The car industry is in a headlong rush to embrace an electric future.
We’ve got some brands declaring they will scrap combustion engines within six years, others announcing plans for dozens of EVs this decade and even supercar and luxury brands swapping pistons for plugs.
Yet, while other brands are all-in on pure electric by the end of the decade, Nissan is hedging its bets slightly. It says that by 2030 it will be a 100% electrified brand and by 2030 it will launch 15 new electrified models in Europe but hasn’t given any indication of how that will split between pure EVs and hybrids.
Some of those - such as the Ariya and new X-Trail e-Power - we know about, others are yet to be announced. But among the first cars under Nissan’s new Ambition 2030 strategy are two very different hybrids.
Arriving in summer 2022, the Juke hybrid is a full “self-charging” hybrid that shares its platform and drivetrain with the Renault Captur. The hybrid brings a 25% increase in power to 143bhp and a 20% reduction in emissions at the same time as the model gets some subtle design and spec upgrades.
The Qashqai e-Power is a different beast and, according to Nissan “the one that will make the difference”.
Rather than a traditional hybrid arrangement where the electric motor supplements the main drive engine, the Qashqai’s wheels are driven by an electric motor which draws its energy from a petrol motor used as a generator. Nissan says this approach offers the refinement, smoothness and response of an EV but without the worry of having to charge.
It believes the Qashqai e-Power will be a key stepping stone in drivers moving away from combustion engines to all-electric powertrains.
Given the impact the Qashqai has had on the car market, it’s easy to imagine just how big a role this car might have in a shift in driver attitude.
The e-Power drivetrain is already in use in Japan but has been thoroughly overhauled for the more demanding roads and drivers of Europe.
The 95kW electric drive motor found in Japan’s Note and Kicks has been replaced with a 140kW unit - equivalent to 187bhp. And in place of the naturally aspirated 1.2-litre, the Qashqai uses a 1.5-litre turbo engine with variable compression technology that automatically adjusts to offer power or economy-oriented performance.
Power for the engine/generator is up from 83bhp to 156bhp and the 1.5-litre produces 243lb ft torque - none of which, remember, is sent directly to the wheels. Everything the engine does is in service of the electric motor and 1.85kWh battery.
Economy and emissions are yet to be finalised but estimated at 53.3mpg and 119g/km - both significantly better than the existing petrol-only version.
As with the Ariya prototype, my time with the Qashqai e-Power was limited to a pre-production model on a circuit-based route designed to simulate low-speed urban driving and higher-speed A-roads and motorways.
At low speed, the electric motor feels pretty responsive and smooth and, when the engine does fire up it’s fairly unobtrusive. However, under harder throttle there is often a hesitation as you wait for the engine’s input and it’s not as linear as a pure EV. It’s also nowhere near as refined. Accelerating from 30mph to 60mph, for example, prompts a lot of coarse noise as the engine thrashes away to generate the electricity to power the motor. Nissan says it has tuned the setup to have a linear feel but there’s a hint of bad CVT about the noise.
Deal with the noise and performance from the 187bhp motor is pretty decent - certainly more lively than the current 1.3-litre petrol - but, based on my short time with the car, handling is still not the Qashqai’s strongest suit.
Realistically, a proper test of the hybrid’s abilities and handling will need to wait until we can try it on proper roads among other traffic.
Elsewhere the Qashqai is largely the same - impressively spacious, comfortable and practical, although no longer class-leading. A redesigned grille signifies that this is a hybrid and in the neatly arranged cabin there’s a new 12.3-inch touchscreen with an improved user interface. Non-hybrid cars will eventually get this upgrade as well.
The Qashqai is a massively important car in the UK landscape and this unusual hybrid has the potential to be equally significant. We’ll just need to wait for more time behind the wheel and some guidance on price to see how it stacks up against the competition.
Nissan Qashqai e-Power prototype
Price: TBC Engine: 1.5-litre, three-cylinder, turbo petrol with 140kW electric motor; Power: 187bhp Torque: 243lb ft; Transmission: Single-speed, front-wheel-drive; Top speed: TBC; 0-62mph: TBC; Economy: 53.3mpg (subject to homologation); CO2 emissions: 119g/km (subject to homologation)