In 2007 Qashqai changed the car market.

With Qashqai, Nissan delivered a magic formula that invented the affordable SUV Crossover. Qashqai, of which two million have been sold, used the underpinnings of a conventional compact family car but had attributes of more expensive and highly fashionable SUVs - like a chunky look and high driving position. The big plus was that it didn't cost the earth to buy - roughly the same money as a Ford Focus at the time - and it was cheap to run! Most versions sold were front-wheel drive only, and for many buyers this was all the traction they needed.

Now, the second-generation Nissan Qashqai has just been launched. Motors went to its birthplace at Nissan's massive production plant in Sunderland to see how it is built and to drive the first Irish cars made there.

Qashqai has matured: now the five-seat crossover features a multitude of improvements that combine to make it a very impressive machine. Nissan calls the collective changes "little wows" - unlike the 'big wow' of the first.

Qashqai's exterior takes a big step up-market. It sits on a new platform, CMF, which it shares with Renault as part of the Nissan-Renault Alliance. The car is visibly bigger by some 47mm in length, slightly lower and a little wider. New creases and curves add layers of sophistication to the near-iconic machine. Despite a much longer wheelbase, which delivers great cabin space, Nissan won't be building a seven-seat Qashqai+2. Instead, new X-Trail will come with a seven-seat option.

Inside, the greater elegance of the exterior is echoed with a cabin that feels premium. The layout has altered and new technologies abound. The handbrake is now an electronic one (freeing up cubby space) and there is far more room in general. The boot is also bigger and much improved. We love the clever split variable floor tray that can be used as a divider when slotted vertically. This is a practical touch that shows the UK design and engineering teams have put a lot of thought into the machine and its end users.

Emissions are lower (99g/CO2 in some cases) and the engine range is revised with all units now turbocharged. There are four engines available: a new entry-level 1.2-litre petrol engine that is greener than the conventional 1.6 it replaces, a higher output 1.6 petrol with 163hp and a choice of 1.5 or 1.6-litre 'dCi' diesels.

We drove the expected volume-selling diesel on a mixture of roads. The ride was confident and while it felt firmer than a KIA Sportage, it was not as firm (sporty) as a Mazda CX-5. In other words, just about right for daily use.

While most Qashqais will be front-wheel drive, there is, again, a four-wheel drive available called 'All-Mode 4X4-i' with a six-speed manual or 'Xtronic' automatic gearbox.

Ireland adores Qashqai - last year it was the second best-selling model after VW's Golf. With a new car rolling off the production line in Sunderland every 61 seconds, the 7,000-plus workforce can very proud as Qashqai will continue to dominate its class.

Qashqai: a car that invented a class of its own is now even better.

Michael Sheridan