May 11th, 2011

Driven: Nissan Juke

It has got to that time of year where people sit around a pseudo-boardroom filled with cameras to be shouted at by a man who used to sell TV aerials out the back of a van in the name of becoming ‘The Apprentice’.

If you have seen the show, or have a BTEC in Business studies, you will know that all you need to do to become a winner is find a niche (apparently). I am not sure if the design team at Nissan are avid watchers of The Apprentice, but their latest car, the Juke, is firmly under the niche banner of the office flip chart. The Juke slips into Nissan’s line up below the paintball dodging Murano and kickfliping Qashqai and like all crossovers it messes with your perceptions.

Now let’s start with the big talking point - the way it looks. I have never driven a car that has caused such a reaction of love and hate. Some people would call this the Marmite dilemma. With its edgy but plump styling the best way I can describe the Juke is that it looks like a Kinder Happy Hippo from space. But this is a good thing. This is a car designed for the city (or as the hip people say, ‘The Urban Jungle’) and for people who don’t mind being looked at. The Juke isn’t subtle but it does carry a lot of Nissan’s previous design DNA. With boomerang rear lights from the 370Z, the slopping roof from a GTR and the ground clearance of a Qashqai the Juke is quite an odd mash up. Riding on chunky wheels and a raised ride height you would think that it is a baby SUV, but when it comes to driving the Juke it feels a lot more like a hatchback than a wobbly SUV.

The car is based on the Renault Nissan Alliance B platform, so it is basically a Note. With a short wheel base and an eager turn it is a really fun car to punt around town. We tested the excellently fizzy 1.6-litre direct-injection turbocharged petrol engine. With the help of the turbocharger and direct injection the engine responds like a 2.5l engine but with the economy of a much smaller unit. Having a hot hatch worthy 190PS and 240Nm, it is capable of 40.9mpg on the combined and 62mph from standstill is achieved in just 8.0 seconds.

Power comes in thick and fast past 2000rpm and with the adaptive power steering tightening up in conjunction with a smidge of torque steer it is an engaging drive. With a short and direct shifter on the six-speed manual, as well as a pedal box which has great feel and is well placed, you feel like you are blasting around in a sporty hatchback - not a crossover that looks like hippo-shaped confectionary.

Out of the city the car struggles on bumpy B-road blasts as the damping can’t quite keep up. Our front-wheel drive test car had MacPherson struts at the front with a torsion beam at the rear and a new cradle-type front subframe has enhanced the lateral stiffness of the assembly. The four-wheel drive model has a multi-link rear suspension modelled on the system found on Qashqai. The ride can feel a bit stiff around town but you thank it when you want to push it. For quite a high riding car it feels a lot more planted than you would expect. There is plenty of grip in corners can easily get the front wheels spinning out of corners if you are too eager for your shot of torque from the turbo.

Where the car lets itself down is on the inside. With all the futuristic lines of the outside and bold styling decisions you wish it could have made its way inside too. The focal point is motorcycle fuel tank-inspired centre consol whichi is finished in a high-gloss red it which  looks a bit cheap, as do the gloss door pulls and inserts.

There are three core spec levels available on the Juke: Visia, Acenta and Tekna. The entry-level Visia comes equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels, ESP, six airbags, sports seats and air conditioning, while also offering the practicality of the Juke’s funky five-door shape. Acenta spec supplements the standard equipment list to include 17-inch alloys, climate control and Bluetooth with USB connectivity. Tekna spec comes fully loaded with tech including cruise control, speed limiter and a rear view camera.

Inside some displays and materials feel a bit aged for such a contemporary car. To try and jazz the car up Nissan has included a display to show the boost coming from the turbo and even a G-Meter harping back to their Godzilla roots. I renamed this LCD screen ‘the screen of death’ because if you are anywhere near the limit and interested in seeing how many Gs you are pulling, you can be sure that it will be the last screen you will ever look at. It is a bit gimmicky and not the most appealing visual display but it does add a bit of character – not that the Juke needed any help in that department.

Drivers can also select three driving modes: Eco, Normal and Sport. This system loosens or tightens up the throttle, changes air con settings and changes the engines power delivery according to how you want to drive. The modes do not have the drastic difference that is found in the Honda CR-Z so you tend to dismiss the modes and leave the car in full fat Sport mode all the time.

With the Juke starting at £12,975 (rising to £19,995) it is a cheap way to distinguish yourself from the pack. No matter where you are, you are you are sure to turn heads in the Juke.  With an accomplished ride and the great 1.6 turbo engine, you will also be turning these heads with a smile on your face. The Juke’s niche characteristics could mean Nissan are well on the way to a winner - even with its polarizing looks. Whether all ‘The Apprentice’ contestants will be buying them is a completely different story though.

Words: Rowan Horncastle

Photos/Video: Rowan Horncastle

Editing: James Kelly


News . Road Tests