– Great turbo engine
– Cabin space and features
– Good ride and handling
– Controversial styling
– Hard cabin plastics
– Limited utility
Risk-taking is not very common among car manufacturers nowadays. Sure, some have taken the plunge, and the results were always big crossovers that mixed their traditional corporate designs with a swoopier body. But then Nissan comes along and puts the Juke into production. It looks nothing like any other Nissan, or even any other car. The sub-compact Juke is a gamble that has created two camps – those who think it’s quirkily unique, and those who think it is disgustingly hideous.
Oddly enough, we were in the latter camp when the Juke first came out. The styling hits you in the face like a kick by a camel. But in person, you start noticing clever details. Those round circles up front are the actual headlights, while the disguised driving lights are on the bonnet. The rear is shaped so intricately that it doesn’t appear in photos correctly. And the overall shape hides the fact that this crossover is barely taller than a Tiida. It turns heads everywhere, at least until it becomes more common. We were soon among those who admittedly “like” this thing.
The interior is interesting, to say the least. The design is fun and bubbly, with quirky details such as a “floating” cover for the gauges, the circular detailing, the tricky red-black cloth upholstery patterns and the funky red-painted centre-console supposedly inspired by motorcycles. But as premium as it looks, none of it is. All the cabin panels are hard plastic, the cloth door-handles are not padded and there are no centre armrests.
Judging by the roofline, you’d think the cabin is cramped. But it is surprisingly spacious, both front and rear, with a headroom issue in the back only for the tallest passengers. Boot space under the sloping hatch is only a bit more than a Tiida, but the floor opens up to reveal a hidden storage tub. The second-row bench also split-folds down to increase cargo space. There are door pockets and other storage buckets here and there, but only two cup-holders. There is a nifty rubberised space ahead of the shifter to hold your mobile phone too.
Our well-specced Juke had a good number of tech features, including a working Bluetooth phone, decent CD/MP3 stereo with AUX port, smart keyless entry and start, cruise control, fog lamps, sunroof, enough airbags and the basic power accessories. There is an attractive small full-colour screen low in the centre-console, showing different little graphics depending on whether you’re in “drive mode” or “climate mode.” In “drive,” you can select between sport, normal and eco modes, while in “climate,” you can change a/c settings. In a daft quirk, you have to press the “climate” button first to change the fan speed, even though the knobs are right there next to it. Also, the automatic a/c seems to cut out if you’re stopped for too long, although it is pretty strong when the car is moving.
The direct-injection 1.6-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder is the most exciting motor to come out of Nissan in a long time. Pumping out an impressive 188 hp at 5600 rpm and 240 Nm of torque from 2000 rpm to 5200 rpm. That’s enough to give the 1500-kilo Juke a nice low-end kick, especially when mated to a gearless CVT automatic that always stays at the optimal revs. It makes us wonder how much fun it would be with a manual gearbox. Still, the perky engine managed a 0-100 kph time of 7.7 seconds in our August test, spinning its front tyres, with a deluge of torque-steer tugging on the steering wheel – not very refined, but fun nonetheless. It’s only then that we realised that ours was a front-wheel-drive version.
Slipping the shifter into manual or sport mode adds fake “shift” jerks, thereby actually increasing the 0-100 kph time to 9 seconds, so it is better to just leave it in “normal” mode, whether cruising or racing. Cruising itself is remarkably comfortable too, with a smooth ride that feels only mildly firm on some bumps, and pretty good muting of road, wind and engine noise, considering the 17-inch wheels with low-profile rubber. In the city, even without parking sensors, we had no trouble parking this little car. And to top it off, our overall fuel consumption was only 12.5 litres/100 km.
Speed up the pace and you’re rewarded with nicely-weighted steering and instant response from all the controls, although real feedback is lacking. Grip from the 215/55 tyres is decent, with safe understeer at the limit. The brakes are merely adequate, but the body control is excellent, with limited body roll and no floatiness. Interestingly, the FWD version gets a torsion-beam rear suspension, while only the AWD one gets the fully-independent multi-link setup. We hear the AWD model will not be offered in the GCC.
For a while, we were driving around thinking that our FWD tester had the optional all-wheel-drive system, so we drove on firm sand and gravel areas to see how it does. The extra ground clearance and proper handbrake meant that we could rotate this thing around slippery turns without worrying about paint-chips. We suspect, with actual all-wheel-drive and a manual gearbox, there’s some more rally-style fun to be had.
At the end of it all, we came to like the Juke a lot. Crossovers are generally boring vehicles, but injecting this much personality into one is a bold move by Nissan. It isn’t quite as sporting as a hot hatch, but with what it does have, a whole other realm of fun is possible.
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