Open up a tub of cheese footballs and pour yourself a glass of Lambrusco - there's an all-new 2014 Nissan Qashqai in town. Readers of PetrolBlog would be forgiven for being a little nonplused by this news, but with over two million Qashqais sold since its introduction in 2007, there's a good chance that someone in your office or a person in your street will either own or have owned a Qashqai at some point.
The Nissan Qashqai is arguably the antithesis of PetrolBlog. If subjected to the tried and tested PetrolBlog Score, it would possibly achieve the lowest score ever recorded on the site. So you may wonder why we were in Madrid for the launch of the 2014 Nissan Qashqai.
The Nissan Qashqai: a quite remarkable vehicle
Well like it or not, the Nissan Qashqai is a quite remarkable vehicle. A game changer, a pioneer and an unbridled success. Nissan took a real punt when launching the crossover in 2007. The firm had absolutely no idea if the thing would sell.
You need to remember, the Nissan Qashqai replaced the Almera - a car in serial decline. Cars like the Qashqai simply didn't exist. Practical types would have bought an estate car, an MPV or a 4x4. Nissan invented an entirely new sector, albeit a sector with a stupid name. Crossover, indeed.
But where Nissan led, others soon followed. Today, supermarket car parks are awash with crossovers. The Yeti, the Sportage, the CX-5, the Tiguan, the Kuga, etc, etc. You can easily spot them, as they tend to have a daft name on the back and will be the car most likely to leave a car park ding when parked alongside you.
The Nissan Qashqai may not be a car to set the pulse racing. And it will come as no shock to discover the new car is no more exciting than the last. But if you were Nissan, would you change a winning formula? You can't blame them for continuing to milk the Qashqai.
A series of small but significant improvements
Instead, Nissan has made a series of small but significant improvements in order to make the new Qashqai more appealing than the last. And it works, not least because the new car is significantly more attractive. It's a sharp looking thing. Maybe too familiar from certain angles, but you can blame the crowded sector for that.
It immediately feels like a more premium product. The doors shut with a reassuring thud and the key touchpoints feel reassuringly expensive. The handles, buttons and switches are built to survive a lifetime of unforgiving treatment. Perceived quality and longevity are two areas where the new car scores highly over the old one.
It's spacious, too. Nissan has made the car 47mm longer and 20mm wider than before, helping to increase knee and legroom. By lowering the roofline by 15mm to improve aerodynamics, Nissan has restricted the amount of headroom in the back, but for children, which - let's face it - is what the back seats are aimed at, it's fine.
There's just enough room in the back for three adults, but the middle seat passenger is likely to find the lack of seat support tough going on long trips, not to mention the feeling of being cramped between two other people.
On the plus side, the amount of space in the boot has increased by 20 litres to a total of 430 litres. And the Luggage Board System - which essentially creates segments within the boot, along with a reversible shelf for wet or dry use - is pitched perfectly for this sector. It comes as standard on the Acenta trim upwards.
Taking the long way home simply isn't an option
All credible stuff, but not exactly in keeping with the PetrolBlog spirit. But then that's not really the point of cars like the Qashqai. These vehicles exist for people for whom driving is more of a chore than a pleasure. Taking the long way home simply isn't an option.
A Nissan Qashqai is fundamentally aimed at people who like to get from A to B in the quickest and least stressful means possible. If a car looks good, is priced well, has the right amount of toys and is easy to drive, then it'll do just fine. Just like the dishwasher, washing machine and fridge.
Yes, it's hard to believe some people don't love cars and driving as much as you, but the dramatic growth of the C-segment crossover sector, combined with the fact that year-on-year, sales of the Qashqai are still growing, suggests there's a huge appetite for such vehicles.
Nissan has ditched the plain Jane styling
And the Qashqai has the potential to continue leaving the others trailing in its wake. By ditching the Plain Jane, almost Tonka Toy styling of its predecessor, in favour of a sharper and more dramatic approach, Nissan has ensured that existing owners will be tempted back into the dealership for an upgrade.
Naturally, Nissan ensured the launch cars were presented in the most appealing colours and in the more desirable trim levels, so it's almost certain that the base spec Qashqai Visia - which does without the likes of alloy wheels, fog lights, privacy glass and roof rails - will look nowhere near as good as the cars tested in Madrid.
Nissan told PetrolBlog that the new Qashqai was developed in order to flatter the driving skills of the typical buyer. Crossover fans tend not to be interested in steering feel, throttle response and a sweet-shifting gearbox.
With this in mind, Nissan has developed a new Chassis Control system, available across the range. Active Ride Control uses subtle braking to keep the ride quality in check, whilst Active Trace Control acts like a limited slip differential, braking the inside wheel to improve traction and stability.
It works. On Spanish roads - many of which were typical of a British B-road - the Qashqai was composed and settled through the tightest of bends, controlled over rough surfaces and - above all else - predictable. It's unlikely that anyone will get into trouble when driving a Qashqai.
Perfectly adequate performance
Not that the Qashqai's performance could tempt anyone into anything other than a brisk drive.
Three engines are available from launch, and PetrolBlog tested them all in Madrid. The 1.5-litre dCi diesel's trump card is its ability to return CO2 emissions of just 99 g/km. The new 1.6-litre dCi diesel offers greater torque and punch, at the expense of economy and emissions. Both are perfectly adequate, but can feel off the pace if you venture outside the engine's sweet spot.
Crucially, the 1.6-litre dCi is available with a really-rather-good CVT transmission. Nissan was keen to eradicate the 'rubber band' feeling of CVT 'boxes of old and by adding artificial steps to the transmission, Nissan has worked its magic. Sure, neither of the diesel engines are inspiring and the CVT transmission is nothing to get excited about. But we need to go back to the original point - there's no need for fireworks with the new car.
Perhaps predictably, PetrolBlog reckons the 1.2-litre DIG-T is the engine of choice. By producing a remarkable 113bhp and 190Nm of torque, the tiny petrol engine does an excellent job of hauling the relatively bulky car around.
The car feels less sluggish and more willing to entertain. Maybe it's because it demands more gear changes and a need to pay attention to overtaking manoeuvres and hills, therefore appealing more to the spirit of PetrolBlog. But for town driving and those who only do a limited amount of miles, it has to be the engine of choice.
Visia trim has the potential to feel rather ordinary
The trim level of choice? Well that would have to be either the Acenta Premium or the Tekna. The base spec Visia simply does without too many must-have options and has the potential to feel rather ordinary. Similarly, Acenta does without front and rear parking sensors, which - thanks to the Qashqai's limited rearward visibility - are essential options.
If you're opting for a car like the Nissan Qashqai, where practicality is positioned above all else, then a few luxuries are essential. Which is why the 19-inch alloys, panoramic glass roof and heated leather seats of the top-level Tekna trim appeal. Sadly the Park Assist unit seemed to involve a lot of faff compared to other systems on the market.
Tell your neighbour to buy a 2014 Nissan Qashqai
So in short, the new 2014 Nissan Qashqai is probably one of the best cars you could buy for family duties. It's British-designed, British-built, looks good, goes okay, is brilliantly executed and has the potential to deliver many, many years of satisfactory and unflinching motoring. So of course, it's of very limited interest to the good readers of PetrolBlog. Yes, both of you.
But if your neighbour does come round looking for advice on their next choice of family car, you could do a lot worse than recommend a new Nissan Qashqai. But only after you've suggested the Renault Avantime, Matra Rancho and Toyota Space Cruiser. There, that feels better, doesn't it?
Prices for the 2014 Nissan Qashqai start from £17,595. It's available to order from the 16th January 2014 from all good Nissan dealers. And some bad ones, too. For news on a potential 300hp Nissan Qashqai Nismo, click here.