Polarising looks for baby SUV but it's less divisive in the way it drives.
It's taken more than three and a half years, but the Nissan Juke is finally available in Australia.
Pioneering and somewhat revolutionary when it debuted in 2010, the Juke's exclusivity has been eroded in recent times by the rapid expansion of the subcompact SUV segment, which in Australia already includes the Holden Trax and Peugeot 2008 and will soon swell further with the impending introductions of the Ford EcoSport and Renault Captur.
The company’s local arm admits to umming and ahhing over the Nissan Juke for a long time, but insists the quirky crossover now has a crucial role to play in both attracting new customers to the brand and helping Nissan maintain its ranking as the second-largest distributor of SUVs in the country.
Nissan expects the UK-built Juke to appeal to first-time new-car buyers in their 20s, excitement-seeking middle-aged women, and many in between, and sees it competing with image cars like the Mini Cooper and Volkswagen Beetle as much as more conventional subcompact SUVs.
Enhancing the appeal of the Nissan Juke is its $21,990 starting price, which makes it cheaper than the Trax and the same as the 2008. The entry-level Juke ST is powered by an 86kW/158Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. It comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission, consuming a claimed 6.0 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, and is available with an optional automatic continuously variable transmission (6.3L/100km) for $24,390.
The $28,390 mid-spec Nissan Juke ST-S benefits from a 140kW/240Nm direct injection turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine – familiar from the Pulsar SSS – and a six-speed manual transmission, which, as in the ST, sends drive to the front wheels. Nissan claims fuel consumption of 6.9L/100km when using premium unleaded petrol, which is recommended across the entire Juke line-up.
The same engine is put to work in the range-topping $32,190 Juke Ti-S, which uniquely features a CVT with manual shift mode and a selectable torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system. It’s unsurprisingly the heaviest of the trio, weighing in at 1374kg, and the thirstiest, consuming 7.4L/100km combined.
The Nissan Juke ST CVT, the entry-level auto, is a good chance to be the volume seller in the range and we can allay fears that the 86kW motor is underpowered or constrained by the continuously variable transmission.
The Juke makes easy progress through city and suburban traffic, while the engine remains impressively refined as revs rise. The engine’s performance at low speeds is ample, though accelerating up hills and overtaking at higher speeds makes a case for the turbo motor and its extra 54kW/82Nm of grunt.
Unlike the ST’s innocuous engine, the 140kW turbo is characterful and endearing, singing a light, zingy note that only gets better as you approach its 6500rpm redline. Peak torque is available from 2000-5200rpm, and the CVT ensures the engine predominantly remains within that range to ensure pressing the throttle is met with eagerness and linear acceleration.
The mid-spec Nissan Juke ST-S is the driver’s car of the range, however, teaming the turbo engine with a six-speed manual and the ST’s front-wheel drive. It’s 125kg lighter than the Ti-S, and consequently feels quicker and more playful than its AWD sibling (though there were few challenging roads to truly test the car’s dynamics).
Heavier drivetrain components mean the flagship model also weighs a hefty 183kg more than the base auto, though the all-wheel-drive Ti-S feels more planted, encouraging more adventurous corner entry and exit speeds and rewarding with traction and a feeling of control.
How the Juke responds to throttle and steering inputs, how the auto operates and how effective the air-con works can be determined by the driver via the car’s Dynamic Control System positioned low on the centre stack.
There are three modes – Normal, Sport and Eco – and four dynamic variables: Engine, CVT, Steering and Climate.
Eco dulls your throttle inputs and aims to minimise its revs by searching for the gearbox’s highest practical ratio.
Sport sits at the opposite end of the spectrum, with the accelerator pedal noticeably more reactive to right-foot prods and the transmission holding the revs higher to keep the engine roughly 500rpm closer to its power and torque peaks, achieved at 6000rpm and 4000rpm respectively.
Sport also introduces a unique steering setting, although like so many such adaptive systems it merely adds artificial weight, detracting from the playfully light setup of the wheel in its natural state (offered by both Normal and Eco modes).
Regardless of weighing, the steering is encouragingly direct, reacting immediately to even slight movements from the straight-ahead position, and reasonably quick.
Regardless of setting, the Juke’s suspension irons out coarse surfaces well, providing a quality ride across average urban roads. It struggles most with low-speed bumps and undulations met at higher speeds, over which it bounces and rocks from side to side before settling and regaining its composure.
The Juke’s styling is without doubt polarising, making its appeal particularly personal. One disappointment for such a design-driven car is that there are almost no differences between the three grades from the outside, save the badges, with even the same 17-inch alloy wheels fitted across the range.
It’s a similar story inside. While the ST-S gains push-button start and a five-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and rear-view camera and the Ti-S adds heated leather seats, the look and feel is largely the same, with trim colours and materials identical between grades (detailed pricing and specifications here).
The plastics are of the hard, scratchy variety, and the layout, while distinctive with its motorcycle-inspired centre console, looks dated compared with the 2008 and upcoming Captur.
The interior design is also surprisingly unadventurous considering the exterior.
A high seating position doesn’t change the fact that the Juke’s cabin feels small, with little space between passengers. The front seats are comfortable without being particularly supportive for either thighs or torso, while space for legs and feet of rear-riders is limited and headroom is tight for those approaching 180cm.
The Juke doesn’t go out of its way to offer any clever storage compartments, though the glovebox is deceptively deep.
The boot is tiny, however; at 251 litres, it’s just one litre bigger than that of the Nissan Micra. Pushing the 60:40 split-fold rear seats forward liberates only 299 litres of extra space (550L in total).
Nissan’s capped-price servicing program operates over six-month/10,000km intervals for the first six years/120,000km of ownership. To three years/60,000km, it costs $1639.22 to service the Juke ST and $1859 for the turbocharged Juke ST-S and Ti-S variants. By comparison, servicing a Trax over the same period costs just $740.
Those high servicing costs and the cabin’s conservatism and shortage of space may temper the Juke’s appeal for some buyers in the sub-compact SUV market.
The Nissan Juke is perfect for those looking for a vehicle that stand outs for a small outlay, while it also offers refined drivetrains and promising dynamics to prove it’s more than just a, erm, pretty face…