Car reviews - Nissan - Juke - range
Polarising style, decent body control with sharp steering, excellent turbo drivetrain, quite well-equipped
Room for improvement
No steering wheel reach-adjustment, tight cabin, harsh ride, ST-S struggles to put its power down, turbo versions are pricey, no manual gearbox/AWD combo, expensive to service
24 Oct 2013
A hasty straw poll we conducted this week found an even split between people who love the Juke’s looks, and hate them.
Either way, passion such as this represents good news for Nissan Australia, which has been seeking to add this sort of pizazz to its range for some time now.
Despite the delay, Nissan is still entering the burgeoning mini-SUV market at the ground floor, alongside the Holden Trax and Peugeot 2008, but ahead of the Ford EcoSport and Renault Captur.
Like its contemporaries, the Juke is actually no roomier than the average city car, and only slightly taller and higher-riding than, say, its Pulsar stablemate. But crucially, it keeps up appearances and promises something out of the ordinary.
Jump behind the wheel and you’re presented with a well laid-out fascia. Build quality is high but some of the hard plastics feel a little low-rent – though it’s no worse than a Trax – and the lack of cabin storage grates.
Knee- and shoulder room in the front is tight, and you’re swiftly reminded that you’re occupying a car that is a diminutive 4135mm long, 1765mm wide and 1565mm high, riding on a 2530mm wheelbase.
Space in the rear is acceptable for the short-legged, but headroom becomes a problem thanks to the sharply-raked roof.
In addition, the boot is a small 251 litres, almost identical to the Nissan Micra. Pushing the 60:40 split-fold rear seats forward liberates 550L.
The seating position suited us fine, although the lack of reach-adjustment means not all will be so lucky.
All variants are pretty well-equipped for the price. Standard features across the range include fog lights, Bluetooth audio streaming, steering wheel audio controls, cruise control and speed limiter and remote keyless entry.
ST-S variants, from $28,390, include a five-inch colour VGA LCD display, satellite navigation, six speakers and push-button start, a rear-view camera, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights. The $32,190 Ti-S adds, over-and-above, partial leather seats with heating in the front.
Safety equipment includes six airbags, with the non-turbo attaining a five-star ANCAP safety rating (turbo versions are untested but have the same structure and safety gear).
Note the starting prices of the ST-S and Ti-S. The manual-only ST-S turbo is priced right amongst similarly powerful but better-honed hot hatches such as the Volkswagen Polo GTI and forthcoming Renault Sport Clio.
The Ti-S is in turn priced in-line with SUVs two classes larger, such as Nissan’s own X-Trail and Mazda’s CX-5.
On the road, the Juke is certainly sharper than the average crossover, with quick and direct steering, good body control with precious little roll and a trio of driving modes that don’t necessarily liberate much extra sparkle but at least add a nice hint of novelty.
At the same time, the ride on the 17-inch rims is jittery over corrugations. It constantly feels busy, and conveys every minor imperfection from the road to your backside.
Underneath the oddball bodyshell sits a MacPherson strut front suspension setup with either a torsion bar rear (ST and and ST-S) or Multilink (Ti-S), and a speed-sensitive electric steering system.
The base ST variant is powered by a 82kW/158Nm 1.6-litre engine which has sufficient pep for inner-city commutes, it’s natural habitat. The CVT on our version squeezed the best from it, even if its droning soundtrack was far from inspiring.
Familiar from the Pulsar SSS, the larger 1.6 turbo engine with 140kW and 240Nm is a peach, especially through the ST-S’s six-speed manual gearbox. The standard CVT on the Ti-S needs paddle shifters, and has a propensity to hold engine revs at 6000rpm or above under sudden acceleration.
Herein lies another issue: the ST-S, which is manual-only, has the best drivetrain (the Ti-S is CVT only, remember), but its front-drive configuration puts the power down with less effectiveness than the all-wheel-drive Ti-S.
This AWD system comes with a Torque Vectoring system that splits torque up to 50:50 between the front and rear wheels, and can also split torque from side-to-side across the rear axle.
An AWD manual is needed!Cost-of-ownership is also an issue, despite capped-pricing on six-month intervals over six years of ownership. Maintenance costs between $215 and $615 every six months (the latter charge is a one-off after five years) on the ST, and $252 and $597 every six months on the turbos.
To conclude: the turbo Juke is peppy but not as sharp as a proper hot hatch, and the base ST lacks the space and starting price of a humble Pulsar (or Kia Cerato et al).
But on the other hand, there is absolutely nothing else on the road that looks like the Juke, and many a buyer may be charmed into handing over their hard-earned on something this distinctive.
It’s a good, solid car hiding under a truly one-off body, though we’re still not entirely sure where it fits within the spectrum.
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