Tablet computers weren't cool until the Apple iPad came along, and now the Nissan Juke is aiming to do the same thing for compact crossovers.
Despite it’s unquestionably contentious looks, since its launch in 2010 the Nissan Juke has proved immensely successful, attracting buyers around the world to a car with a fair bit of attitude. The Juke is a miniature SUV that doesn’t conform to the norms of car design, one that found more than 230,000 buyers just last year.
It’s set for an Australian arrival in October (2013), but instead of waiting for it to come to us, we found ourselves taking it for a drive in the Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro, California.
Australian-delivered Nissan Jukes will be offered with a choice of two 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engines, though the vehicle is also available with a 1.5-litre turbo diesel in Europe.
The turbocharged petrol Juke, which shares its engine with the Nissan Pulsar SSS, delivers 140kW of power and 240Nm of torque. The naturally aspirated model is a significant downgrade at 86kW and 158Nm.
The Juke is likely to be priced from the low-$20,000Ks for the naturally aspirated front-wheel-drive base model and finish in the high $30Ks for the all-wheel-drive turbo. This pricing strategy would see it at a similar (but slightly higher) pricing point than the recently launched Nissan Pulsar.
The base model is offered in a manual but the all-wheel drive is offered only with an automatic gearbox.
Unlike the Thai-built Pulsar, the Nissan Juke models set for Australia are built in Sunderland, United Kingdom. (A factor that may also have an effect on pricing.)
The Nissan Juke is not a car for everyone. It’s meant to be different; it’s a radical rethink of what an SUV could look like and for that reason it tends to evoke that love-it-or-hate-it emotion in most. For us, we love it.
There’s no denying that cars have all started looking similar. This is partially a result of advanced aerodynamics and partially because of safety regulations. So it’s with open arms that we hope to welcome the horridly unique Juke to Australia.
Behind the wheel the Juke is more like a typical car than an SUV. In fact, it’s really not an SUV in any sense except that it tends to sit up higher than your average hatchback. This sub-compact SUV market is sure to get crowded soon with the arrival of the Peugeot 2008, Renault Captur, Ford Ecosport, Holden Trax and so on.
This is precisely why the Nissan Juke is an excellent choice in this segment; it’s a wannabe-SUV with attitude.
For our review we took the 1.6-litre turbo AWD model to the outskirts of El Toro, covering suburban and mountainous terrain. First impressions? It’s pretty good. There’s a certain overall refinement to the car that’s hard to pinpoint to any one particular feature but the interior quality is up there for a car in this price category – even though there are no soft plastics to be seen.
Frankly, the main issue with the interior is that it doesn’t follow the outlandish style of the exterior.
It many ways the interior looks like any other car, so while the rest of the world sees you as a rebel, behind the wheel, you may feel like a conformist.
Although this is an AWD turbocharged and jacked up hatchback, it’s not exactly what we would call sporty. With a 0-100km/h time of about eight seconds, it’s more than quick enough, but just a second or two shy of being lively.
The continuously variable transmission (CVT) – which has one gear that expands or retracts depending on demand – seems to suck the life out of the 1.6-litre turbo, while making far too much noise in the process.
At full acceleration it felt and sounded as though our Juke test car was fiercely vibrating while the CVT held the revs for maximum power and torque extraction. It’s less than ideal and certainly a weakness. A standard six-speed automatic transmission or a dual-clutch unit would have been a better choice.
Off the line the Juke is reasonably quick and can even show a bit of torque-steer despite the all-wheel-drive platform. It behaves well around bends, responding to the slightest steering input while providing excellent feedback in the process.
Ride quality is plush yet not too soft, though it’s hard to tell given how good the roads are in California.
The Nissan Juke isn’t very big. The rear legroom is adequate at best, able to accommodate two adults but definitely not ideal for three. The boot, too, is tiny at just 251 litres (no chance of fitting a full-size pram) but you can fold the rear seats down to improve that to 550 litres.
The Nissan Juke will no doubt turn heads when it lands in Australia. It’s the sort of vehicle you buy if you want to get noticed. Practically, it’s ideal as a city car for singles or couples without kids – or even as a second family car.
The car’s popularity has led to the Nissan Juke Nismo, which Nissan Australia currently says is not on the local agenda, but we suspect will make it downunder in due course. Of course, if that’s not enough grunt, the Nissan Juke R – which borrows its components from the Nissan GT-R – is also on offer if you’re a middle-eastern sheik.