If you're the type of driver who falls in love with your car, and then drives it for years, investing in it emotionally over time, the decision to find a replacement is more than just a little hard.
I bought my '99 model LandCruiser Prado in 2003, and like Gandalf's Shadowfax, he had been my friend through many dangers. We logged over 270,000km in 14 years, a significant proportion driving around the Northern Territory between job sites.
We have transported injured animals and people, carried parts and equipment to keep plant (and people) running. He pulled my horsefloat to countless shows, towed other vehicles and trailers and most notably, stalled at a critical juncture and stopped half a wheel turn from running over a little girl who had fallen in front of us. Despite the shabby paintwork and growing vehicular senility, replacing him was going to be a big ask.
Any replacement had to have some character, more than just a bit of styling. AWD or 4WD were essential as I still wanted to be able to get to places to go hiking, but I no longer needed the sheer heft of the bigger engines for towing a float and two horses for a weekend away.
I made out a list, and began scrutinising everything from the 500X up. I also had determined a price level, after conversations with Autopia (who do my company's leasing) and it was easier to make informed decisions about what was and wasn't (the Evoque...) possible.
The CX-3 and slightly bigger CX-5 are probably the most common vehicles on the road in Canberra in this class. They are lovely, reliable vehicles by all accounts, but... there are so many of them around. The Toyota C-HR was new on the streets, but the time lines around them were uninspiring. The RAV4 had options I liked, but the change from the left to right opening tailgate – MISTAKE, TOYOTA! MISTAKE and a half.
Kia and Hyundai: The Koreans have improved in leaps and bounds, in keeping with their shipping industry, but, there was nothing that clicked with me there, also their vehicles fit under the heading of those the the designers got bored putting together by the back end. Same same the Tiguan – that is a really bad looking car from behind.
The vehicle I had been interested in was showing utterly no sign of being in Australia this decade – Volvo's XC40. I mean, honestly, Volvo, you are missing out on a great chunk of market segment by not having a smaller SUV on offer. And no, the XC60 is not a substitute. It's even more "Meh, that'll do" abaft the rear door handles than the Tiguan, and that is saying something.
So, on the wettest Saturday imaginable, I ended up at Nissan having booked to look at the unpronounceable Qashqai (runner-up to the Touareg in the Category of Names That Will Get Unfairly Corrupted) and the polarisingly-shaped Juke. My father had already expressed his disdain for a car that was named with a word that wasn't one, and another that looked like a crouching frog. More on that shortly.
The Qashqai is lovely. It is a very well padded, very shiny, well-appointed box. And for that reason, it is perfect for putting your family in, because I am sure you could be t-boned in that car, and not feel a thing. Which, is what you want for a family car.
The Juke however... is just pure fun and that was what sealed my decision from the moment I got inside. It is well proportioned for a smaller person like me at 5'5".
There is a great deal of glass in front of you, huge side mirrors (which I think are the same ones borrowed from the X-Trail; they are definitely a size over what you would expect), and a rear windscreen that bucks the trend of reduced visibility behind present in the Audi, Volvo, Opel and Mazda. This is further reinforced with the all-round cameras and reversing support.
It drove in the wet like it was glued to the road, and went up hills like someone had said something about its Mum. I chose the size larger wheels (which did cause a sensor issue, but thank you to Nissan for the work in overcoming that) on my dark grey with red accents Juke, and there is a really solid feel about this smaller car.
The tech side – changing modes does deliver some significant shades of character to the Juke. Sport 4wd on an unsealed road becomes definitely interesting. There are some points of engine yaw coming out of a bend and applying speed, but that becomes part of actually driving the car, and not just pointing an obedient box from A to B. Sorry Mr Qashqai... it's not you... it's me. Also, Dear Sweet X-Trail Courtesy Car – you were lovely, but my stupid left ankle can't deal with pedal parking brakes anymore.
The Juke's info readout does seem way too low down, and I'm not a pilot (unlike one of my passengers, and coincidentally, part of the reason why the Juke also represents a WHOLE lot of retail therapy, and is why he's not allowed to drive it...) so g-force is... not that interesting. An app that manages scheduling and fueling – that would be interesting. Bluetooth hookup to my phone, have the car tell me about what's next? Awesome!
The interior fitout: leather with red highlights is really gorgeous and has made everyone go "Wow". My mother loved the blind spot/vehicle approaching from behind indicators from the moment she saw them in use. Everything else is well fitted – being a UK import, however, means it does have the windscreen wipers on the right, and indicators on the left, which takes a bit of acclimation.
I have gone for the side steps and scuff plates – one of the extras that comes with is down lights that show the ground nicely – very very useful in dark driveways and carparks.
It is really as economical as you could hope for and I heard Nissan will be showcasing a hybrid at the Tokyo motor show later this year. That would be a truly interesting option. With a range of ~30km for around city streets and then switch to conventional power for open highways, that would be a highly attractive package.
Attraction – and I can't finish without talking about the Juke's shape. I personally love the exotic shape and curves of the Juke. In the dark grey, mine looks like a refined little beast, ready to spring. The bright yellow Bumblebee is also hard to miss, though would love to see one with some mini Cooper-esque stripes to add to the effect.
My father, and some other people have been disparaging about the shape. I have a theory about this. The forward facing headlights and the crouching shape are quite definitely predatory, so it can and does make some people feel uncomfortable.
My father has taken it one step further, after we spent a week in Ubud recently, covering the Nyepi Festival which included the Ogohs. We spotted a few Jukes in Bali (and it is an interesting feeling, hearing the price of your car being listed in terms of "millions") and my dear Papa instantly christened the Juke the Nissan Ogoh, and has called for mine to be dispatched as a warning for evil spirits.
Needless to say, he doesn't get to drive it either.
This is a fun car, it takes my Kathmandu rucksack (padded out to full stretch, this was one of my pre-purchase checks) across the boot with ease, and lifting a suitcase in and out is fine. I took along a lot of the things I would normally be lifting/carrying to see how hard it was to manoeuvre them in and out of all the test vehicles.
I love the styling, the finish, colour scheme and handling. The 1.6 turbo engine does not make you wish for anything even a drop bigger though I do wonder if someone was enjoying a recreational pharmaceutical or two with the location of the readout and information to hand.
The Juke may not be for everyone, but if you want something out of the box, not remotely a box, and that was designed by people who didn't care about boxes, it could be for you, too.