The Nissan Juke Ti-S blends controversial styling with turbo power. With a new-generation model imminent, does the current car still stack up in the small SUV segment?
The Nissan Juke has been turning heads – for the right and wrong reasons, depending on who you ask – since it launched globally in 2010, and basically started the small SUV segment as we know it today.
After becoming a sales hit in its home market of Japan and Europe, the boldly-styled crossover arrived in Australia towards the tail end of 2013, with the facelifted 'Series 2' version landing soon after in 2015.
While it was a strong seller in Australia's small SUV segment when it first launched, the Juke's sales have slipped significantly of late, largely due to the influx of newer competitors like the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V.
In fact, the Juke has lost sales within its own family stable, with the larger Qashqai competing in the same class, and currently outsells its smaller and more abstract sibling by a ratio of eight-to-one.
The second-generation model is just around the corner, already confirmed by the Japanese manufacturer, and likely to make its debut sometime later this year or early next.
Before the all-new Juke lands, however, is the current car still worthy of your hard-earned dollars?
On test we have the top-of-the-range Ti-S with all-wheel drive, which starts at $33,490 before on-road costs. The 'Magnetic Red' metallic paint here adds a further $495, bringing the as-tested price to $33,985 plus ORCs. Nissan is, however, currently advertising this model from $29,990 driveaway.
Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a 5.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation and traffic monitoring, DAB+ digital radio, NissanConnect app compatibility, six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, climate control, keyless entry and start, leather accented seats, steering wheel and shift lever, heated front seats, a 360-degree camera system with moving object detection, xenon headlights with LED daytime-running lights, automatic headlights and wipers, electric folding exterior mirrors, and privacy glass.
In terms of safety, all Juke models come with six airbags, traction control, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, active front headrests, and ISOFIX anchor points for the outer rear seats. The Ti-S adds lane departure warning and blind-spot monitoring, though no variant is available with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) or adaptive cruise control, systems which are increasingly becoming available in more and more rivals.
Measuring 4135mm long, 1765mm wide, and 1565mm high, the Juke is barely larger than a light hatchback, while its 180mm ground clearance is more than enough to tackle those pesky kerbs around town or even tackle the odd dirt road.
From the outside, the facelifted 'Series 2' Juke still looks fresh, if somewhat polarising. It's not as offensive in this Magnetic Red metallic paint compared to some of the brighter hues available (see Bumblebee Yellow), though the two-tier headlight design and bulbous nose continue to divide opinion, for better or worse.
The coupe-like roofline slopes into a more conventional hatchback rump, and in this reviewer's opinion, the Juke looks cool and stands out from the somewhat boring designs of today's crop of SUVs.
In saying that, it would be nice if Nissan could offer some larger alloy wheels on higher-spec models not only to differentiate the range but also to make this 'sporty' Ti-S model look different to the entry-level ST, as the only real distinguishing feature from the outside is the projector headlights and the 'Ti-S AWD' badging.
Hopping inside, the Juke is really starting to show its age, both in terms of design and quality. The 5.8-inch screen is tiny compared to the 7.0- and 8.0-inch screens used in some competitors, while the hard, scratchy plastics look like they belong on a Fisher Price toy rather than a European-built SUV – the Juke is built at Nissan's Sunderland facility in the UK alongside the Qashqai and Infiniti's Q30 and QX30.
An interesting feature of the interior is the centre tunnel, which was inspired by a motorbike's fuel tank, and is finished in either metallic red or grey – our tester had the latter. It's a much nicer surface to touch than the materials that adorn the dash and doors, but it's not enough to match the much more refined and premium interiors of rivals like the Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR.
Further contrast is added by the gloss black finishes of the centre fascia, but again, it looks dated especially when combined with the tiny displays.
The front seats are, however, comfortable and offer good support, while there's also decent room in the second row despite the sloping roofline and compact dimensions. Good luck with trying to fit three abreast, though.
Drivers are treated to conventional analogue dials, along with old-school red dot matrix LCD displays, which again feel very dated compared to the Juke's exterior along with the systems offered by competitors.
It's not really the cool and sporty vibe Nissan has been advertising with the Juke, and the driving experience doesn't really build on that either.
Under the bonnet is a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, developing a healthy 140kW of power at 5600rpm, and 240Nm of torque between 1600 and 5200rpm. In the small SUV segment, those outputs are best in class. Braked towing capacity is rated at 1150kg for this model.
Drive is sent to an on-demand all-wheel drive system with torque vectoring via a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) with manual mode. Sounds pretty good, right?
Unfortunately the Juke struggles to deliver either comfort or sportiness on the road. The firmly-sprung suspension feels very unsettled around town, picking up just about every imperfection and transmitting them through the cabin, while also jarring over larger bumps like train tracks and potholes. At higher speeds, like on the freeway, the ride settles a little, but still can be upset by small lumps and bumps.
It's nowhere near as plush as a C-HR or HR-V, so you wouldn't buy this car for its comfortable SUV ride.
Meanwhile, the turbocharged four-pot is dulled by the droney CVT transmission, and sounds really thrashy under load which isn't very sporty at all. Additionally, the all-wheel drive system doesn't seem to negate the Juke's torque steer during hard acceleration – which again doesn't help the Nissan to feel particularly athletic.
However, the extra traction can definitely be felt through corners, with the torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system providing that extra confidence at higher speeds or in the wet.
In addition to the transmission's manual mode, the Juke's lower display gives drivers the option of switching between 'Normal', 'Sport' and 'Eco' modes, each adjusting the throttle response, transmission and steering.
In normal mode the powertrain is a little lazy and the steering is pretty light – great for car parks and tight city streets – and this is amplified in 'Eco' mode to maximise fuel efficiency.
Meanwhile, the sport mode sharpens the throttle, firms up the steering feel and the transmission holds on to 'gears' in an effort to be more sporting. It definitely feels peppier and a little more engaging, though the transmission and engine note really let the experience down.
Holding higher revs just makes the engine sound droney and CVTs still can't offer the slick shifting experience of dual-clutch transmission, let alone torque-converter units. Some of this can be fixed by getting the Ti-S with a manual transmission – which also saves you around $3700 – though that also deletes the all-wheel drive system and multi-link rear suspension setup, instead keeping the torsion beam system from lesser Juke models.
Around town, the Juke Ti-S offers adequate punch for normal driving, though there's a bit of turbo lag on takeoff. On the highway, the 1.6-litre turbo settles into a cruisey state, humming along just below 2000rpm.
While engine noise is well suppressed at lower revs, there is noticeable tyre roar over most surfaces – further reducing the Juke's refinement.
Fuel consumption is pretty good in the real world though, sitting in the mid-8.0L/100km around town and dropping to mid-7.0L/100km with more freeway driving. Nissan claims 6.5L/100km combined.
In terms of ownership, all Juke models are covered by Nissan's relatively average three-year, 100,000km warranty with 24-hour roadside assistance. The Juke is also covered by the myNissan 'Service Certainty' capped-price maintenance schedule, which covers the first six years or 120,000km.
Servicing is required every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first, with each visit for the 1.6-litre turbo costing between $281 and $654. For the life of the six-year plan, the Juke will set you back between $2040 and $4543 depending on how much you drive. Additionally, brake fluid is required every 24 months or 40,000km at $32 a pop – bringing the total cost over six years to between $2104 and $4639, or a yearly average of $350-$773, which isn't the cheapest.
It's hard to recommend the Nissan Juke, especially in this expensive top-spec Ti-S AWD trim, when the small SUV segment is becoming more and more competitive. Rivals like the Mazda CX-3 offer arguable equivalent levels of exterior styling (if less dramatic) while also providing a much more upmarket interior, while the Honda HR-V and Mitsubishi ASX are far better when it comes to interior space and practicality.
The new Toyota C-HR is probably the Juke's most natural rival as an overall package, offering polarising styling in a coupe-styled SUV body. What the Toyota lacks in all-out grunt from its smaller 1.2-litre turbo it makes up for with far superior levels of interior quality and driving refinement, while also being better value for money.
If you really like the Nissan, it's best to settle for the entry-level ST, and pocket the near-$10,000 difference. Otherwise, it would be worth waiting for the all-new second-generation Juke, which should arrive within the next 12 months and be a more competitive proposition compared to the ever-improving fleet of small SUVs.
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