Howling at the moon

A rare chance to probe the limits brings a surprise

ASH WESTERMAN

A LUNAR eclipse occurs maybe a couple of times a year, which, according to my exhaustive research, is about the same frequency that the average enthusiast driver of an SUV may actually probe the dynamic envelope and see what the thing is capable of when hustled through a few corners.

And itís with a hung head and a rising sense of shame that I realise Iíve fallen into the same pattern. Itís not as if driving a midsize SUV has robbed me of the will to live; itís more that a bunch of disparate elements need to come into careful alignment before driving with any real enthusiasm can actually occur.

First, no kids on board. My daughter will soon be old enough to be riding around with 17-year-old blokes on P-plates, and my hyper-critical self doesnít want her thinking itís okay for any of them to drive like I (occasionally) do. Then thereís the Ďno unsecured cargoí clause, and ideally no partner. Weekend traffic and cyclists also tend to clutter up my preferred local roads, and public holidays are out because cops are likely to blast you with capsicum spray while they feed your licence through a shredder if they so much as get a sniff of any enjoyable driving going on.

So you can see how narrow the window can get. But after a recent pre-sunrise punt, what I learned about the Qashqai is that itís one of those SUVs that actually underpromises then over-delivers in the dynamics department.

Initial impressions suggest that the compliant ride and baggy 17-inch tyres may translate into a bit of a boaty-feeling chassis when heat is applied, but itís not the case. Body control is actually very good, and while the crisp, medium-weighted steering may not deliver the last word in feel, it does provide a decent sense of connection.

Even the diesel engine, which is no NVH genius at idle, starts to come good in the upper-mid range, pulling with all the enthusiasm its modest 320Nm can muster.

The only (slight) negatives are a bit of axle tramp and torque-steer out of tight or damp corners. Otherwise, this is an SUV that doesnít mind you treating it like a warm hatch, even if it only occurs once in a blue moon.

Rock blocked

THINK for a second how a good song sounds when played loud through a top-notch car audio system Ė searing guitar chords, a tight, punchy bass line, drums that deliver a visceral kick. Now forget all that good stuff, because you wonít find it in the Qashqai, at least in the base-spec models. The muddy-sounding, distortion-prone audio system appears to have been specced by beancounters who are AM-talkback enthusiasts, not music heads. So add Ďaudio upgradeí to Nissanís jobs list for the facelift.

NISSAN QASHQAI TS

Date acquired: April 2015 Price: $34,575 This month: 1422km @ 8.6L/100km Overall: 4112km @ 8.5L/100km

DIESEL DO

This is goodbye to the diesel engine because next month Iíll be stepping into the petrol version of the Qashqai for a few months