If you need a safe, efficient, comfortable and sensible family car, you’d struggle to come up with many reasons against buying a Volkswagen Golf. It’s the ultimate jack-of-all-trades vehicle that excels in many areas and lacks in almost none.
For every family with a Golf on their drive, there will soon be one with a Nissan Qashqai. The British-built SUV has been beating expectations ever since the first model was launched in 2006. The question is: which is right for you?
Each successive Golf generation gets styling refinements here and there, but all look handsome, if not particularly daring. There was no need for Volkswagen’s designers to go crazy though – with well over thirty million Golfs sold since the first cars hit showrooms in 1974 – there’s no point fiddling with such a well-proven formula.
The Qashqai, in contrast, has had to carve out a niche for itself in an already crowded market. The large front grille gets a prominent Nissan badge so its identity couldn’t be mistaken for anything else, while robust-looking plastic trim around the bumpers and wheel arches helps give it a slightly tougher look than the more subtle Golf.
The Golf sets something of a benchmark for interior quality in the family car class. From the materials used to the logical layout of the controls and the way everything is bolted together, nothing else can really top it at this price point.
Compliments must be given to Nissan though, because the Qashqai doesn’t fall far short of the VW in terms of build quality. Everything feels very sturdy so it can handle years of abuse.
The Qashqai’a extra height means it edges the Golf for interior space. The latter isn’t bad by any means, but the extra headroom is apparent, especially in the back. The higher seating position also makes it great for parents with small children – strapping young ones into child seats requires less of a stoop down than the Golf.
The Golf’s 380-litre boot – just above average for the class – is also topped by the Qashqai’s impressive 430-litre load bay. Both cars have plenty of cubby space for phones, wallets or travel sweets.
Both cars are likely to see use in towns, so it’s nice to see plenty of thought has been taken to make them easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces. The Volkswagen gets front and rear parking sensors on all but the most basic model, while the steering is light at town speeds. The Qashqai’s high driving position means the driver’s view is excellent, though the rear window is a little small. Fortunately, rear parking sensors, a reversing camera and around-view cameras are available, depending on your Qashqai’s spec.
The Golf is legendary for its almost inimitable mix of driving talents. It’s a fantastic car to drive, with superb refinement, stable and reassuring handling and a comfy, relaxing ride. It’s not quite as exciting as a Ford Focus but, for most families, it’s an ideal balance.
The Qashqai’s ride quality is the first thing that impressed you. It’s not only better than the Golf, but pretty much anything else in this sector, too. The tradeoff is handling that isn’t as sharp as some alternatives. How much this matters in in a family car, however, is up to the specific buyer.
If there’s one small criticism that can be levelled at the Qashqai, it’s that the engine lineup is fairly limited. Two petrols – a 115hp 1.2 and a 161hp 1.6-litre turbo – and two diesels are the only choices. The 110hp 1.5-litre diesel is impressive – in official fuel economy tests it returns 74.3mpg, while emissions are so low that it won’t cost a penny in road tax. For those looking for a little more power, the 1.6 diesel is the one to have. It also can be equipped with an automatic gearbox or four-wheel drive, if needs be.
When it comes to choice, the Golf is the one to go for. Even excluding the sporty models, buyers are offered a choice of four petrols, four diesels, a petrol/electric hybrid and a pure electric version. The most frugal 1.6-litre diesel returns a staggering 88.3mpg, while the 150hp 2.0-litre diesel not only matches the most economical Qashqai’s 74.3mpg figure, but reaches 62mph from rest in 8.6 seconds – almost three faster than the Nissan.
Value for money
Traditionally, Volkswagen has been able to demand slightly higher prices for the Golf than the class average, due to the higher levels of perceived quality found in many of its rivals. However, starting prices for equivalent models in the range are very similar – the entry level Qashqai is priced about £300 higher than the entry level five-door Golf, which performs similarly, but is more economical. Equipment levels are fairly similar at the bottom of the range, too, with the Nissan just edging the Volkswagen for features.
Choosing an overall winner is very tough indeed. Checking our comprehensive wowscores only makes it harder: the Qashqai edges the Golf’s 8.8 wowscore by just 0.1. Testers love the Nissan’s ride quality, solid build and family-friendly practicality but, in one or two areas, it can’t quite match the Golf.
The VW’s interior is first rate, the engine lineup is exhaustive and it’s slightly more fun to drive than the Qashqai, too. If the five-door doesn’t suit, then a sportier looking three-door is available (for £655 less than the five door) and a more roomy estate, too.
For those who require a little choice when it comes to car buying, it’s hard to beat the Golf. For those who like to keep things simple, while still buying one of the best all-rounders on the market today, then the Qashqai deserves serious consideration.