
    Sad to see the demise of that most useful of vehicles the MPV. Our Zafira A is 18 years old, carries 7 when needed, is a van when needed, yet is compact and with that high up driving position. My other car is a convertible and they seem to be disappearing too!

  • Nick Cook says:

    Had my automatic Qashqai for two years. Found it good and reliable but thirsty 25 mpg max. Sold it as both subframes were corroding and would have failed test next year. Car was previously owned by St Ives resident so lived in a salty atmosphere for first 3 years of its life.

  • Ian Treanor says:

    I dont like SUV styling. I dont like the Quashie as we had two as company runabouts in my last business ( Finance Director signed the lease when I wasnt looking)
    Personally I prefer my Alfa Romeo Giulia , a beautiful low , fast saloon, look at nearly 70 I need lower myself in carefully but once in , driving it is a joyous feeling

  • Simon Ludlow says:

    Having recently returned to the UK after living overseas for 20 years with no car, our driving experiences were solely with hire-cars on visits to the UK. We have observed the development of cars over that time as the cars we drove were all less than a year old often being baffled by new technology. Of those vehicles, the one that stood out as being the best was the Quasqai, so it was the one we bought on our return. It’s not attractive, but it handles well, is roomy, quiet, economical and reliable. Producing 160hp from a 1.2 litter engine, I get high 40s mpg figures.

  • Chris Parish says:

    I wish there was a good new MPV but unfortunately they’ve gone out of fashion so for 70 yr old arthritic me the SUV is the only option and the Qashqai seems the best one for me. It’s good on fuel, extremely comfortable, handles well, plenty of power. My only complaint is that the top of the range model I have has got stupid 20” low profile wheels

  • Ian Hopley says:

    So… Hang on… The Qashqai is bad, but somehow the Renault Espace that preceded it, was good? The latter, the safe, comfortable, commodious choice of the responsible family man, whilst the Qashqai is some kind of planet -destroying, mobile ego trip? What am I missing here? That was a well-written piece of witty journalism, but when you look at it, all you can really conclude, is that over a decade earlier, exactly the same cars were being made and motoring journalists were all over them like a rash. Another decade, a manufacturer takes pretty much the same thing, files the corners off, and gives it a different, 3-letter acronym, and all of a sudden, they’re the spawn of Satan himself?!

    Fickle bunch, motoring journalists…

  • Jonathan Quinn says:

    We have a qashqai as family car. You are right; it’s very dull. But it is practical, very economical (70mpg+indicated on a run), roomy. It has also been faultless in our 5 years (out of 8) and 80k miles of ownership. It has been the most cost effective vehicle we have ever owned. The new model isn’t such a bad car however the most popular option is a weedy petrol struggling for 30mpg!

  • Chris Boll says:

    I have had a Kia Sportage for 11 years, diesel AWD.
    I live high in a Chiltern village, every few years snow makes the main roads impassable, mainly due to blockage by folk who can’t drive.
    Four wheel drive allows me to use back lanes with confidence in such conditions, without fiddling with winter tyres. The big section tyres navigate potholes well, but I have had three broken springs, the only problem in 67000 miles.

  • Mel price says:

    I’m a pensioner. I’ve owned audi quattro’s, Mercedes, Jaguars. Now a qashqai 360 1.6 cvt petrol. Its disappointing in several ways. It does over 50mpg. Its really quiet because I use shell vpower. The damned thing has passed 3 mot’s with no advisories. I’ve had 3 oil changes and changed the cvt oil at 60,000 miles. Changed 2 air filters and 2 cabin filters.
    It’s never ending pay out pay out pay out. I’m waiting for the air freshener to give up I put in 3 months ago.
    I don’t know,,,,, cars huh!

  • Ken Mitchell says:

    Interesting that this so called ‘boring’ and ‘insipid’ car has spawned similar styles in virtually every car maker in the world.
    It is a ‘people’s car’ pure and simple and does not cost the earth unlike many cars owned and run by these so called experts.
    So get off your high horse and celebrate it for what it is rather than what it does not profess to be.

  • Alan Jackson says:

    I have a 2017 J11 1.5 l diesel, no VED and 60+ mpg.

  • Rob says:

    I’m.on 95000 with 1.5 automatic kadjar still going strong. Great value for money. Maybe the author likes cars like Alfa or BMW that break down at every roundabout, but look nice in his drive?

  • cc, says:

    probably the most accurate description of this car.
    the car industry is slowly sinking into poor taste and mediocrity.
    it is not entirely surprising, we’re Mc Donald is now part of the restaurant landscape, and is considered an acceptable mean of keeping your rectum in regular employment but not much else.
    where have the iconic cars of the past, full of niggles, but that created masses of incredible memories. the Golf, Peugeot GTI, the Alfa Romeo, Lancia cars? cars designed by proper engineers? not computers and accountants!
    one more step towards the lunacy of the electric cars!

  • Raymond Ellerton says:

    I am not a fan of modern cars with all the electronic gubbins, and especially SUV’s… they are big outside but cramped inside, estates are far more practical and better looking. And styling wise, they all look the same to me…do designers all copy each other? I will stick with my long and low Mondeo ST24 which is 23 years old and appreciating in value thanks..

  • Malcolm Black says:

    Blind leading the blind when the current trend for the SUV is analysed. Over weight and overpriced yet Ford kill off all their hatchback range, the world’s gone bonkers.

  • Brian O’Meara says:

    We seem to be forgetting the MPV in this thread the Picasso C max and scenics and all it’s other brethren had laid the saloon car to rest before the suv came along the suv was a progression from the suv I remember Renault putting spare wheels on the back of mpvs to make them look more rugged

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