By DAVID MILLER
Special to The Globe and Mail
Friday, January 19, 2018
FACEOFF SUBARU CROSSTREK VS. NISSAN QASHQAI
The subcompact crossover segment is thriving as Canadian consumers search for that extra height and clearance in their everyday ride. Since August, 2017, the segment's two biggest volume sellers are its latest all-new products: the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek and 2017 Nissan Qashqai.
Both offer up decent styling, interior comfort and familyhauling versatility, as well as a manual gearbox that aids in setting a low starting price point.
The Qashqai begins at $19,998, while the Crosstrek rings in at $23,695. That gap appears large, but when comparing apples to apples, the Qashqai AWD, with its automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) starts at $24,198 compared with $24,995 for the Crosstrek CVT - an ideal matchup for this faceoff.
2018 Subaru Crosstrek Limited with EyeSight package $34,920 (AS TESTED)
Engine: 2.0-litre, flat-four cylinder
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.8 city, 7.2 highway
Alternatives: Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Kia Soul, Mazda CX-3, Mini Countryman, Nissan Juke, Nissan Qashqai, Toyota C-HR
Subaru was involved in the subcompact crossover game before it became sexy. The Crosstrek - formerly known as the XV Crosstrek - is the second vehicle to be built on Subaru's new Global Platform. It essentially keeps the same silhouette with a long and wider stance, but more importantly, an accentuated rugged feel. Key additions include black side- and wheel-arch cladding, lower rocker panels, as well as sleeker LED hawkeye headlights and chrome accents for its signature hexagonal grille found at higher trim levels.
The Crosstrek's insides are a combination of style and function with neither one taking ownership. That's not a good or bad thing; it simply highlights a more conservative, but comforting interior. Its most striking feature is its leather seating with orange stitching found at the top-of-the-line trim. That orange stitching trickles down the trim line (minus the base) and is sewn on premium cloth, but when combined with dark grey leather, the Crosstrek takes on an elevated appearance. Front passengers will enjoy heated front seats and heated steering wheel, while travellers in the second row receive added legroom thanks to its wider makeup.
A 2.0-litre flat-four propels the Crosstrek that spits out 152 horsepower (up from 148) and 145 lb-ft of torque. Not a big change, but a new addition comes in the aforementioned standard six-speed manual gearbox to go along with the optional CVT. The CVT will take the majority of sales and offer up a smooth and quiet ride with adequate power geared toward better fuel economy. But, as with most in this category, the Crosstrek can get sluggish when going up in rev range to make a pass.
The combination of its all-wheel drive, brake-based torque vectoring and responsive steering provide a balanced ride without too much correction or vibration. A new addition for 2018 is Subaru's trademark X-Mode for some offroad action. By pressing the button situated near the gearshift, the Crosstrek is able to provide a lower gear setup, changes in throttle response, hill-descent control and heightened stability.
Subaru focused on improving tech features by adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard equipment to its 6.5inch or upper-tier 8-inch multimedia touch screen. Even though the touch screen doesn't look as dynamic as it could be, it's responsive and easy to use. A separate yet sleek secondary screen situated above tells the time, climate control and outside temperature. On upper trims, Subaru offers up some of the best safety technology in its signature EyeSight bundle and adds Reverse Automatic Braking that warns drivers of obstacles while reversing and will automatically apply the brakes when needed.
With its all-new design comes a wider, squared-off trunk for easier cargo entry. This will be especially helpful for golf bags and bicycles, which makes sense considering the Crosstrek is for that family with an active lifestyle.
The second row folds easily and flat for a total of 1,565 litres and 588 litres for just the trunk. In addition, there's a covered storage area under the floor.
The all-new 2018 Subaru Crosstrek improves on an already hot crossover commodity. With its rugged looks, added technology, handling prowess with standard AWD and off-road capabilities, the Crosstrek checks many boxes at a reasonable price that will resonate with both young families and first-time buyers.
2017 Nissan Qashqai SL AWD $34,283 (AS TESTED)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder
Transmission/drive: CVT/all-wheel (comes standard in FWD)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.1 city, 7.5 highway
Alternatives: Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Kia Soul, Mazda CX-3, Mini Countryman, Nissan Juke, Subaru Crosstrek, Toyota C-HR
The Nissan Qashqai is built on the same platform as its larger Rogue sibling and it doesn't deviate too much on style. Outside of its smaller frame, the Qashqai utilizes the same V-Motion chrome grille (albeit smaller), swept-back headlights and boomerang-shaped taillights. Its body adds character body creases for a little edge before hitting its curvy hatchback rear. The top-of-the-line SL trim adds roof rails to continue that sporty touch, but falls short of the mark by not having the height or sharpness found on the Crosstrek.
The Qashqai is well appointed with luxury treatments at higher trim levels. Passengers are treated to soft leather throughout, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and sunroof, but those touches whittle away as they always do in the base version. One luxury every Qashqai owner receives are heated front seats that will be a thankful pleasantry during those cold winter months. Both rows have comfortable seating minus the back middle with ample headroom, legroom and storage space, surprising for a subcompact with a sloping roofline.
Powering the Qashqai is the 2.0litre inline-four that produces 141 hp and 147 lb-ft of torque matched to either a standard sixspeed manual transmission or optional CVT. When looking at the numbers, there's not much difference from the Crosstrek (11 less horsepower and 1 less lb-ft of torque), but that gap appears evident on initial acceleration, which dulls the overall driving experience. That disappointment is made up for at cruising speeds by a smooth and stable ride without much road noise.
On city roads, the Qashqai is in its element with the ability to manoeuvre around narrow streets, make precise turns and successfully parallel park in small spaces.
Two infotainment choices are offered: a base five-inch colour screen and an upgraded seveninch touch screen. Neither represents what the modern buyer is looking for in responsiveness, graphics, or ingenuity, and is something Nissan should look to improve. Outside of heated front seats and a rear-view camera, a lot of top technology features are found in upper trims including a plethora of safety technology and an Intelligent Around-View Monitor that uses four cameras to create a 360-degree view, perfect for parallel or perpendicular parking.
The Qashqai's cargo capacity is larger than the Crosstrek with 643 L of trunk space and 1,730 L behind the first row. The only downside is that the second row doesn't fold fully flat creating an upper tilt that hopefully won't become too much of an inconvenience. A neat feature found on the mid-tier SV trim and up is a Divide-N-Hide cargo system that utilizes a flip-up panel to store and, like its title says, divide. This becomes very handy when storing electronic equipment, valuables or stressful liquid or frozen substances.
In a subcompact crossover segment that's continually gaining market share, the 2017 Nissan Qashqai provides one of the best value propositions without compromising on style, comfort, fuel economy and versatility.
When opting for the AWD option, the Qashqai loses a bit of that value and its performance comes in slightly below that of the Crosstrek. But power delivery isn't what this segment focuses on and a choice between the two or all the other options will come down to personal preference.
The Crosstrek and Qashqai both offer up decent styling, interior comfort and family-hauling versatility.
DAVID MILLER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL