Nissan Qashqai e-Power review: novel petrol-electric powertrain tested Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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First Drive

Nissan Qashqai e-Power review: novel petrol-electric powertrain tested

£40,980 when new
Published: 30 Jun 2022

The Qashqai is still pretty new, right?

Correct. The third-generation version of the car responsible for the whole crossover craze has been with us little over a year, but already there’s a new version. It’s arguably a version it should have launched with, being a pioneering take on hybrid technology that’ll almost immediately account for half of Qashqai sales.

The ‘e-Power’ suffix might suggest it’s a fully electric car, but the truth is a little more complex. The front wheels are powered solely by a 187bhp electric motor but the battery that feeds it isn’t fed by plugging the car in overnight, rather there’s a 155bhp, 1.5-litre petrol turbo engine in the traditional spot under the Qashqai’s bonnet acting as a generator, which you’ll feed in the usual way with gobsmackingly priced petrol.

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I’m guessing I don’t add the two numbers up...

Afraid not, no. This isn’t some unexpectedly hot crossover with a wild combined power output. The engine merely potters away in the background ensuring the 2.1kWh battery never runs dry, assisted by a variety of levels of regenerative braking to ensure you don’t pump fuel through the e-Power at the rate you do a normal Qashqai.

There’s some spectacularly nerdy numbers in that regard. Drive the car around in its stock D mode – just like you do a regular automatic – and you’ll benefit from 0.03g of engine braking when you’re off throttle, which is about what a ‘normal’ car offers. Slot the slightly weird gear selection lozenge down another notch, into B mode, and this rises significantly to 0.11g.

Press the e-Pedal button, making this almost a one-pedal car like a number of EVs, and you’ll up that to 0.2g. You’ll probably only want to use that in town, where it’s exceedingly handy in cut ‘n’ thrust traffic. Out on more open roads it’s simply too much engine braking for any real smoothness or flow.

What’s the zero-emission range?

Nissan doesn’t really quote a figure, rather suggesting that it’s a couple of miles on paper, but much further in reality. This is a powertrain that’s always adjusting its behaviour to your driving. The engine will run as little as possible, and in truth you’ll barely notice it when it does kick into life. Unless you’ve got one of the fancy power source graphics on the digital instrument display, that is. Active noise cancelling technology works a treat at muting the engine’s sound and it’d be very sudden and spirited acceleration that’d cut through it.

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Speaking of which, how fast is it?

Well, it’s the quickest Qashqai ever, for whatever that’s worth, with a 7.9sec 0-62mph time. All while offering 20 per cent better fuel economy and emissions than a stock, 1.3-litre Qashqai that’ll hit the industry’s accelerative benchmark at least a couple of seconds later. Mind, given the sheer amount of tech beneath the skin – Nissan slotting the powertrain’s complexities into every little hole it can find to avoid impacting passenger space in what’s ostensibly family transport – perhaps the key figures could do with being a bit more dramatic.

Claims of 119g/km of CO2 and 53.3mpg feel a touch underwhelming in the context of the effort that’s been funnelled into making this car work, but unlike the eye-boggling numbers quoted by most PHEVs they ought to at least be achievable.

So there’s no option to charge the battery from the mains?

Nissan is adamant it won’t do a plug-in hybrid, having concluded that customers don’t actually plug them in; they benefit from government cost incentives then drag around several hundred kilos of batteries for no real benefit, says its research.

“I’m not sure plug-in hybrids will last a lot longer,” Nissan Europe’s product strategy man Arnaud Charpentier says. “We decided not to go that way. It was quite a courageous decision if you look around at our competitors. For us, e-Power is a better solution that can also educate the customer ready for a full electric vehicle.”

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This acts like a stepping stone, then?

Precisely that. Nissan reckons Qashqai e-Power buyers will opt for a fully-electric car next time around. Which explains why this car operates like it does; with the engine relegated to being an extremely hushed background singer, the Qashqai e-Power is designed to feel like an electric car in all of its sensations bar the occasional chirrup of revs. Oh, and the whole ‘filling up with petrol’ thing.

The technology is proven in Japan, where the Note e-Power (which even got a Nismo variant) was a bestseller for years. Nissan’s thoroughly developed the system to suit the higher demands of European drivers and roads, though, including amping up the outputs of both motor and engine.

How does it feel?

It’s hushed. Smooth. And a doddle to potter around in, operating like a single-speed electric car and making it easy to conclude Nissan’s achieved what it set out to. It really does drive with the linearity and response of a full EV. As a keen driver you might know something is amiss between the soundtrack and what’s fizzing through your hands, bum and feet – when the engine does make itself known, its sound manages to match your acceleration while being tangibly detached from it – but a passenger wouldn’t question it and would likely assume this was any other hybrid car.

While car enthusiasts might geek out a little over the Qashqai’s relatively novel powertrain, though, they won’t have their face torn asunder grinning behind the wheel. It has around 200kg of extra weight over a standard Qashqai, and mostly slung over the front axle, so there have naturally been tweaks to the ride and handling to compensate.

This isn’t an area of the market dripping in driver appeal and the e-Power steers at least as well as the general crossover class standard, with the strongest brake regen actually helping you tuck its nose into corners quite nicely. The overwhelming feeling is of an effortless car that’ll bring stress-busting refinement to its bustling sector. Perhaps not as bold and disruptive as Nissan claims, but all the more relevant for it.

Anything else new I ought to know about?

You can tell an e-Power apart from purer petrol Qashqais by its sliver of glossy front grille. Climb inside and there are some model year updates for the model in general, including a bigger, more advanced central touchscreen – up from nine to 12.3 inches – which comes hooked up to both Alexa and Nissan’s own voice control. You can lock the car by asking Alexa and if you’ve got smart appliances at home, you can even control them on your commute back – getting the oven warmed up ready, perhaps.

How much is it?

Prices start at £32,950, and at all spec levels it’s around two grand more than an equivalently specced ‘normal’ Qashqai with an automatic gearbox. Given the extra performance and economy on offer, it feels like good value, and it’s probably safe to assume this’ll be more desirable second-hand, boosting its future value.

You do need to avoid the base spec for big digital displays, wireless phone connection and rear USBs (surely absolutely vital in family transport), though, while you’ll need one of the higher Tekna trims to start adding stuff like a head-up display and ProPilot self-driving bits, edging you closer to the £40k mark.

But expect this to do well. Nissan basically made the buying public fall in love with the crossover, and while the Qashqai remains the bestseller in its class in Britain – the country where it’s also designed and built – its maker claims competition from the car’s now 30-plus rivals is making it tougher than ever to hold top spot. If you’re keen to dip your toe into the world of EVs but have no ability to yet charge one, perhaps the ubiquitous Qashqai has just gained an increasingly vital USP.

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