Off-roaders have gone from being the transport of farmers who needed something hardy to get around their land and occasionally drive into town, to being the machine of choice for families the country over. And the car leading this charge? That would be the Nissan Qashqai.

The Qashqai may not have been the first car to blend off-roader style and a raised driving experience with the price and driving characteristics of a typical medium hatchback – but it was the first car to truly grab the attention of car buyers after an affordable, more striking alternative to ordinary family cars.

Sitting near the top of the UK bestsellers list, the Qashqai has inspired a number of off-roader style crossovers and it competes against the recently launched (and closely related) Renault Kadjar along with the Kia Sportage, Hyundai ix35 and Volkswagen Tiguan. Other rivals include the Ford Kuga and Toyota RAV4.

What is it?

The Qashqai is a medium hatchback sized ‘crossover’, which boasts SUV-esque styling and a raised driving position, along with easy-to-drive handling. This five-seater family car is available with two frugal turbocharged petrol engines as well as a pair of diesel motors that return claimed economy of up to 74.3mpg for lower fuel bills.

Prices range from just over £18,500 for the entry-level Visia petrol model all the way up to a range-topping Tekna diesel for £28,910. Four-wheel drive is available on the more powerful diesel engine, while buyers can opt for an automatic ‘xtronic’ gearbox for the less powerful petrol motor and the more powerful diesel (in two-wheel drive form).

What is it like to drive?

We drove the more powerful 161bhp turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine in top-of-the-range Tekna trim. While many buyers may choose a diesel motor for a car like this, the 1.6-litre motor is more than punchy enough for most drivers – and saves you around £2,000 over the more powerful diesel, which offers slower performance but returns 14mpg more and costs £100 less in annual car tax bills.

Load the car up with passengers and luggage and this Qashqai is not quick, but with plenty of low down grunt, it doesn’t struggle unduly either. As a car targeted at families, the Qashqai places comfort far above roadholding. Even on the large 19-inch alloys standard on the model we tested the ride is relatively smooth, with light steering, a smooth gear change and easy-to-balance pedals making this a particularly easy-to-drive machine.

The downside to the soft suspension – and the car’s raised ride height – is that the Qashqai rolls around corners quite notably during faster driving, meaning that it won’t satisfy keen drivers. Though it doesn’t offer particularly high levels of grip, the Qashqai is perfectly safe under normal driving. The large tyres, however, do throw up a bit of noise on rough Tarmac, though overall refinement is very high, with engine and wind noise levels remaining low at speed.

What is it like inside?

Despite our car’s £25,000 price tag, the Qashqai offers a mix of leather upholstery, soft-touch materials at the top of the dashboard and plenty of cheap feeling plastic. In comparison, a mid-level Volkswagen Golf feels much more tactile and high quality. The media system also feels built to a price, with a small, low resolution screen and dated touchscreen sat nav interface.

The Qashqai offers a comfortable, high driving position, though the high bonnet and large rear pillars mean that visibility is flawed. Thankfully, the raft of parking sensors all round, reversing camera and media system display that shows obstacles around the car fitted to our test model mean that the Qashqai is mostly easy to place when parking.

Is it practical?

The Qashqai is relatively practical for smaller families, with adequate space across both rows of seats – and in the boot – considering its exterior dimensions. The rear seats, though, feel more suited to children, with a low seat base that doesn’t offer much leg support to adults and taller teenagers.

Despite this, there is sufficient space for those up to around six feet tall in the outer rear seats, though the middle seat is less comfortable for adults, with a hard seat back and reduced headroom. Meanwhile, the high set windows may mean that children can’t see out of the car, potentially inducing car sickness.

The boot is reasonably sized, with a deep section hidden underneath the boot floor, with several configurations for the two boards that make up the floor, in our test car.

Should I buy one?

Nissan’s compact off-roader is an immensely popular machine, though this is partly down to the car’s family-friendly image, high seating position and reasonable value rather than it standing head and shoulders above the competition. The Qashqai is comfortable enough – provided that you generally carry children in the back seats rather than adults – refined on the motorway and in petrol form it is relatively nippy and economical too.

However, £25,000 for our range-topping test car seems like a huge amount of money, considering the cheap feeling of many of the materials inside and the alternative cars available for the same price – though in Tekna trim the Nissan does include plenty of kit. £23,200 for the still well equipped n-tec model feels much more palatable.

If, though, you can live without the Qashqai’s 4×4-esque styling, conventional estate models offer much greater value and interior space along with better claimed fuel economy and performance. Go for the Skoda Octavia Estate 1.4 TSI 140 Elegance, for instance – yours for £21,365 – and you’ll get a substantially larger boot, more than 10 per cent higher claimed economy and cheaper annual car tax. High-specification petrol Volkswagen Golf Estate and Ford Focus Estate models are also available for just under £25,000, with both breaking the 50mpg mark, costing less in tax while offering sharper handling around corners and offering lower boot floors and greater boot volume – making them a more sensible option for most families than the Qashqai.

Don’t want to buy new? You can browse for a used Nissan Qashqai in our classifieds here.

The facts

Nissan Qashqai 1.6 DiG-T 163 Tekna

List price: £25,300
Engine: 1.6-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Power: 161bhp
Top speed: 124mph
0-62mph: 8.9 seconds
Fuel economy: 37.2mpg (urban), 56.5mpg (extra-urban) 47.1mpg (combined)
Emissions: 138g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: Five-star

                Pictures: Nissan