New Honda HR-V vs Nissan Qashqai
The growing family SUV class found its genesis in the Nissan Qashqai, but now the latest evolution faces pressure from the new Honda HR-V...
NEW Honda HR-V i-MMD eCVT Advance Style
List price £31,660
Target price £31,660
It’s moved up a class in terms of size, plus the latest HR-V offers sleek looks and hybrid power
Nissan Qashqai 1.3 DiG-T MH 158 Tekna+ Xtronic
List price £36,575
Target price £33,860
Tested here in automatic form, the third-generation Qashqai promises to be the most practical yet
You don't use a search engine, you Google, and you don’t vacuum your floor, you Hoover (or possibly Dyson) it. Yes, occasionally a service or product is so successful that it becomes a verb.
Similarly, certain cars end up transcending their brands. For example, a manufacturer might think it’s produced a new family SUV, but to the rest of the world it’s launching a new Nissan Qashqai, regardless of whether or not the brand in question is Nissan. So, how can a rival break this curse?
Well, it’s not enough to simply mimic the benchmark; you need to find a way to stand out. And the new Honda HR-V looks like it has the potential to do just that.
Not only is it strikingly styled and quite a bit bigger than its predecessor, but it’s available exclusively with hybrid power, so it promises to be unusually cheap to run. Okay, it’s not exactly cheap to buy in the range-topping form that we’re testing here, but it comes well equipped to compensate.
To test its mettle, we’ve lined the HR-V up against the Qashqai itself – specifically the new, third-generation version, with the more powerful of the two petrol engines it’s available with and an automatic gearbox. Once again, we’ve gone for the top trim.
So, does the latest Qashqai have a unique selling point of its own beyond the greater brand recognition it enjoys? And which of these cars better deserves to be a household name? Let’s find out.
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
The hybrid system in the HR-V is one that doesn’t require you to plug in and charge up. This is obviously good news for convenience, and still allows you to run on pure electric power for much of the time in stop-start traffic. However, it also means that on quieter or faster roads, it isn’t long before the 1.5-litre petrol engine needs to join the party.
Unfortunately, when it does and you try to accelerate even gently, the experience isn’t what you’d call relaxing. The engine starts revving hard and sounds horribly coarse, almost as though you’re stuck in first gear, although in reality the engine is acting as a generator and trying to ensure that the electric motors have enough juice. You also feel vibrations through the pedals and steering wheel, and none of this subsides until you reach your intended speed.
By contrast, the turbocharged 1.3-litre petrol unit in the Qashqai remains smooth and relatively muted at all times. It’s possibly helped by the fact that its starter motor can act as a generator, capturing energy that would otherwise be lost when slowing down, before using this to reduce the strain on the engine when you put your foot down.
However, the bigger reason is that while the Qashqai comes with a type of automatic gearbox – called a CVT – that you’d think would make it buzz in the same manic way as the HR-V, it actually does a good impression of a conventional auto, keeping revs to a sensible level unless you put your foot down hard.
As a bonus, the Qashqai’s gearbox disguises the lack of low-down oomph that’s all too obvious when you combine the same engine with the manual alternative. In fact, the Qashqai is a stronger performer than the HR-V, whether you’re accelerating away from a standstill or looking to build speed on the move.
This isn’t such a surprise when you consider that it produces more power and torque than the HR-V. But what might come as a shock is that the Qashqai is often the quieter car when you’re driving at town speeds, even though it can’t run solely on electric power in the way that the HR-V can.
The reason is that the HR-V lets in more road and suspension noise. Meanwhile, on the motorway, these unwanted sounds continue to be more intrusive than they are in the Qashqai and are joined by quite a bit of wind noise from around the windscreen pillars.
More positively, the HR-V has soft suspension that allows it to waft along pleasantly most of the time, taking the sting out of lumps and bumps in the road surface slightly better than the Qashqai. However, you pay for this cushiness with a less settled feel on motorways and undulating roads.
The Honda HR-V also leans over more dramatically than the Qashqai in bends, but while it’s not remotely sporty, the handling feels safe and predictable, thanks to accurate steering that weights up in a natural, progressive way.
By contrast, the Qashqai’s steering feels a little too light to begin with, then gains weight suddenly and excessively when you turn the wheel beyond a certain point. This doesn’t stop the car from gripping the road gamely, but you don’t trust it as instinctively as you do its rival.
As compensation, the Nissan Qashqai offers superior stopping power. In our tests, it needed 1.4 metres less road to stop from 30mph and 3.6 metres less to pull up from 70mph. In both situations, that could be the difference between a close call and an accident, although each car is equipped with automatic emergency braking (AEB) to try to prevent you from running into other road users.
Next: What are they like inside? >>
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