With deep roots in the UK thanks to their manufacturing plant in Sunderland, Nissan car models are some of the most popular in the country.
Part of the reason for this is due to the staggering success of the Nissan Qashqai, the car that kickstarted the crossover-SUV trend in 2007. It exceeded sales of 45,000 in 2012 to make it the sixth best selling car in the UK that year.
A brief history of Nissan
Nissan can trace its history back to Kwaishinsha Motor Car Works which was founded in 1911. Having renamed and merged with a variety of competitors, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd incorporated in 1934 following expansion.
Having been making their famed Datsun throughout the various mergers, the company expanded into producing trucks and planes for the Japanese army with the advent of World War II. And like many Japanese manufacturers, after the conclusion of the war they found themselves in a rebuilding process. For Nissan this included partnering with various manufacturers to build their vehicles for them under license thanks to Nissan’s cutting-edge auto making technology.
Off the back of these agreements with the likes of Austin, Nissan began to expand worldwide by offering the Datsun line-up to fill a niche in both Australian and American markets. This proved to be a prescient move, as an oil crisis in the early 70s saw a trend for small economy cars leading to rapid expansion.
By the early 80s, Nissan had long been the best selling Japanese brand in Europe. To capitalise on this success and to overcome export tariffs and delivery costs to its European customers, a plant was built in Sunderland in 1986. This site was chosen due to its skilled workforce and its location near major ports, and by 2007 was actively producing over 400,000 vehicles per year which made it the highest producing plant in Europe.
A key member of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance – which sees cross-sharing of technologies and innovation between all parties – this has led to an increased focus on zero-emission vehicles, and in 2010 Nissan introduced the Leaf as the first mass-market all-electric vehicle launched globally.
The much maligned Nissan Micra underwent the most radical facelift since Joan Rivers when the fifth-gen model was released in 2016.
With a long-standing reputation for being generic, frumpy, and unadventurous, the latest generation of Micra had an uphill struggle to redefine perceptions. Five years into its lifespan now, it’s not exactly transformed the supermini segment but it has certainly succeeded in changing popular opinion about the Nissan car models.
Partly that’s down to the updated look and sporty handling which adds character to the car. Longer, lower and wider than before it verges on sporty albeit with the drivability traditional Micra drivers desire.
Stepping inside and you’ll see a step up in quality there too, with the cheap plastic dashboard of old replaced with leather or fabric depending on the spec.
All of the above improvements to the Nissan Micra have had a knock-on effect of helping the Nissan Leaf gain an even stronger foothold in the burgeoning electric vehicle market.
Just like the first-generation Nissan Leaf, it’s based on the Micra design and stylistically is a major departure from the previous model all the while offering value for money and engaging drivability.
With a range from 168 miles in the basic spec Acenta up to 239 miles for the e+, the Leaf is equipped with the latest Intelligent Driving technologies, including e-Pedal and ProPilot, to ensure you get every kW of charge out of it.
Practical and efficient, the Leaf was leader of the pack by default as it had no major challengers. But with the MG ZS EV, Kia e-Niro, and Hyundai Kona all released since this model hit the roads in 2018, are its days numbered as the go-to all-electric hatchback?
Like the previous generations of the Leaf, the Nissan Juke proved to be yet another marmite car in the manufacturer’s range. Though the Nissan car models popularity is evident from the sheer amount on the road, the divisive looks of the first generation model released in 2010 – with prominent wheel arches, running lamps and indicators mounted atop the front wings, and coke-bottle design – didn’t stop it from finding its niche, with its size and reliability helping it become a popular choice and Nissan’s second best-selling car behind the Qashqai.
The second generation model, revealed in 2019, has attempted to build on that success albeit by toning down some of the more divisive aspects that made the previous Juke stand out. Larger and based on an all-new CMF-B platform shared with the second generation of Renault Captur, the Juke offers better stability, performance, and cornering capabilities than the previous model.
Although the engine choice is only limited to a 1.0-litre 3-cylinder 117PS turbocharged engine, paired with 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, there are plenty of customisation options as well as advanced tech seldom seen in the compact crossover market.
Certainly one of the most influential and important vehicles in recent memory, the Nissan Qashqai will go down in history as kickstarting the current trend for crossover SUVs. With every manufacturer now offering a Qashqai-esque vehicle in their range, its influence is felt around the globe.
Offered as an alternative for those who wanted hatchback drivability with SUV styling and functionality, the Qashqai was an immediate hit. And while the first generation was good and proved the concept was a winner, when the second-gen model arrived in 2014 it built on this success and perfected the experiment just as challengers were rushing their models to market. Winning the 2014 What Car? Of the Year award, and selling over 2 million units in just five years of production, it proved the Qashqai wasn’t just a novelty, it was here to stay.
Now in its third generation, the latest Qashqai was released in 2021 and boasts a slightly streamlined new look, with a larger grille and slimmer headlights. A radically overhauled interior also now features a digital driver display and more room for drivers and passengers. Perhaps the biggest change from models of old is that this is the first Qashqai to be released without a diesel option, with two petrol-powered models and an all-new hybrid available.
It’s a measure of how successful the Nissan car model is when it not only completely changes the automotive landscape but it also remains the segment class leader nearly 15 years later.
Of course, before the trend-setting Qashqai arrived to upset the SUV applecart, Nissan relied on the X-Trail as an entry-level model into the 4×4 market.
First released in 2001, the X-Trail was marked by its outlandish shoe-esque shape but behind that lay a capable off-roader that was one of the safest cars on the market at the time. With a choice of two-wheel and four-wheel drive up to a maximum output of 165hp, the X-Trail proved to be a sturdy and reliable SUV that can still be found in abundance on the used car market.
The second-generation model was released in 2007, ensuring it continued to compete against the likes of the Suzuki Vitara and Toyota RAV4. While the Qashqai stole the X-Trail’s thunder, the second-generation SUV improved on the rugged, boxy design of the previous gen while offering more passenger space and equally capable on-and-off-road abilities.
After two generations of following the rugged and boxy SUV design template of old, Nissan took note of the success of the Qashqai and applied its design language to their marquee 4×4. Softening the looks of the X-Trail, it adopted a new grille design and a raked windshield for less road noise and to improve drag resistance. Space also increased to allow for seven seats, with the middle row sliding forward to offer more room.
Last refreshed in 2017, expect a new X-Trail to be revealed in the near future.
If the Nissan range has seemed a little bit safe and a little bit samey up to this point, things are about to drastically change: say hello to the Nissan GT-R.
An absolute anomaly in the Nissan line-up, the GT-R is a high-performance grand tourer sports car originally released in 2009. With its latest facelift in 2017, the sports tourer boasts 570hp, a maximum speed of 196mph, and a 0-62 time of just 2.7 seconds thanks to its hand-crafted V6 twin turbocharged engines.
With utterly ludicrous velocity and phenomenal handling, there can be no doubt that the GT-R is Nissan’s finest hour as a manufacturer.
Coming Soon: Nissan Ariya
Powering on with its electrification goals, the Nissan Ariya is an all-new model which will be joining Nissan’s zero-emission range in 2022.
The Ariya has an attractive futuristic premium exterior design, and will arrive with a twin electric motor featuring Nissan’s most advanced all-wheel control technology, e-4ORCE, to offer drivers a range of up to 310 miles and 394hp performance.