Car reviews - Nissan - Juke - ST
Agility and fun-factor at urban and suburban speeds, compact dimensions but reasonable interior space, improved boot space, quiet cruising
Room for improvement
Lack of low-down torque compounded by tall second gear, unsupportive front seats, lacks traction, handling suffers at higher speeds, lack of reversing camera or sensors, tilt-only steering adjustment
19 Nov 2015
Price and equipment
Stepping aboard the $23,490 (plus on-road costs) Juke ST 1.2 manual for the first time, we did not need to consult a spec-sheet to know this was a base variant.
Yes it may have gained idle-stop technology, a bigger boot, LED daytime running lights, indicators built into the exterior mirrors, tyre-pressure monitoring and 17-inch alloy wheels but the entry model is $1400 more expensive than the one it replaced.
On the upside, there is single-zone automatic climate control and a pleasantly premium feeling leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear shifter.
Further standard equipment comprises cruise control with speed limiter, electric windows and mirrors, trip computer, multi-function steering wheel controls and sweet-sounding four-speaker audio system with Bluetooth audio streaming and iPod compatibility plus USB and auxiliary audio inputs. It also plays audio or MP3 CDs.
But there are no parking sensors or reversing camera, which are a glaring omission given the high-set rear windscreen and steeply sloping front-end make judging the Juke’s extremities difficult when parking.
While the Juke’s exterior styling is as polarising as Vegemite, the interior is comparatively tame. It’s also quite cheap feeling with some odd touches that make it a far less classy place to sit than, say, a Mazda CX-3 or Suzuki Vitara, both of which are also less expensive at entry level.
Most of the cabin is carried over from the original, including the humped instrument cowl that looks tacked-on and the bizarrely prominent hazard lights switch that looks as though it is emerging from a special tunnel atop the dashboard. Some premium paint choices can be had with bright red interior trim colours, which lifts the overwhelmingly grey cabin ambience.
But it is the dual-purpose climate control and driving mode panel below the audio system that takes the cake for its lo-res, dated, tacky graphics, Fisher Price feel to the control knobs and sheer “why” factor owing to the irrelevance of most functions.
It is set very low, so viewing the boost gauge and G-meter would be distracting on the move. These digital displays update too slowly to be accurate and the Juke is so unlikely to pull registrable G that the feature is pointless. We wish Nissan had spent the money elsewhere, not on tech for the sake of tech.
Our advice is to ignore the ‘D-Mode’ button and just use the highly effective (even in Queensland humidity and heat) climate control instead.
Upholstery is 90s velour to match the aforementioned display, the front seats lack leg support or tilt adjustment, meaning they feel perched on rather than sat in and the elbow rests scalloped into the door trims are not shaped for human arms and the steering wheel lacks reach adjustment.
So it’s a good job the leather steering wheel feels pleasant and is a cabin highlight as a result. Tall drivers had plenty of space and the dashboard did not encroach onto knee space either. Seating position grumbles aside, we and our passengers had no comfort complaints on hour-plus journeys.
Rear quarters are a bit cramped for both head and legroom for tall adults and today’s bulky child seats but accommodation is impressive considering the Juke’s compact dimensions.
The multi-function steering wheel and audio system are intuitive – with beautifully simple Bluetooth pairing and audio streaming operation plus impressive audio quality – but some switches such as mirror adjustment are located by the driver’s right knee (typical Nissan), making them hard to see and access, especially at night.
All four door pockets have useful bottle holding facility, the two cup-holders are deep and well-sized, the glovebox is huge and there are three open cubbies on the centre console.
Folding the rear seats is easy and results in a flat load area (almost flush with the load lip) and there is a large bonus storage space beneath the false floor (itself above the space-saver spare) on this front-drive variant, bringing total seats-up luggage capacity up 40 per cent to a generous 354 litres.
We did not experience too many visibility issues on the road – the Juke was better than expected in this respect – but the lack of parking sensors or reversing camera proved how hard judging where the ends (especially the front) of the Juke are owing to its styling as we frequently left far too much space at the car’s nose end when parking.
Engine and transmission
We were most interested to try this combination of 1.2-litre, 85kW/190Nm petrol engine and six-speed manual transmission in the Juke as we did not have the opportunity to do so during the launch program.
It is 1kW down but 32Nm up on the naturally aspirated 1.6-litre it replaces (but lives on in ST automatic form as there’s no auto to go with the turbo 1.2). Power and torque are both developed much lower in the rev range (4500rpm and 2000rpm respectively) than the 1.6.
Official combined fuel consumption is 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres (down 0.4L/100km on the 1.6) and we achieved an average of 6.2L/100km during our week of mixed driving. The idle-stop system works well but its habit of cutting the engine before the Juke is stationary sometimes caught it out when crawling in traffic.
It’s a smooth and quiet unit that only gets boomy when pointlessly revved above its 4500rpm power peak but it is pretty dead below its 2000rpm torque peak, making hill starts and second-gear turns (such as at intersections) a challenge, particularly due to the large gap between first and the tall second ratio combined with a rather high clutch biting point.
At urban and suburban speeds it provides adequate propulsion to keep up with traffic or maintain momentum on motorways in sixth. Treat this as a city car with occasional motorway work and you will be happy with its performance.
Country lanes are not the ideal home for the 1.2-litre Juke, which struggles to accelerate up hills even after dropping a couple of ratios and it is hard to find the right gear for keeping up momentum on hilly terrain at around 80km/h.
The key is keeping it between 2000 and 4000rpm, but there is no doubt that the engine is working hard in these circumstances.
Luckily the six-speed manual ’box is slick and has a short throw, making stick-stirring a pleasure.
The Eco, Normal and Sport driving modes have an almost imperceptible effect on the engine’s throttle response and are more about altering throttle openings relative to accelerator pedal position.
Ride and handling
The Juke is both comfortable and agile around town and up to suburban arterial road speeds, taking the edge off potholes and speed humps while ironing out poor surfaces regardless of speed. It only becomes slightly fidgety on the most broken, patchy of surfaces and feels solid and stable on motorways.
Its superbly weighted steering is sharp and accurate, with a perceptible increase in on-centre responsiveness available (but not much else) in Sport mode.
Body roll and is well-resisted and chassis control is impressive, but we used the around-town and suburban speed caveat for a reason – it loses composure on twisty roads above 80km/h, just like the engine struggles in these situations.
The back-road blast experience is one of floaty sensations, vague steering feel, low grip thresholds and kill-joy stability systems. Considering how fun and agile the Juke is to punt around at lower speeds this came as a disappointment but is entirely consistent with its drivetrain’s sweet spots.
We mentioned challenging hill-starts in the engine/transmission section and the front-drive Juke’s limited traction exacerbated this. Tyre chirps were commonplace when traversing a hill-strewn town.
On fast roads, we regularly felt the electronics curtailing us as we accelerated through or out of corners. They also stepped in at the exact point the driver tends to correct, but the safety net can be loosened by pressing a dashboard button to reveal an adjustable and even playful rear-end.
It felt as though the Juke had been engineered for all-wheel-drive and was compromised by being converted to front-drive. The lack of traction and grip – including under heavy braking – led us to suspect it would be transformed by a better set of tyres, so we were surprised to find it was rolling on quality Bridgestone Turanza ER300s.
But as we concluded in the engine/transmission section, treat the Juke 1.2 a as a city car with occasional motorway work and you will be more than happy with its ride and handling.
Safety and servicing
We made the error of driving the Juke without the headlights on. Visible from the driver’s seat, the transparent bulges of the daytime running lights and their brightness in underground car parks, made us think the headlights were on when they were not. The illuminated instrument panel aided that incorrect conclusion. With the DRLs on, the tail-lights are extinguished. With the headlights on, both the DRLs and instrument panel are dimmed. We doubt we are the first or last to make this all-too-easy mistake.
The Juke received a maximum five-star ANCAP crash-test rating, scoring 33.03 out of 37 overall, with 13.69 out of 16 in the frontal offset test, 15.34 out of 16 in the side impact test and 2 out of 2 in the pole test. Whiplash protection was deemed ‘good’ and pedestrian protection ‘marginal’.
Dual front airbags plus side chest curtain airbags are standard, as are electronic stability and traction control plus anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution.
Service intervals are 12 months or 10,000 kilometres, with “service certainty” capped price maintenance available through main dealers for the first six years. The warranty lasts three years or 100,000 kilometres.
While the Juke is showing its age in some areas, Nissan set a pretty high standard to begin with and the addition of this new 1.2-litre engine has helped the pioneering compact crossover keep up with increasingly impressive competition.
Questions over value-for-money will no doubt be quashed by Nissan’s regular special offers and low-rate finance deals if bought at the right time and regardless of price and equipment, nothing on the road quite looks like a Juke.
A lot of compact SUVs feel built to a price and underwhelming on the interior and ride/handling fronts. But the Juke is a genuine pleasure to drive in the environments it is most likely to inhabit, with a smooth and classy drivetrain that also happens to be pretty efficient.
Regardless, many people will buy the Juke based on its looks – and they will likely be more than satisfied by the driving experience.
We just wish Nissan had fitted parking sensors or a reversing camera and improved the interior for this facelift.
Renault Captur Expression TCe 90 from $22,990 plus on-road costs
Like the Juke, the entry level Captur is distinctive and best enjoyed battling through suburbia and the city. It’s a bit of French chic for not a lot of coin with comfort, space and heaps of standard equipment plus customisation options to keep the individualist happy.
Suzuki Vitara RT-S from $21,990 plus on-road costs
Newest kid on the compact crossover block at the time of writing and a strong contender in terms of value, handling, efficiency and scope for customisation.
But the engine could do with a bit more go.
Mazda CX-3 Maxx 2WD from $22,390 plus on-road costs
Another big-hitter from Mazda but its classy, elegant styling might be a bit boring for those considering a Juke. Swish interior, decent standard equipment, tidy handling and big, punchy engine but small boot and tight rear quarters count against it.
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