Last month we drove the entry-level Qashqai 1.6 and the range-topping Qashqai 2.0 and found the 1.6 to be rather good and the 2.0 rather poor. I predicted that the 1.5 dCi would be a better engine than the 1.6 but that it wouldn't be worth the extra €2,700 diesel cost and you know what? I was wrong. The 1.5 dCi is a very good engine with lots of torque and great refinement economy but I still think I prefer the 1.6-litre, particularly in the context that most Qashqais will be used mostly on the school run and for nipping to the shops.
The 1.6-litre is a gutsy unit that's happy to give it's all from the moment you turn the key while the 1.5 dCi is more laid back, less willing to spool up at low RPM and better suited to distance driving and long commutes. The 1.5 dCi also has quite a narrow rev-range (nothing unusual in a diesel engine) but because the gearchange isn't brilliant it becomes work to get it up to speed whereas the 1.6-litre is up with the flow of traffic before you even grab third gear, allowing you to fumble your way through the rest of the 'box in your own time. Also, on cold mornings the 1.5 diesel is slow to warm (again, nothing new here- all diesel are slower to get up to temp) which means the cabin doesn't warm until the time you're back from the Sunday paper run while the petrol gets hotter faster. It's also quieter when you first fire it up, making it possible to sneak out for a late night trips to the pizzeria without arousing the young 'uns whereas the 1.5 dCi makes the usual, attention-grabbing diesel rattle until it's up to temperature.
On the open road the 1.5dCi is exceptional, zipping along at motorways speeds without ever needing to drop into the fifth to catch up with traffic or scale an incline. It's also outstandingly economical on long drives, though no less impressive on shorter drives, which is handy for busy parents and easier on the pocket too, to the tune of around €2 per 100 km (based on the average economy figures and the price of petrol and diesel according to the AA). Unfortunately, the price premium for owning a diesel is such that it would take 1.35 million kilometres to recoup the difference, making it a bit of a false economy if your goal is to save money. Even if it was the same price, I'd still go for the 1.6 anyway, I think. The 1.5 dCi is a better engine, but it’s not the engine that suits the Qashqai best.
Engine: 1.5-litre 4-cylinder turbo-diesel, 106 hp, 240 Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Acceleration: 0–100 km/h: 12.2 seconds
Top speed: 174 km/h
Economy: 5.4 L/100 km
CO2: 145 g/km
Boot Capacity: 410 litres
Weight: 1407 kg
Base Price: €29,195
Price as tested: €29,645
Verdict: Seat has done well to give the Leon FR its own personality, but in terms of style and dynamics VW wasn't going to alllow it top the mighty Golf GTi.