Several of Wheels’ more pragmatic journos have, over the years, written at length about how the steady increase in wheel size (and corresponding drop in tyre sidewall) is buggering ride quality. Designers start their sketches with massive wheels filling the arches, while product planners and marketing types are only too happy to see big wheels on the options list, and fitted to cars in the showroom to sex up the offering.
Machine-finished 19s and Continental rubber (below right) raised visuals and grip levels, but hated sharp edges and broken bitumen
I’M LOATH to admit that some slightly colourful adjectives have been slung at the Qashqai in its last few weeks. Trust me, I don’t feel good about it. The three-month ownership experience of this top-spec petrol Ti model has been largely very positive, so I do feel a bit harsh and churlish after I’ve muttered a few choice expletives in its general direction.
A large part of the issue is the main thoroughfare between my place on Sydney’s northern beaches and the city. It’s possibly one of the most annoying roads in existence since the driveway to Kyle Sandiland’s place was completed, and there’s no escaping its clutches. It’s built from concrete slabs joined by expansion gaps, most of which have shifted and subsided over the years. It takes any car with marginal ride quality and turns it into a jolting, bump-thumping impact box that makes you curse the road builders who’ve clearly never been to Germany, the car’s suspension engineers (see sidebar, above) and pretty much anyone else in earshot.
Part of my frustration stems from the fact that the base-model diesel Qashqai I spent the first three months in surfed over this road with well-isolated ease, blotting up the sharp edges with muted thuds that never intruded into the cabin. It rolled on 17-inch wheels with chubby 65-aspect sidewalls. This top-spec Ti, as I’ve previously mentioned, runs 19-inch 45-series Continentals, and they’re clearly a step too far for anyone who regularly drives on anything short of billiard-table roads. They also give the car a more heavy-footed feel, as if there’s extra unsprung weight hanging off each corner, and the suspension struggles to keep up over any stretch of lumpy and patched bitumen taken at suburban speeds.
The result is an incessant jiggling, hammering and steering shimmying that can be both intrusive and irritating, yet not evident on the base-model’s 17s.
But enough moaning, because in just about all other areas, the Qashqai slotted into the family-hauler role sweetly. The atmo 2.0-litre is not torque-rich compared to the oppositions’ turbos, but sensible gearing and the CVT managed to harness what it had, and me and my battered licence points rarely found ourselves screaming for more grunt.
Likewise, the packaging proved near perfect for my needs. With rear seats folded and the front passenger’s seat moved slightly forward, it swallowed my bicycle with no wheel removal required, and there was still ample room for an oversized gear bag and the usual other bits of crap I carry over the weekend. The vast panorama roof’s blind was always requested to be open when my teenage daughter and her friends rode back there, with the consensus that it made the space, “like, way more airy… and stuff.” Even if bright sunlight did impact on the legibility of her smartphone, which now appears to be fused to the palm of her hand via an operation I don’t remember being told about.
The Qashqai’s slated replacement is a Hyundai Tucson, in diesel Highlander trim, no doubt promising lower consumption than the petrol Nissan, and hopefully, less conflict issues with Pittwater Road.
Spare a thought for the suspension engineers who are expected to come up with a single spring and damper setting that works with tyre sidewalls ranging from bread-box high to liquorice strips. These days, wheel diameters on some small cars can start at 15-inch, and top out at 18. Similar story, larger sizes for SUVs, most of which spend their lives trundling around suburbs and cities, rarely getting pushed anywhere near the limits of adhesion. So yes, big wheels/low-profile rubber are a fashion accessory that really can take a toll on liveability.
Date acquired: August 2015 Price as tested: $35,490 This month: 789km @ 12.8L/100km Overall: 2109km @ 12.9L/100km Pric Ove