NISSAN JUKE REVIEW
What’s hot: ‘Out there’ styling, appealing prices, potent turbo models.
What’s not: For some, that ‘out there’ styling, interior plastics sub-par.
X-FACTOR: Punky and practical; a zippy, well-stuck little wagon you will never lose in a carpark.
Vehicle style: Small SUV
Price: $21,990 - $32,190
86kW/158Nm 1.6 petrol, 5spd manual | 140kW/240Nm 1.6 turbo petrol, 6spd man/CVT auto
Fuel consumption listed (95RON): 6.0 l/100km; 6.9 l/100km; 7.4 l/100km
Fuel consumption (on test): not recorded (varying drivers and conditions)
Nissan’s new pitch to young buyers, its punky little Juke, comes with two faces for the price of one. It depends where you look, which one you see.
Focus on the bonnet, and the amphibian ‘froggy’ face emerges, with the ‘eyes’ on top. But lower your gaze and you’ll see the ‘bug’ face in those staring headlamps and curious front lip.
That just about sums up the Juke; there is a dual personality lurking under those one-of-a-kind lines. And that, Batman, is why it just might work.
This is a car for younger buyers looking for an escape from the mundane - it’s styled to grab attention, can carry a crew, and it’s wickedly quick: the turbo Juke ST-S and Ti-S that is.
Nissan is more than aware that it may polarise. “(The Juke’s) bold exterior styling and attitude will stand out like no other,” Nissan Australia CEO Peter Jones said at its Melbourne launch.
We drove it, each model in the range, and it’s a good steer; certainly one you’ll enjoy.
Let’s get the gripes out of the way first. This is not the best interior in the business.
But the plastics are drab and poorly fitted in this UK-built car.
The dash meets the A-pillar awkwardly and the door trims look like they were cut around the window frames with a box cutter.
The painted silver surfaces (very similar to those in the Barina Spark) look ok, but certainly won’t stand for any rough treatment.
The seats in the ST and ST-S models are also a bit short in the base (and slope away under the legs) and while the wheel is rake adjustable, there’s no reach adjustment.
This is a shame because these niggles mar a well-considered and quite dynamic little crossover. It’s a better car than this.
The multi-function steering wheel is a beauty, sized right, direct and sporty with good feel for the road. It operates the audio (natch) and cruise control, standard across the range.
The cloth-trim for both ST and ST-S models is tightly-woven, nicely styled and appealing to the touch.
There are lots of storage nooks in the doors, centre console and throughout. The boot under that pinched back is a little shallow (there’s a space-saver spare underneath), but a reasonable size.
Rear legroom is also ok, though headroom is limited. Access is a little tight, the rear doors are small-ish and the glass is tiny – something that may irritate younger passengers.
There ain’t nothing wrong with the standard feature list though: each in the range get Bluetooth, cruise control, speed limiter, climate control air-con, remote keyless entry, CD with MP3, AM/FM, USB and iPod connectivity, 60/40 split fold rear seats, anti-glare mirror, 12v power outlet, rear cargo cover and more.
Step up the ST-S and Ti-S models and you can add sat-nav, LCD display, rear-view camera, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, heated front seats and leather trim (in the Ti-S), among a longer list of premium features.
With a 5-Star ANCAP rating, safety too is well covered. The Juke comes with driver and front passenger front-and-side airbags, front-to-rear curtain airbags, brake assist, ABS, traction control and vehicle dynamic control.
ON THE ROAD
On road, it becomes a tale of three cars. Only the top of the tree Juke Ti-S gets the nifty AWD system with torque-vectoring (ie. moving traction to wheels with grip); the ST-S and ST are front-wheel-drive only.
Don’t be deterred by that: in most driving you’ll barely pick the traction differences. But what you will really notice is the huge difference in power between the non-turbo ST, and the turbo ST-S and Ti-S models.
The FWD-only 1.6 litre ST puts out a modest 86kW and 158Nm.
Mated to the five-speed manual transmission (it can also be specified with a CVT auto), it’s got enough underfoot to get things moving smartly enough off the line, but it’s a bit doughy on the move unless you’re prepared to keep busy with the gears.
The manual shift lacks a bit of feel too. It looks like a stubby sports shift, but the shift ‘boot’ hides a pivot point quite a bit lower down.
With a robust 140kW and 240Nm underfoot, it’s a bit of blast in both the manual-only FWD ST-S and the CVT-equipped AWD Ti-S.
Perhaps not quite in hot-hatch territory, but both are pretty damn quick. And it comes on strong from low down, holding a flat torque curve from 2000rpm to 5200rpm.
The six-speed manual is also much better ‘box than the five-speed in the ST.
Getting away from the line and, more importantly, in finding a quick stamp of speed when on the move, the relatively light Juke turbo can really sit up and bolt.
And quick and connected though the manual ST-S is (and holding a 125kg weight advantage over its AWD leather-clad stablemate), it’s the Ti-S with CVT that feels the more lively at highway speeds.
This is a very well hooked-up CVT.
In sport, it can rowed along via the shifter (no steering-wheel paddles), but, even left in auto, it shifts down readily when approaching a turn to have the right gear waiting underfoot for the launch out the other side.
As CVTs go, this is one you'll happily live with.
Suspension compliance is also just right for this kind of car. The Juke, in each of its iterations, has a really well-tuned McPherson strut front and torsion beam rear set-up – it just breezes along on a country road.
It’s on the softer side, which means that the upright little Juke leans into corners, but doesn’t wallow excessively.
Importantly, it can be driven briskly and will hang on tight – especially the AWD Ti-S. (Eye-opening grip on a tight motorkhana circuit we put it through.)
There is a nice long-travel feel to things below. In fact, for its comfortable settled ride, the little Juke is a real surprise. It’s certainly at the better end of the segment.
The bigger wheels on our Ti-S test car made a bit more road noise, and it felt a little more fidgety on rippled and broken tarmac – nothing too excessive.
Both the ST and ST-S are pretty quiet on road and not greatly bothered by coarse bitumen surfaces.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
So, yes, we quite like the Juke. The styling is a bit too nuts for me, but you might like it (and that’s all that matters).
It’s a bit of a conundrum really: its two faces signal a car with more than one personality.
It is what it is, the Juke: part small SUV, part sports-hatch, part wagon. It’s for buyers - younger ones I’d reckon - who want a car that’s more than just transport.
“The Juke is meant to be different; it turns heads and opens eyes,” Nissan Oz marketing manager Peter Clissold said.
Its punk lines will grow on you. Check it out.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- Juke ST 2WD manual - $21,990
- Juke ST 2WD auto - $24,390
- Juke ST-S 2WD manual - $28,390
- Juke Ti-S AWD auto - $32,190