Car reviews - Nissan - Juke - range
Bold styling, strong performance, AWD availability, high specification, diminutive proportions, easy to drive
Room for improvement
CVT drone, firm ride, poor rear vision, limited boot space, dated dash, tight rear-seat room
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6 Jan 2014
Price and equipment
AT LAST, Nissan’s introduced an exciting and interesting small car.
After the patchy reborn Pulsar and dull Almera, the Juke is a bold breath of fresh air. It’s something you’re reminded of every time you catch the headlights beading above the bonnet like a pair of frog’s eyes at night.
Though by no means the first B-segment based SUV sold in Australia – the 1999 Honda HR-V takes that honour, backed up by the 2002 Holden YG Cruze and the now-discontinued Suzuki SX-4 from 2006 – the Juke is the first of the new-wave.
Introduced in Europe in 2010, it has pretty much taken the world by storm, thanks to distinctive styling, high seating positioning and clever marketing.
Why exactly Aussies had to wait three years remains a mystery, but the Juke’s here now, slotting beneath the Dualis/Qashqai (the latter usurps the former later in 2014), to take on the other recent arrivals in this class – the Holden Trax, Peugeot 2008, Ford EcoSport and Suzuki S-Cross.
A number of models are available from $21,990 (plus on-road costs), but we’re testing the range-topping Ti-S AWD CVT, powered by a 1.6-litre direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine.
The standard ST includes cruise control with speed limiter, rake-adjustable (not reach) steering column, power windows, remote keyless entry, fog lights, Bluetooth audio streaming, and steering wheel audio controls.
Rise up to the ST-S and you’ll find a colour LCD display, satellite navigation, six speakers and push-button start, a rear-view camera, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights, while the Ti-S brings partial leather seats with heating in the front – to help justify its $32,190 asking price.
It’s worth remembering that Nissan’s B-segment platform underpins the Juke, so don’t expect a footprint any larger than, say, the Pulsar hatchback’s. This car is considerably shorter than, say, a Mazda3.
On one hand, the interior scores instantly for its easy-access high driving position, which gives a commanding view of the road out front. Note, though, that pokey side and rear glass mitigates against rear vision. Luckily the Ti-S spec includes that camera then.
A slab of bulbous hard plastic the fascia may be, but it does house clear analogue instrument dials and an excellent ventilation set-up.
On the other, the Ti-S’ dashboard is beginning to look dated and a tad downmarket, the centre stack’s dual climate control/driving mode display is set too low and is thus too difficult to read on the move, and there the lack of a central console bin is a curious oversight.
The front seats appear flat but actually provide a fair amount of support, but longer-legged adults might rue the lack of rearward movement. The front passenger, especially, might have knees rubbing against glovebox lid.
Entry to the back seat is via a rear door and not the front seat – the Juke’s hidden door handle fooled a number of people thinking this car is a two-door crossover.
Getting in is surprisingly hassle free considering the small aperture, though there’s not an abundant amount of knee room unless the front occupants slide their chairs forwards.
The seatback itself is comfortable, feet can be tucked beneath the front seats, and there is sufficient space for heads, though the relative narrowness brought about by the city-car proportions means that three-abreast will be a very tight fit indeed.
It’s doubtful that the childless singles that this vehicle is aimed at will care about that stuff.
Nor is the small cargo area, with its high floor and limited length, going to be much of a worry. Keep in mind that this is a city-focussed SUV, and you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
Engine and transmission
If you want a sub-compact SUV with strong performance and an automatic transmission, this particular Juke is basically your lot for now.
All the others’ power outputs are ordinary at best or depressingly underwhelming, while the brilliant Ford EcoSport 1.0-turbo three-pot EcoBoost and torquey Peugeot 2008 HDi turbo-diesel are manual only propositions.
Seen in that context, Nissan has a bit of a monopoly on proceedings, and we applaud its foresight in offering a bit of driver-orientated choice.
The 140kW/240Nm 1.6 four-cylinder turbo engine is a rorty little number, with a bit of an old-school forced-induction kick half way up the rev range that first time drivers may not be expecting.
This is our pick of sub-compact SUVs if effortless overtaking performance is a priority – the Ti-S really hustles along.
There are three driving modes – Eco (dull), Normal (adequate) and Sport (punchy), with the latter holding on to lower ratios, or locking out the highest, ratios in the CVT continuously variable transmission.
There’s a manual mode via a Tiptronic-style shifter that works well enough (especially in Sport) to be considered more than mere novelty value, while the engine makes a reasonably appealing noise when pushed.
However the flipside is constant CVT drone – especially when the devil is on your shoulder.
Sport was the mode we drove most of the time, probably explaining the disappointing 11.2L/100km fuel consumption average.
Ride and handling
The best thing about the Juke is that it doesn’t really drive like a tall SUV on the Ti-S’ Continental 215/55 R17 rubber, since it feels planted and secure on the road.
Combined with fairly responsive steering – that’s light and only a little bit lacking in feedback – the agile Nissan can be thrown into corners with confidence.
Even on dirt roads, the Juke is a whole lot of fun, with the stability control nannies intervening gently – though eventually firmly enough – when things begin to run wide.
But the ride always feels firm, and even sometimes hard, with little of the wheel travel the vehicle’s tallness suggests, while the amount of road noise entering the cabin undermines the lofty price positioning Nissan has placed it in.
At least the brakes are up to the task, stopping the Juke with no drama whether on bitumen or gravel.
Speaking of grip, the AWD system distributes torque up to 50:50 between the front and rear wheels, and even has a vectoring mode that allocates the split from side-to-side across the rear axle.
This helps give the Juke that well-planted feel.
Safety and servicing
While Nissan offers fixed-price servicing, the warranty is only for three years while service intervals are at an inconvenient six months.
From an ANCAP crash-test rating point of view, the Juke scores five stars.
Even though the Juke’s incredible international success has spawned a cornucopia of copycat contenders, there’s still something distinctly cool and aloof about the category smashing Nissan. Mark our words, this is a future classic in the making.
Yes, the flagship model rides too firmly, is quite expensive, and will never win rear-seat and cargo-area packaging awards, but that’s what the Dualis, X-Trail and Murano are for.
So here’s to Nissan’s fugly little sub-compact SUV, and may it inspire the company to never roll out dross like some of its other light-car and small-car offerings ever again.
Juke’s AOK with us.
Peugeot 2008 Allure 1.6 VTi auto (from $29,990 plus on-roads).
Look past the outrageously dated four-speed auto and the 2008 will impress with its good looks, spacious packaging, innovative dashboard, sharp steering and eager handling. We’d save thousands and go for the zesty three-pot version, though.
Ford EcoSport Titanium 1.0 EcoBoost manual (from $25,790 plus on-roads).
Forget the base Ambiente’s sluggish 1.5 and go the turbo-three-pot instead, which brings brilliantly strong performance to go with an excellent chassis.
The Fiesta-based cabin feels dated, though.
Holden Trax LTZ (from $27,990 plus on-roads).
Nicely packaged, with an appealing interior and plenty of nice gadgets for the dough, but the ageing engine feels thrashy, the steering artificial, and the ride unsettled. Plus it’s thirsty too.
Make and model: Nissan F15 Juke Ti-S AWD CVT
Engine type: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
Layout: AWD, transverse
Power: 140kW @ 5600rpm
Torque: 240Nm @ 2000-5800rpm
Transmission: CVT automatic
Fuel consumption: 7.4L/100km
CO2 rating: 169g/km
Dimensions: L/W/H/WB 4135/1765/1565/2530mm
Weight: 1374 (tare)
Suspension: MacPherson struts/torsion beam rear
Steering: Electric rack and pinion
Price: From $31,190
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