It’s an automotive version of Zoolander as the second-generation Nissan Juke and Toyota C-HR adopt ‘blue steel’ poses in a battle of style-focused compact crossovers.
For all its (many) faults, the original Nissan Juke was a pioneering model in 2010 – starting a trend for compact crossovers that blended a hatchback body style with the elevated ride height of an SUV.
A second-generation Juke has arrived here seven years after the delayed original turned up in Australia in 2013 – giving Nissan some desperately needed fresh metal. (The company’s other SUVs are between five and six years old.)
The new Juke is a bit bigger than before – growing 7.5cm in length to 4.21m and increasing in width and height – though Nissan’s designers have once again had plenty of fun with the design.
It sits on a new platform shared with alliance partners Renault and Mitsubishi, sitting beneath vehicles such as the second-generation Renault Captur baby SUV expected later this year.
The Juke line-up is simpler this time. Where previously buyers could choose between a dizzying mix of petrol and diesel engines, front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and manual or auto transmissions, Nissan’s high-riding hatchback is now offered in one drivetrain configuration: front-wheel drive, 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo engine, and dual-clutch gearbox. Simples.
There are four trim grades, though – ranging from the $27,990 ST to the $36,490 Ti. For this comparison, we have the one-from-top ST-L that costs $33,940 before on-road charges.
Running against the Juke is one of its most natural competitors – in price and positioning, if not size. The slightly bigger Toyota C-HR has, since 2017, been another crossover aimed squarely at style-conscious buyers.
And by picking a $34,690 C-HR Koba – the variant that accounts for about half of this Toyota’s sales – we have closely matched pricing (although, owing to availability issues, our test car is the Koba AWD that costs an extra $2000).
Price and features
Current drive-away pricing (based on Sydney postcode) puts a $2542 wedge between our stylistic duellists. The Juke ST-L is offered at $36,490 compared with $39,032 for the C-HR Koba.
Those prices increase with ‘premium’ paint options: $37,085 in the Nissan’s case or $39,547 for the Toyota. Our C-HR test car had the only non-premium paint available – Hornet Yellow – though its price increases to $39,497 drive-away with the optional contrast black roof.
The Juke was previously available from just $21,990, or from $24,390 to have an automatic rather than manual gearbox. You get a lot more standard equipment on the new model, however, which is well equipped from the entry-level ST upwards.
By the time you get to the ST-L, there’s already LED-everything exterior lighting, paddle-shift levers, factory navigation, digital radio, heated front seats, auto high beam, blind spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring, front/rear parking sensors, speed-limit notification, forward-collision alert and lane-departure warning.
ST-L also adds 19-inch alloy wheels (up from 17s), adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, keyless start, drive modes, cloth/accented-leather upholstery, electric park brake, 7.0-inch digital display for the instrument panel, and Around View monitor. The rear brakes also switch from drums to discs.
The C-HR Koba serves up one-size-down alloy wheels (18 inches) and a smaller digital driver information display (4.2 inches), though elsewhere matches the Juke’s extensive list of standard fare before countering with privacy glass, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, dual-zone climate control (with Nanoe air-con technology), and electric lumbar adjustment for the driver’s seat.
Aside from the Koba’s AWD option, there’s also an alternative drivetrain – a front-drive hybrid priced from $37,190.
Juke shoppers can get extra features such as a Bose audio system (with headrest speakers), leather/Alcantara seats, Alcantara trim and privacy glass by choosing the flagship Ti model, which costs from $36,490.
|Nissan Juke ST-L||Toyota C-HR Koba FWD|
|Engine||1.0-litre 3-cylinder turbo petrol||1.2-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power and torque||84kW @ 5250rpm, 180Nm @ 2400rpm||85kW @ 5200-5600rpm, 185Nm @ 1500-4000rpm|
|Transmission||seven-speed dual-clutch automatic||CVT auto|
|Drive type||front-wheel drive||front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||5.8L/100km||6.4L/100km|
|fuel use on test||7.6L/100km||7.6L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||422L / 1305L||318L / not available|
|Turning circle||11.0 metres||10.4 metres|
|ANCAP safety rating (year tested)||5 (tested 2019)||5 (tested 2017)|
|Warranty (years / km)||5 years / unlimited km||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Ford Puma, Mazda CX-3, Volkswagen T-Cross||Ford Puma, Mazda CX-30, Volkswagen T-Roc|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$33,940||$34,690|
Infotainment and tech
Nissan and Toyota both go with 8.0-inch touchscreens for their infotainment displays. Neither interface leads the way for menu presentation nor sharp graphics (including maps that are a bit blurry on both), though there’s no significant lag to selections and neither is overly tricky to get to grips with.
The Juke’s main menu can be modified slightly, with the option to have either phone, audio or navigation as a central focal point.
The 7.0-inch TFT display sitting between the physical instrument dials also allows the driver to cycle through a variety of information using steering wheel buttons. The display is a good size, though Nissan has missed a trick by not making it an option to fill it with a map when using navigation (a great feature available on the VW T-Cross as part of its Sound and Vision package). It’s only possible to feature directional arrows in tandem with the map on the infotainment display.
Physical primary-function buttons sit below the infotainment screen, and they include a handy Day/Night selector so you can choose whether you want the screen brightly lit or dimmed regardless of the time of day.
Toyota significantly improved the C-HR’s infotainment for 2020, increasing the screen size from 6.1 to 8.0 inches and adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – both ensuring the playing field is levelled in this comparison.
Wireless smartphone charging is a disappointing omission for both vehicles, even if USB ports are in close proximity. Smartphone storage areas won’t accommodate larger devices.
Beyond these vehicles’ compact dimensions, each makes parking even easier with front/rear sensors and four cameras that create a bird’s-eye view on the infotainment displays.
Toyota has upgraded the C-HR’s safety features for MY21. All models have an improved pre-collision system that can now detect pedestrians at night and is better at spotting cyclists during the day. There’s also warning and auto-braking for intersections, lane-centring assistance, and Road Sign Assist can reset the cruise control to the prevailing speed limit.
Koba models gain auto-braking for the Rear Cross Traffic Alert system.
Nissan interiors generally would benefit from a major revamp/rethink, and the new Juke offers a promising sign for the Japanese brand’s future product.
Cabin quality and presentation make a huge leap over the old model (which looked dated even on its delayed local debut).
Although the cheap headlining is a bit of a letdown, there are soft-touch materials for the main dash and mid door sections, as well as key touchpoints such as the console bin lid that doubles as an armrest.
Some glossy grey plastic trim and a carbon-fibre effect for the instrument binnacle, cupholder borders and start-stop button surround also help offset the many hard plastics.
The leather-accented seats and flat-bottomed steering wheel provide sporty cues, and the circular black vents with chrome rings not only look cool, but also make a satisfying click when fully opened or closed.
Buttons and dials elsewhere also have a good level of tactility. And at night, you can appreciate the orange ambient lighting integrated into areas including the doors and gear lever surround.
It’s a shame Nissan Australia offers the Juke interior in black/grey only. In some other markets, such as the UK, you can have parts of the dash, doors, centre console and seats in an Energy Orange trim that surely suits this car’s target market.
The C-HR isn’t offered with extra-vibrant interior colours to match some of its extrovert paints, either (perhaps the Australian market is considered too conservative). But it manages to look that bit more upmarket inside, despite no 2020 upgrades beyond the infotainment display.
Perceived quality is boosted by extensive use of pleasantly yielding materials for prominent parts of the dash and the front-door uppers (hard plastics for the rear doors), gloss-black trim sections, and much smarter headlining.
The Koba’s steering wheel is wrapped in a softer leather than the Juke’s, and the dull-chrome gear knob looks quite classy. Switchgear quality is equal to the Nissan.
Window operation is one-touch all round, whereas only the Juke’s front windows can be opened or closed without holding down a button.
Although the C-HR’s interior design isn’t as extravagant as its exterior styling, there are flourishes such as the headlining scoops above the front seats, textured/3D-effect mid-door panels, and the infotainment and climate control panel angled dramatically towards the driver.
Cabin storage is hit-and-miss. In addition to the undersized phone cubby, door pockets are notepad-thin front and rear, though at least have moulded section for drinks bottles.
The glovebox and console cubby (with 12V socket) are of useful, middling size, and the two, asymmetrically placed console cupholders are so deep I thought I’d struck oil at the bottom… Though it turned out to be just spilt coffee.
The rear doors feature large, integrated bottle holders, and the seatbacks have pouches that are so cleverly disguised one of our testers didn’t realise they were there.
Neither the C-HR nor Juke provides rear centre armrests or rear vents; the Toyota also lacks a USB port, whereas the Nissan at least has one.
The Juke’s front storage is better, with wider/longer door pockets (if not a size match for those in the T-Cross) and there’s a larger, dual-section glovebox (though the owner’s manual doesn’t fit naturally).
Although the C-HR is the longer vehicle here, the Juke’s Mini-like wheel-at-each-corner stance results in wheelbases that are just 4mm apart (in the Toyota’s favour).
While there is a touch more rear leg room in the C-HR, both can accommodate most adults without knees brushing the front seatbacks. In this respect, the Juke is a notable improvement over its predecessor.
Head room and foot space are most generous in the rear of the C-HR, but both benches are flatter than ideal. Rear-seat vision isn’t great, either, with narrow side windows.
The C-HR’s glass is reduced further by the upward-kick of the rear doors that incorporate hidden doorhandles. (If it’s worth anything, though, neither of my young boys – ages three and seven – complained about not being able to see out.)
The Juke also features hidden rear doorhandles (and sloping roof) to create the ‘coupe’ exterior design.
These models are aimed more at singles and couples without kids, though. Parents looking at a small SUV should instead look at models such as the Honda HR-V, Skoda Karoq (or upcoming, smaller Kamiq), or VW T-Cross.
Boot space is another big improvement for the Juke, which – with good width and depth – jumps by 68L to a 422L capacity. That also compares well with the C-HR’s more compact 318L.
The 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder teamed with dual-clutch auto is a popular format for the segment, with baby SUVs such as the VW T-Cross and upcoming Skoda Kamiq and Ford Puma going the same drivetrain route.
With 84kW and 180Nm, the Juke’s outputs are behind the 85kW/200Nm VW/Skoda twins, yet is close to its Toyota rival here despite having a smaller engine. The 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo in our C-HR Koba produces 85kW and 185Nm.
The Juke’s three-cylinder is a willing engine. Although stronger acceleration wouldn’t go amiss, it’s no slouch in the Commuter Grand Prix. The higher the speed, the better its unison with the gearbox.
The problem comes at lower speeds, where the dual-clutch auto struggles to deliver linear progress. It can hesitate just after the car pulls away from standstill, and it often makes the car surge even when you’re just trying to increase momentum very slightly.
Parking is where the auto’s jerkiness makes life hardest for the driver, and attempting a parallel park on a hill is not for the faint-hearted, as the Juke threatens to roll forwards or backwards into other cars. The Auto Hold function doesn’t help. (Lower trim grades that feature an old-school handbrake rather than an electronic park brake may be a bit easier to park.)
The Juke’s stop-start was also inconsistent – turning the engine off at standstill sometimes, yet on other occasions leaving it idling along with a notification that air-conditioning was being prioritised – despite being on the lowest level and unchanged (such systems take a number of parameters into account, but it was hard to pick the pattern here). It’s not the quickest system to restart the engine, either.
You quickly appreciate the C-HR’s CVT (continuously variable transmission) despite it characteristically sucking some of the life out of the 1.2-litre turbo’s performance.
Progress is far smoother in the Toyota, and it gets away from lights or junctions more smartly than the Nissan. Decent foot-down acceleration allows for overtaking without inducing too much sweat about oncoming traffic.
If you opt for the C-HR Koba hybrid, however, you get both better response to presses of the accelerator pedal and lower fuel consumption.
On the road
Large, 19-inch wheels with thinnish (45-profile) rubber suit the Juke’s playful styling, but there’s an almost inevitable price to pay with a ride that never relaxes. Over typically patchy urban and suburban road surfaces, the Juke’s suspension can be easily agitated and will crash over deeper potholes. Even on relatively smooth freeways, it feels overly stiff.
The upside is that the Juke is quite fun to drive on more interesting roads – and more enjoyable we’d say than the performance-focused Nismo variant of the last model.
There’s an abundance of tyre grip (from the Hankook Ventus S1 Evo rubber), the Juke is keen to turn into corners, body roll is far from excessive for a high-riding vehicle, and the Nissan feels composed over bumpy sections.
Keen drivers may just be disappointed that the auto doesn’t allow proper manual control, shifting up automatically despite the paddle levers and a Sports mode.
The reality is that few buyers of these stylish crossovers will have ‘sporty handling’ anywhere near the top of their priority list, and Toyota will please more owners more of the time with the C-HR’s driving experience.
So, while on a winding road the C-HR’s body control isn’t as tight as the Juke’s or its Bridgestone Potenza 18-inch, 50-profile tyres quite as grippy, its more supple springing and more forgiving damping make for a noticeably more comfortable ride. (Though the regular C-HR on 17-inch wheels is even more compliant.)
The Toyota is still enjoyable to drive, too, with smoothly predictable steering, plus brakes that are lovely to use – easy to modulate whether lighter or firmer pedal pressure is being applied.
The Juke’s brakes are also well calibrated, if firmer in feel.
On the freeway, wind noise was noticeable in both cabins, though slightly louder in the Nissan. The tachometers reveal the Juke’s engine works a few hundred RPM harder at 110km/h, though it remains in the background.
The Toyota’s adaptive cruise was slower than the Nissan’s system when it came to returning to the set speed after slowing for traffic. A minor annoyance with the Juke is that selecting radar cruise brings up the vehicle gap selector in the display, but doesn’t revert to the driver’s previous selected display without forcing the change via a steering wheel button.
We also experienced a failure of the cruise control, where the Juke’s speed started to plummet unexpectedly – requiring manual re-acceleration. After switching the car off and on again, the same issue didn’t reoccur.
There was also a separate glitch during a night drive, when the auto emergency brake system inexplicably kicked in while the car was slowing normally for a two-lane traffic-light junction. Again, it was a one-off incident during our time with the car.
Toyota’s low servicing costs are a great bonus for owners. Servicing a C-HR costs just $200 per visit (every 12 months or 15,000km), for a total of $1000 over the company’s five-year capped-pricing period. A check-up for the Juke is priced between $287 and $447, making its total costs for the same period almost double at $1889 (but still cheaper than a T-Cross, which exceeds $2400).
Nissan’s mileage intervals are higher at 20,000km, though, and roadside assistance is included whereas Toyota owners have to pay for it.
In a small blow for owners hoping to equate compact vehicles with compact fuel bills, both turbocharged engines need to run on 95RON premium as a minimum.
Official consumption figures fall in the Nissan’s favour – 5.8 v 6.5L/100km (or 6.4L/100km for the Koba 2WD we’re meant to be comparing here). However, we recorded identical indicated numbers for two different motoring scenarios: an urban commute (6.6L/100km) and a longer drive with suburban, freeway and country road testing (7.6L/100km).
For those potentially interested in the C-HR hybrid, its official consumption is 4.3L/100km – and we’ve achieved 5.3L/100km in real-world testing. It also runs on regular unleaded.
Both cars are covered by five-year factory warranties, though Toyota offers some complimentary extensions based on dealer service history.
It’s important to establish one thing before determining a winner here. If you’re after a compact SUV with some genuine family credentials, you’d be better served by a Kia Seltos, Honda HR-V, Skoda Kamiq or Volkswagen T-Cross.
The Juke and C-HR are stylised crossovers that prioritise form over function. But they’re targeted perfectly at empty-nesters, couples without kids, and singles.
The Nissan Juke has certainly never been a shrinking violet when it comes to exterior styling, but in our view the second-generation design is even more successful – more mature yet still youthful. And potentially less polarising.
It also injects some much-needed freshness into the Japanese brand’s showroom, including an interior that we hope points to significant cabin presentation improvements in future Nissans. (There’s still room for further improvement with infotainment, though.)
The Juke’s playful styling is also backed by its fun-to-drive nature.
Its main playground is suburbia, however, and here the Juke lacks some of the requisite qualities needed for urban driving. The ST-L’s big wheels often compromise ride comfort, and the flawed auto makes parking trickier and acceleration response a bit of a lottery.
Toyota’s C-HR provides only modest performance from its turbo petrol engine, while its infotainment system doesn’t set the world on fire despite the screen upgrade. And as with most compact SUVs, there’s better value to be found in their related hatchbacks.
In the Koba FWD’s case, for virtually the same money you could have a Corolla ZR with a hybrid engine and extra notable features such as electric driver’s seat, 7.0-inch driver display, head-up display, leather-accented and suede upholstery, and JBL audio.
But if the C-HR’s crossover styling is a bigger drawcard, then the compact Toyota backs up its visual appeal with an upmarket interior presentation, and refined driving manners that you imagine even Lexus engineers would respect.