Design Story: Nissan Qashqai

The Qashqai has been a remarkable success story for Nissan, becoming the best selling vehicle in the European lineup and redefining people’s notion of the family car. Blending the aspects of a station wagon with an SUV, the Qashqai was also responsible for creating a new vehicle typology.

So how do you redesign a car that created one of the most successful and popular segments in recent motoring history?

“The inspiration was three-fold,” says Shiro Nakamura, Nissan’s chief creative officer, of the three core values for the new Qashqai. “‘Athletic agility’, ‘smart premium’ and ‘in control’ are themes that run through every element of the design. This car represents several years of dedicated work.”

Shiro Nakamura oversaw the design process which, as with the first generation Qashqai, took place at Nissan Design Europe (NDE). The Japanese company’s London, UK-based design studio is run by Design Director Taisuke Nakamura (no relation), and employs roughly 65 creatives.

Athletic Agility
Drawing on Nissan’s crossover family DNA, the 2014 Qashqai’s key element design lies in its wheel-to-body ratio and its proportions.

“We opted to change the wheelarch volumes to accentuate the car’s strength and confidence,” explains NDE’s Design Excellence Manager, Darryl Scriven. “By creating longer window lines we were able to add a little more mass around the wheels. We wanted to use the middle of the body as a connector to link the four corners and a shape that would be more athletic. A wheel-oriented design such as this shows more power and protection and suggests that the car has a proud, inner strength.”

The relationship between the upper and lower sections of the hood was another area where Nissan’s design team invested considerable time and expertise. “There’s now a lot more movement in the lower part of the body with less of a contrast between the two sections,” explains Scriven. “Take the rear bumper, for example. The first-generation car had a fairly simple overrider look while the new car has a more sophisticated diffuser-style design. We’ve given the protective parts a more premium feel.”

But the new Qashqai not only had to look more upscale, it also had to display some of the voluminous surfacing that’s becoming a characteristic of recent Nissan production cars and concepts.

“We’ve added more emotion to the car. There’s more movement on the surfaces and a clearer definition of volumes,” says Taisuke Nakamura, NDE’s Design Director. “We wanted to make the new Qashqai more modern and I’m confident that we have achieved that goal.

“Look at the front quarter and you can see the contrast of dynamic volumes and very sharp graphics of the headlamps and radiator grille. The V motion grille leads into the bonnet sculpture to stretch the dynamic motion from the grille towards the A-pillar. This contrasts with the fluid body and dynamic shapes.”

The roofline has also undergone a complete redesign, as Scriven explains: “[It’s] a ‘faster’ roofline than the first-generation car. It drops towards the rear of the car and we’ve extended the line with a long overhang. This enhances the feeling of speed and agility and gives the new Qashqai a more dynamic look.”

Sketch of the 2014 Nissan Qashqai

Smart Premium
From the interior materials and controls to the exterior details, every area has been designed to make full use of available technologies. These were established at the start of the design process, enabling the team at NDE to integrate all the key features into the car.

“Technology doesn’t have a specific form or shape,” explains Taisuke Nakamura. “To express technology in the exterior design was a big challenge for us. Everyone has a different impression about technology, so how do you this through styling?”

The LED headlamps are one example of how Nissan integrated advanced technology into the new Qashqai’s design. “We initially started out wanting to use the same bezel as the standard light. But we didn’t think it showcased the technology as well as it could do,” says Scriven. “We completely redesigned the bezel for the LED headlight. It’s a beautiful element of the car with some incredibly complex geometric lines and shapes.”

Nakamura’s team also worked hard to develop the Qashqai’s premium feel with a range of styling devices usually found on more expensive luxury models. But as with the Qashqai’s technology features, the team was passionate about integrating them into the design at an early stage.

“Premium touches such as chrome trim around the windows were part of the design from the start. You can’t just add these at the end and hope it looks premium,” says Scriven. “Details are the key to the premium feel. Look at the panel gaps and areas where three panels with different materials meet. These processes take a very long time to perfect, but the difference to the finished car is massive.”

One particular area where the design team invested considerable time is the clamshell hood — a highly complex pressing that presented Nissan’s engineering and manufacturing teams with a number of challenges.

“The panel gaps you get with a clamshell bonnet are three dimensional and were very hard to get it right,” Scriven recalls. “We could have taken the easy option of having a flat bonnet with just two dimensional panel gaps, but that didn’t give us the premium feel we were looking for. It was a huge task for the engineers, but the end result is incredible.”

In Control
Control is a theme that runs throughout the new Qashqai’s design. From the driver-focused interior and seating position to the exterior design, every element has been crafted to give owners and passengers a feeling of security.

“To create a feeling of security purely with design is difficult, so it was a real challenge for us at the start,” explains Taisuke Nakamura. “We knew from early in the process that we wanted to increase the wheel size. Designing the car with larger wheels emphasizes the feeling of driving capability, and that imparts a sense of security with the driver. We really pushed for this at the start.”

As a result, Tekna versions of the new Qashqai are fitted with 19-inch alloy wheels as standard.

To further enhance the confident personality of the new car, key details such as the front and rear lights came under intense design scrutiny, as Scriven explains: “We wanted the Qashqai to be instantly recognizable at a distance — whatever the lighting conditions. The rear combilamp and headlight follows the boomerang design theme — a core element of Nissan’s new design language, which gives sharp impression by adding clear direction for the illumination. With so many others competing in this area of the market, you need a powerful visual signature that works day and night.”

Giving Qashqai passengers a feeling of control and security inside was another priority for NDE’s design team.

“The main instrument panel is a major element of the new design,” explains Nakamara. “Visually, it expands the width of the cockpit and flows into the door design. This creates a focus point at the center for all the important displays and makes passengers feel protected by the car. To emphasize this feeling of protection, the lower section of the dashboard features padded panels, along with additional pads on the center console for the knees.”

The runaway success of the Qashqai has spawned many competitors vying for a piece of the crossover segment, but it is still the pioneer. This second generation will certainly prove that in the sales charts.


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