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MOTORING: Nomad of the roads.

WHILE the great 4x4 debate continues to rumble on, some car makers have been busy varying their tactics.

One such operator is Nissan, which has embarked upon a scheme to replace the ageing Almera with a trio of niche models aimed at different sectors of the UK market.

First up for this exercise was the Nissan Note, a surprisingly roomy mini MPV-cum-supermini and, while a standard small hatchback has been pencilled into the grand plan for next year, now comes the Nissan Qashqai.

It is a tidy looker which combines small hatchback practicality with the high-rise styling of the compact 4x4.

As VW looked to a Middle East Bedouin tribe when naming its most recent 4x4 Touareg, so Nissan's Qashqai connection has its roots in the name of a South West Iranian nomadic desert tribe.

However, while Qashqai stands in an imposing fashion on the tarmac, looking every inch a handsomely sleek yet compact Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV), the newcomer is very much a crossover vehicle, coming with a choice of two-wheel-drive and switchable four-wheel drive systems.

There is a choice of two petrol engines, 1.6-litre 113bhp and two-litre 138bhp, and diesels feature the Renault-sourced 1.5-litre 104bhp with a more powerful two-litre 148bhp oil-burner due in June.

Visia, Acenta and Tenka are the names Nissan has chosen for the Qashqai's trim grades and they offer some generous levels of standard kit, the likes of air con, electric windows all round, fourspeaker sound system with CD player, drive computer, glovebox cooler and Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity all being included at entry level.

Also coming as standard on all models is ABS braking with Brake Assist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, plus front, side and curtain airbags.

Options include a panoramic glass sunroof, while rear-view reversing cameras could prove a sound investment to those who find parking in today's tight spaces not the easiest of skills.

The Qashqai is smaller than a typical compact SUV, taking up no more road space than a Ford Focus but, thanks to styling similarities with its larger Nissan Murano stablemate, the Qashqai still looks assertive and, while perhaps not quite as roomy in the rear as some rivals due in part to the intrusive transmission tunnel, there are plenty of storage places.

The Qashqai is available either as a two or four wheel drive vehicle, and it is the former which Nissan expects to account for some 70% of sales.

The 1.6-litre petrol version comes with a five-speed manual gear change and it performs in satisfactory fashion.

Using its 113bhp to good effect, 0-62mph comes in an agreeable 12 seconds while around 50mpg is possible.

Nissan plans to produce some 100,000 Qashqai models a year from its UK factory in Sunderland with around 15,000 earmarked for UK showrooms.

Prices start from pounds 13,499 for the front wheel drive Visia 1.6 petrol model, rising through pounds 15,999 for the two-litre front wheel drive petrol, topping out at pounds 17,599 for the 4x4 version and the 1.5dCI will open up at pounds 14,649.

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A tidy looker - the new Nissan Qashqai
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 4, 2007
Words:524
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