WHEN IT COMES to niches, genres and segments, Nissan has a history of colouring outside the lines, commonly referred to as crossovers. Now the same genre-busting ideology that created the D-segment Murano and C-segment Qashqai has been applied to the smaller, B segment in the arresting form of the Juke. With a footprint slightly larger than a Renault Clio, the Juke is a high-riding coupe-cross-SUV styled like an amphibian with a severe case of symmetric boils.
Take note, I’m not calling the Juke ugly, it’s much more intriguing than that. It demands an opinion from observers and simply refuses to be ignored. But is it a homogenous, perfectly-proportioned design? Definitely not. It’s more a disparate infusion of geometric architecture and organic bulbousity. I know that’s a made-up word, but just look at the way the glasshouse erupts diagonally from its cartoon-like face and bulging wheel arches. It’s like a six-eyed horny toad, balanced on four Pilates balls with a tent on its back in a stiff headwind. Add the racy rear lamps from a 370Z and the C-pillar from a Ford Anglia and you have the epitome of eccentric yet brave design.
Not conventionally handsome, its desirability lies in its boldly-drawn, distinctly-detailed, high-riding compactness and its playful, toy-laden cabin. In a market that is downsizing and upspeccing, this democratically-priced B-segment crossover is bang on trend.
Stepping aboard the Juke is like paging through a Boy’s Toys Christmas catalogue. For starters, you get a steering wheel pilfered straight from the iconic 370Z sportscar, the gear lever, cup holder and handbrake housing – painted metal cherry red – resembles a superbike’s fuel tank, the door’s armrest is shaped like a scuba diver’s flipper and the motorcycle-style instrument binnacle has a ‘floating’ instrument cowl. Even the cleverly switchable I-CON driver control interface has scuba gear overtones. It’s clever because it uses the same set of buttons and rotary dials to operate either the climate control or the drive mode. Just press D-Mode and you can choose from either Eco, Normal or Sport configurations. Swapping between say Eco and Sport changes throttle mapping and amount of steering assistance. Three separate buttons to the right of the screen give access to various other displays like boost and torque gauges and a fuel consumption skyline. Press the Climate key and the same Eco, Normal, Sport and info buttons light up differently to display typical aircon control icons. It’s a really neat party trick, if a mite gimmicky.
The range-topping Juke’s real draw card though is a long list of standard kit including heated leather seats, multi-function steering wheel, electric windows and mirrors, cruise control, automatic aircon, 17-inch alloys, a rain sensor and auto on headlights. The MP3/CD/Aux/USB audio system offers full iPod and Bluetooth functionality.
You also get smart access that allows you to leave the remote in your pocket while you press a button on the handle to unlock the door and a dash-mounted stop/start button to fire up your Jukebox. Naturally there’s a full safety complement of airbags, stability control and braking assistance systems.
On the down side, the sloping roofline
restricts rear headroom, the steering wheel only adjusts for rake and the door’s coarse armrest material isn’t friendly to bare elbows.
Juke’s 2530mm-long wheelbase offers up a reasonable amount of rear cabin space. Access via the narrow rear doors isn’t the greatest and the rear side windows are truly tiny, though they do motor all the way down should you need to rid yourself of any gastric claustrophobia. 60:40 split rear seats fold down to enlarge a 251-litre boot that’ll just about handle the weekly shop. There’s a useful cavity beneath the boot floor with a space saver spare wheel beneath that.
Base model Jukes make do with an 86kW 1.6-litre, but the engine in our top-line Tekna+ test car is Nissan’s new 1.6 DIG-T (Direct Injection Gasoline Turbo). The numbers are pure hot hatch – 140kW at 5 600rpm and 240Nm driving the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission. The odd thing is it’s far peakier in torque terms than most of today’s down-sized turbo motors with maximum twist only arriving at a heady 5 000rpm. So it’s loads of fun for high-rev point-to-point blasts, but relatively short fifth and sixth gear ratios mean it’s more busy bee than happy cruiser. Just doing the national limit, it’s already pulling 3 100rpm. At that speed, with D-mode set to Sport, the throttle is too sensitive. The turbo spools up so quickly that even minute ankle angle changes affect the car’s attitude. Switch to Eco mode and the throttle turns all soggy and toothless. As with many of these systems, Normal is the best compromise.
The ‘older gentleman’ in me says the turbocharged Juke could do with longer, more relaxed gearing and a wider torque spread, but Nissan will argue that in this youth-centric guise it’s more sporty and entertaining. Besides, that eye-popping 140kW power output is a handy marketing tool no doubt. And it feels as quick as you’d expect, comfortably beating the claimed 8.0sec sprint time by more than half a second. I love the sporty placement of the stubby gear lever, which sits high and close to the driver linked to a solid – not too notchy, not that slick – six-cogger that likes a firm hand but won’t be rushed.
Nissan’s engineers have treated Juke to a lengthened version of the alliance’s B-platform, with widened tracks and a cradle-type front subframe. As usual, suspension is provided by a simple MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear setup. In town, it feels firmly sprung, though nicely-judged damping aids ride comfort on most roads. However, over really uneven country road sections, the Juke will definitely get jiggy with you.
Speed bump users and high school kerb-hoppers are sure to appreciate the 180mm of ground clearance, even though it causes a higher centre of gravity and consequently a slight trade-off in handling prowess. That said, the Juke is more than up to the task of being hustled through a set of bends. I wouldn’t call it ultimately rewarding, but there’s little to discourage the driver either.
I reckon the relatively bug-free steering, which offers a competitive weighting and feel for an all-electric setup, needs greater differentiation between Eco and Sport modes as both feel equally light, but that’s a minor gripe. As long as you’ve never driven a Porsche or a Lotus, you’ll get along with the wheel just fine.
With a higher driving position, an abundance of toys, distinctive style, attractive pricing and a sporty nature, the Juke doesn’t have any direct competitors. Kia’s Soul has similarly oddball styling, but lacks the ride height and beefy engine, as does VW’s Cross Polo, while Mini’s Countryman Cooper S will cost you at least a third more than the Juke. On cost, performance and attitude I’d even throw Opel’s Corsa OPC into the hat. But for now, the Juke is a one man show and despite its quirks, there’s little doubt it’ll be a hit, warts and all.