Packing a new engine, new gearbox and a bigger boot into a freshly revised look, the 2015 entry-level Nissan Juke is no shrinking violet...
Styling is subjective, the saying goes, and for the Nissan Juke, that’s probably a good thing.
‘Funky’, ‘different’, ‘unique’, call it what you like, the Nissan Juke has been polarising buyers since its debut at the 2010 Geneva motor show.
And for 2015, the Micra-based sub-compact SUV has been refreshed. There are new 370Z-inspired upper lights – the Juke has three levels of front-end lighting – a tweaked grille, new wing mirrors with integrated indicators, new LED tail-lights and a revised colour palette that includes our test car’s solid Bumblebee yellow (near identical to the hue used on the marque’s 370Z 40th Anniversary Edition).
Easy to spot in a car park, our UK-built $23,490 Juke is the newest addition to a newly rejigged line-up and pairs the entry-level front-wheel-drive ST with a six-speed manual transmission and a turbocharged 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine.
Coming in $1000 below the naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder ST – with its continuously variable transmission (CVT) – the force-fed Juke gets 85kW of power at 4500rpm and 190Nm of torque at 2000rpm.
Shy of its larger-capacity twin by a mere kilowatt, the turbo ST wins the twisting force war by a solid 32Nm.
Helped by a Euro 5-compliant powerplant (the 1.6-litre remains at Euro 4 emission levels), engine stop-start, and a 42kg weight advantage over the CVT-equipped ST, the turbocharged ST manual also claims a best-in-range fuel consumption figure of 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres.
Though a Nissan Juke may not be your go-to tow vehicle, the six-speed ST’s 1200kg braked towing capacity, while down 50kg on the CVT, is still enough to outdo the range’s flagship all-wheel-drive Ti-S model by exactly that same amount.
On the lean side in terms of equipment, standard kit in the 2015 Juke ST includes LED daytime running lights, halogen headlights and foglights, remote keyless entry, cruise control and speed limiter, climate control, and a leather-accented steering wheel and gear knob (the former with audio and cruise controls).
There’s also cloth seats, rear privacy glass, a single 12-volt/120-watt power outlet and range-wide four-wheel disc brakes and 17-inch alloy wheels.
The base ST misses out on the $33,490 top-spec Ti-S's six-speaker stereo and 5.8-inch colour screen, instead making do with a four-speaker system with a single-disc CD player, MP3/USB/iPod capability and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming functionality.
The basic entertainment package also means the ST goes without satellite navigation, rear- and around-view cameras, NissanConnect smartphone integration and DAB digital radio.
Peace of mind is addressed, however, with six airbags, two ISOFIX anchor points with top tethers, a three-year/100,000km warranty and 24-hour roadside assist.
Nestled into the rather wide, almost suede-like cloth seats, comfort up front is reasonable, though, bolstering and support are both a bit light on.
The seat base is quite flat and not adjustable in its angle, meaning under-thigh support is largely ignored, and, oddly – as we experienced in the Nissan 370Z Roadster – pressure on the headrests results in a slight push in the back from some internal seat componentry.
The rest of the cabin is a bit hit and miss.
Highlights include adequate front door pockets; a good glovebox; height-adjustable seatbelts; chrome door handles; smatterings of silver and gloss black; high-gloss grey door trims; and a high-gloss grey transmission tunnel housing two cup holders and several small storage cut-outs of various sizes.
Less good are the Juke’s hard and scratchy dash and door tops, plasticy indicator and wiper stalks, budget-feeling ‘leather’ steering wheel and slightly rubberised handbrake, and the manual shifter’s Kinder Surprise-esque plastic top and hard plastic collar (which you must lift in order to engage reverse). No footrest and power mirror switches that don’t light up at night also sour the experience.
And while there are oddities such as relatively small driver and front passenger air vent apertures and the unintuitive placement of the steering wheel-mounted volume controls, the Juke offers more than reasonable space to put things like phones, keys, drinks and so on, as well as decent sound from its basic audio system – surely both important to the majority of buyers fitting the Juke’s assumed younger target demographic.
Teaming a small central colour display screen with a pair of light, almost flimsy-feeling rotary dials, the Juke’s climate controls are clear and simply laid out… provided, that is, you’re not using Nissan’s dynamic control system.
Allowing the selection of one of three modes – Normal, Sport or Eco – the Nissan dynamic control system (accessible by hitting the ‘D-mode’ button) converts the climate buttons and related on-screen display into controls and graphics to suit the various modes. Normal presents drivers with a torque gauge, Sport a boost gauge, and Eco an ‘Eco-meter’ that rewards conservative driving.
More than a bit gimmicky, we noticed little impact (if any) on the car’s performance regardless of mode, and, due to the screen’s size and placement, we’d suggest few eyes would be on the display once on the go.
Move to the second row and things are equally basic.
Rear space is excellent – even for those standing six-foot tall – with stacks of rear legroom and under-seat toeroom.
Headroom is ample, though rear passengers flanking the centre seat could risk an unpleasant meeting between noggin and roof-mounted grab handle during aggressive games of corners.
One map pocket behind the front passenger and a small door pocket each is all rear personnel get to play with, with no rear air vents or fold-down centre armrest present.
The rear seats do split-fold 60:40, however once forward they create a significant level step up between the floor of the now 354-litre boot (was 251L) and the back of the back seats – particularly annoying if you had envisaged some future Ikea runs with the little Nissan.
Despite being smaller than some others in its class, access to the Juke’s boot is easy enough thanks to a nice rubberised tailgate release and a clever parcel tray that is attached to the inside of the tailgate – so when the tailgate goes up, the whole lot goes up, making for hassle-free loading.
Stick the flip-out key into the ignition, turn it and your first throttle application under load is subtly joined by the faint whine of a spooling turbo. Lift and this is swapped for a hushed ‘ssh’ from the turbocharger’s pressure relief valve. It’s not quite Fast and Furious-spec but it’s entertaining nonetheless…
The six-speed gearbox inoffensively does its job, with throws matched well to a light clutch pedal that isn’t totally devoid of feedback.
The brakes are very natural and progressive underfoot, while the Juke’s speed-sensitive electric power steering is light yet responsive. It can feel somewhat doughy in its weighting though, and feedback is minimal. The Juke’s 10.7m turning circle is also quite poor for a so-called ‘city car’.
Handling most A- and B-roads reasonably well, overall ride comfort on its 55-profile Bridgestone Turanza tyres is good but not class leading.
Never overly troubled by speed humps, tram tracks or undulations, in our time with the ST, it was only ever upset by sharper road indentations and imperfections such as potholes and exposed manhole covers.
Body roll, along with creaks and rattles, were kept to a minimum, though road and wind noise at speed are hard to miss and some rutted roads did provoke some minor noise from the rear parcel tray.
As sluggish and lacklustre off the line as the peak power and torque figures suggest, the little 1.2-turbo definitely makes for ‘gentle’ traffic light getaways below 1500rpm. Get things to 2000rpm and beyond, however, and there’s more than adequate response and pick up – even in fourth and fifth gears.
Most around-town driving can be easily catered for between 2000-3000rpm, with linear mid-range on tap from 3000-5000rpm. Drive with a heavy foot and more intent and you’re unlikely to match Nissan’s fuel usage claims.
As with every Juke in the range, the ST requires premium unleaded and over our 300km-week of inner-urban and highway miles, our test car averaged 7.8L/100km.
There to do its utmost to improve figures, the Juke’s stop-start system will restart the engine as soon as there is even the lightest depression of the clutch pedal and, while still noticeable on restart, is never clunky or particularly invasive.
A sound little all-rounder, there’s little to really dislike about the Nissan Juke. The ST’s lack of a reverse-view camera or parking sensors are obvious negatives – unhelped by its sometimes difficult-to-judge proportions and challenging low-speed vision. Servicing too can be dear with the Juke requiring time at the dealership annually or every 10,000km, with prices ranging from $269 to $350 over the first three years of ownership.
Where the Juke will always live and die, though, is by its looks. And if you love the styling and are content shifting gears yourself, the base 1.2 ST is a legitimate offering for below $25,000. If however, the Japanese micro SUV isn’t your bag, then you’re still spoilt for choice with the segment continuing to boom with models such as the Holden Trax, Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishi ASX, Peugeot 2008, Renault Captur, Skoda Yeti and Suzuki S-Cross.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2015 Nissan Juke ST images by Tom Fraser.