Every review of the Nissan Juke needs to come with the equivalent of a swear box, with a £1 fine every time the reviewer mentions divisive, polarising or Marmite looks – whatever did we do before Unilever’s advertising department sent us that gimme?
While the way the front of the car looks is certainly going to determine your attitude towards the product, the Juke is more than just how it looks. Remember that underneath it all, this is Nissan’s smaller equivalent to its extraordinarily good Qashqai and X-Trail, purporting to be a more fun way of getting about than mundane hatchback offerings like Nissan’s own Micra.
Pulled around by a range of Japanese petrol engines and, thanks to Nissan‘s alliance with Renault, French diesel ones, it offers the best of both worlds for powerplants too. It all sounds like a good recipe, but is the final dish actually worth it?
Swear box at the ready…
As facelifts go it’s a very subtle one. Even side-by-side with the white first-generation model above it’s hard to spot. The chrome Nissan “V” in the grille is more pronounced and a new front bumper moves the foglights up and out slightly. More obvious is the change to the headlights, which now look a lot more like the Nissan 370Z to match the tail lights.
There’s not an awful lot of different around the back end either, with a limited revision to the lower valance (the black plastic lower edge you can see above). It’s a little more obvious if you get a little giddy with the available contrasting trims Nissan offers for the Juke, but on our test car these panels were a restrained black.
Less restrained was the choice of body colour. Sunset Yellow – a £500 option – is not the shade for the shrinking violets amongst us. It actually serves the Juke well though. On the one hand it provides as bold a colour as the styling deserves yet, at the same time, it draws the eye towards the metalwork and away from the less desirable styling details. It’s a worthy match.
There’s even less change on the inside. That big, motorbike-inspired centre section remains and it is, as you can see above, one of the interior trim pieces that can be customised. Bright and flashy these may be, but they do serve to demonstrate the lower quality of the plastics elsewhere, particularly at the top of the door cards.
The leather seats found in the Tekna are pleasantly stylish affairs and provide sufficient support for the Juke’s cornering abilities. In this model they were also heated, but only offered manual adjustment.
With the driving seat in a fairly ordinary position, a rear seat infant in an appropriate seat is easily within kicking range of the seat back, and a teenager will find it a bit of a tight fit. It’s not really an wholly appropriate family car then.
The cabin might not be the most family friendly place, but the boot will suit a group of four. 354 litres is fair for a hatchback of this size. It’ll hold a weekly shop for a regular family unit without a problem – there’s also a convenient storage space under the boot floor that is exactly a crate of beer high – though the conventional 60:40 split rear seat means that unusual loads are less easy to accommodate. They don’t fold flat either, though they are light and easy to drop one-handed.
There’s no shortage of storage cubbies dotted around the cabin, though one of the more useful comes in the shape of a folding armrest between the front seats. This is weirdly placed and whether folded up or down it seems to get in the way of the driver’s elbow.
The Juke’s design naturally lends itself to a couple of conclusions about how it drives – that it’s an off-roader and that it will wallow about. Neither of these are especially true. The lofty driving position doesn’t engender a huge amount of trust, but the Juke is pretty good fun to bat about. There’s more body roll than in a well-sorted hatchback and there’s certainly a tendency towards very early understeer (where the front wheels push wide in enthusiastic cornering), but the electronic stability program will reel that in.
While the electric steering is not a shining example of its type it is at least consistently weighted and will give you a predictable level of steering angle. It’s light and easy around town too so despite the dimensions it’s a doddle to park. Four-wheel-drive is optional on some models, but our test car was a two-wheel-drive version, probably best not taken any further from the road than an unsurfaced car park.
There are a couple of question marks hovering around the overall ride quality though. At low and manouevring speeds, everything is damped well and there’s no particular intrusion into the cabin even from significantly-sized ‘traffic calming’ measures.
Get up to B-road speeds though and there’s a definite jiggle to the ride that takes a moment to settle itself, while road warts also sound a great deal louder than they ought to. It’s smoother at motorway speeds though, even if bridge expansion joints can cause the occasional quiver.
Some of this can probably be put down to the very large wheels. This test car was equipped with the optional 18-inchers – which can be customised with coloured inserts – that are attractive enough, but with other reviewers lamenting the ride of the 17-inch options over the stock 16s it’s difficult to imagine that they make the ride any better.
Pop the bonnet and you will be treated to a sight that makes the car enthusiast shudder – an engine bay dominated by a battery… Don’t be so quick to dismiss though, because there’s definitely an engine in there and, at 113hp from its 1.2 litres of swept volume, it’s nothing to be sniffed at. You’ll find the same engine powering the larger Qashqai and the Pulsar hatchback.
It’s difficult to imagine how it’d be in the heavy crossover, as we found it to be merely adequate when paired with the Pulsar last month. The same applies here – it’s precisely enough engine to make the Juke go with just enough impulse to avoid any accusations of dullness. In many respects it’s probably the perfect engine for the Juke, because it’s pretty eager to rev but not so powerful as to get you into corners at speeds that the chassis can’t handle
It’ll poke around town with glee, keep up momentum on the fun roads and settle into a nice 69mph lope. There’s a distinct lack of engine braking though, but this is a trait common to modern small-capacity, turbocharged engines.
On-paper fuel economy is set at 50.4mpg combined and we managed to just about break into the 40s with an urban-heavy test cycle, so expect mid-40s with more mixed use.
Value for Money
The price of the vehicle on test is £18,170 and it has to be said that there is very little you could imagine that’s missing from the Juke at that price. The full spec sheet requires two sides of A4 paper at a 10-point font size, but it’s got all the bases covered: DAB (digital) radio with CD, Aux and USB, Bluetooth for your phone, cruise control, steering wheel controls for all the previous, dual-zone climate control, colour reversing camera and, on this model, tinted rear windows and xenon headlamps
Whether the bold colour – the only cost option at £500 – is worth the money is a matter for individual taste, but it does the Juke shape and ethos a considerable favour. The natty leather interior is perhaps a little superfluous, but it does look very good indeed and you’d make only a small saving by going one trim level down to avoid it.
Also standard at this trim level (and a £400 option below it) is Nissan’s Around View Monitor, included in the full suite of Safety Shield equipment. This combines a standard colour reversing camera with a set of three others – beneath the mirrors and in the Nissan badge on the nose – to paint a virtual image of your vehicle from a bird’s eye view when reversing. It’s a very clever piece of technology that exceeds the usefulness of the reversing camera alone, though you’ll find the sudden presence of Juke-sized labradors to be a bit startling!
It’s too easy to be distracted from the purpose of the Juke by what it looks like. Arguably something more conventional would allow more people to appreciate it for what it is and what it isn’t.
It’s the “isn’t” that’s important here. It isn’t a sluggish, floppy-handling quasi-offroader that sacrifices real world usability for an elevated road position. It’s a small hatchback that’s ideally suited to be a little runaround for people who are without immediate family concerns – someone younger, or perhaps grandparents – but which also has an elevated road position. It’ll struggle to cart four people around on a regular basis, but then so will most other cars in this segment of the market.
This 1.2 engine, the handling and the ride are all exactly enough for the car and, at this price point, it’s very well appointed too – lower specification models are a little less compelling as they do without useful gizmos alongside dropping the luxuries. It’s just the right amount of car.