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Nissan Juke turns heads

15 February 2012

driving Impressions                                                                                                                                               NISSAN JUKE 1.6 DIG-T TEKNA

The Juke has a funky exterior, comfortable interior and gutsy 1,6-litre turbo engine. Moreover, it is attractively priced. But do these elements combine to provide a vehicle that’s fun to drive and offers good value for money, or is Nissan’s little crossover nothing more than an over-hyped fashion accessory?  

Text: GG van Rooyen, Anzet du Plessis and Danie Botha
Photography: GG van Rooyen

GG van Rooyen writes: Explain to me, please, the point of the Nissan Juke. Yes, it is certainly eye-catching, but so is a crime scene or a defaced building. Nissan’s cutesy crossover is different, I fear, solely for the sake of being different.
It boasts an exterior design that attempts to meld the aggressive stance of an SUV with the sporty appearance of a hot hatch. To be fair, the design does succeed in achieving this to a certain extent. It looks good from the back, and its profile is, I think, fairly funky and interesting. Its front end, however, is just odd – it’s all bulbous curves and strange lines. It doesn’t work, because the different design elements do not flow together to create a harmonious whole.
I also struggle to see the usefulness of combining the features of an SUV with those of a hot hatch. Yes, the SUV design cues give it presence on the road, but what practical benefits do they offer?
The driving position isn’t particularly commanding, the rear doesn’t offer a lot of space and the increased ground clearance (180mm) won’t exactly allow you to tackle off-road trails. Moreover, the all-wheel-drive version of the Juke isn’t available in SA.
What its bloated body does do, however, is spoil its wonderful engine. The turbocharged 1,6-litre engine is fantastic. It revs very nicely, and in a proper low-riding hatch, I suspect it would provide loads of cut-and-thrust fun. The Juke, with its raised height and heavy body, doesn’t allow it to do its best work.
That doesn’t mean, though, that the Juke is unpleasant to drive. Quite the opposite, in fact. The turbo has virtually no lag and the vehicle accelerates deceptively quickly. Because of its tall stance, there’s body-roll, but not as much as you’d expect. It feels firm on the road and doesn’t mind being chucked into corners.
The Juke’s suspension also does its job well, smoothing out uneven surfaces efficiently. It can even contend with bad dirt roads. Despite sporting 17-inch wheels with low-profile tyres and lacking all-wheel drive, the Juke feels surefooted on gravel, maintaining its poise long after you would expect it to lose its composure. It also manages to keep occupants comfortable, providing low NVH levels, even when the dampers are working hard.
The engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission that does its job well. No automatic option is available. Some would probably prefer an auto shifter, but the manual ’box is easy enough to use, especially on open roads. The engine provides a decent amount of torque at low engine revs, so there’s no need to downshift constantly.
The interior is pleasant and attractive. All the modern accoutrements one would expect are present. There’s climate control, Bluetooth capability, a good sound system and an iPod and USB connection, to name a few. Ergonomically, everything is sound. All the switches, dials and buttons are well placed and easy to use.
The Juke is fun to drive, its interior is comfy and its styling is undoubtedly unique, but I fail to see the point of its existence. It is too small and car-like to be a useful crossover, and too bulky to be a sporty hatch.
I am willing, however, to admit that the problem lies with me. I suspect that I am simply not cool or “hip” enough to truly appreciate the Juke. In November 2011, 526 Jukes were sold in SA. In December, 492 were sold. Those are the sort of sales figures that would impress even a VW or Toyota board member, so a lot of people clearly like the Juke’s styling. My colleague, Anzet du Plessis, appears to be one of them…

Anzet du Plessis writes:
I’ve been complaining about the people complaining about the Juke’s styling ever since it was released. Every year, concept after concept is unveiled at the Detroit, Tokyo or Geneva motor shows. Journalists and motoring enthusiasts revel in the theatrical displays of technological and styling experimentation.
Their excitement becomes palpable when the companies announce their intention to produce and sell the cars. Sadly, the plans rarely work out. Production-approved concepts invariably fall into the abyss of cost cutting, and emerge looking like watered down versions of the fabulously over-the-top designs they once were. Without fail, we hear how disappointed people are; how it’s not quite the same exciting vehicle that was displayed on the stands.
Now we know why manufacturers don’t sell concepts as production vehicles.
The Juke’s styling has drawn endless criticism. It’s too “out there”. It looks like a bug, an alien, an Evoque that was sat on by an elephant.
To my colleagues (yes you, GG) complaining about the Juke’s styling, I say: get off your hypocritical soapbox! For once, a manufacturer has shown us what happens when it makes good on its promise.
I love the Juke’s aesthetics – out of pure respect for Nissan. It was a ballsy move that has me feeling like a kid who finally got to drive the Batmobile!
I really do like the design. The distinctive rear lights, the cartoon-like curves, the way the whole car squats forward as though it’s about to transform into a cheeky teenager and give you lip – all fantastic. In a world where practicality has trumped creativity, we finally have a design with character.
But people dislike what they don’t know. We’re so used to the bland that when the unique emerges, we can’t help but criticise.
Certainly the Juke is not the only quirky car on the market, but there are so few that only a few tastes are catered for. What we need is diversity — enough choice for each to have a favourite (keep an eye on cars such as the Hyundai Veloster).  Until then, cars such as the Juke and Evoque will always be love-them-or-hate-them options.
Besides the styling, the Juke makes for an incredibly fun drive. The extra ground clearance is great for navigating urban sidewalks and underground parking, but unlike an SUV, it’s compact and a breeze to park.
Nissan were trying to create the best of both worlds, and if the design elements “do not flow together to create a harmonious whole”, you can’t argue that the functionality is spot on with the original directive.
It’s a tight squeeze inside, but so are most hatches. It doesn’t have the high seating position of an SUV, but you try parallel park an SUV in between a Mini and a Micra on a Parkhurst sidewalk.
The engine is just short of fantastic. The turbo is paired so well that instead of feeling like it’s either kicking in or fast asleep, the Juke is always nippy, always ready to jump at the opportunity of overtaking that truck that just won’t move.
That said, the Juke is equipped with one of my pet hates – modes. It has Eco, Normal and Sport modes. My gripe is that they are ineffective, bothersome, pointless and just abnormal. Don’t misunderstand me – I get the theoretical functionality of modes; modes provide versatility that allows the driver to have a sporty car that can be driven economically. Thanks to the Juke’s electronic steering, however, the modes greatly affect the way it handles.
In Sport mode, the Juke feels like a grunting bulldog; in Eco mode it’s like driving a mommy-van. Changing the modes, however, doesn’t alter the fact that at 120 km/h and higher, it revs rather high. Changing modes really affects the acceleration only in lower gears.
It would be terribly frustrating to drive in Eco all the time. It’s like buying a racehorse, equipping it with everything it needs to be the fastest horse on the farm, and then injecting it with a tranquiliser just before you mount it. It’s all very silly to me.
Overall, however, the Juke gets my vote. Not to mention the renewed respect I have for the production guys at Nissan.
Sure, it looks a little different, but when you spend time with it you realise just how clever the concept is. With a little research and development, this is a segment that could, if done right, do quite well among the young and the hip (no, not you GG).

Danie Botha writes:
There I was, looking at the new Nissan Juke in the parking area. And I was imagining what my fellow Springbok rugby team-mates would say if I rocked up with this Nissan at a practice session.
Okay, so I’m not a Springbok rugby player, but let’s just pretend for a moment.
“Jissie, it looks like you want to be a metro, er, bokkie.” – Bakkies Botha.
“If you want to run with the big dogs, sometimes you have to lift your leg.” – Former coach Peter de Villiers.
“Ek sê! How much mega wattage does the sound system gooi?” – Ricky Januarie.
“Love it, love it, love it! Oh, I love it!” – Butch James.
I could go on and on. But the moral of this little rugby story is that the Nissan Juke is not your average kind of car. It’s new, it’s fresh, and it’s different. People like it, or people hate it.
I like different. It doesn’t conform to existing rules. Instead it shifts boundaries, and expands horizons.
GG had a point when he said it’s hard to imagine the same company that produces the Juke also counts the Tiida on its inventory.
In essence though, I like the Juke’s styling, even though it is quirky and maybe even a little bit weird and contrived.
What is it like to drive? Well, imagine what it feels like to drive a 147 kW hot hatch. That’s what the Juke feels like to drive. There is virtually no turbo lag from the 1,6-litre engine, the six-speed manual gearbox feels even better than the six-speed manual gearbox in the 370Z, and the handling is entertaining and edgy. Just like a hot hatch.
The engine revs smoothly and swiftly to the 7000r/min limiter, but with 240Nm of torque fighting with the front wheels, torque steer is clearly evident. Disable the stability and traction control system on a gravel road, boot the engine – and you’ll find out all about it.
You’ll also find out about snap oversteer, if the electronic safety systems are on the reserve’s bench. With its short wheelbase, the Juke’s tail tends to snap out of line rather quickly, requiring smart corrective measures from the driver.
But I actually like that aspect of it. As with a hot hatch of old, you have to take it by the scruff of the neck and drive the thing when the electronics are disabled. You have to own it.
The limited interior space – especially the boot – is clearly a victim of the form over function design ethos of the sweepy and dramatic exterior lines. It comes with the territory.
Oh yes, and Nissan’s designers have added a spoiler to the top of the dashboard, which is kind of quirky. And the Juke’s I-CON System with three “driver modes” is cool, but mostly a gimmick, simulating the more advanced system in Nissan’s amazing GT-R supercar.
Overall, I take my hat off to Nissan for being brave enough to push the envelope. And, considering the sales numbers so far, the company has clearly hit a sweet spot in the marketplace.

Our route was designed to test the vehicle under a variety of conditions. It included congested city streets, open roads and dirt tracks. Some of the dirt roads were in a very bad state, which helped us test the Juke’s handling thoroughly. It has to be said, though, that very few Jukes will ever traverse these sorts of roads. We also had to negotiate heavy traffic and deal with trucks on single-lane roads. The total length of the route was 113,4km.

Total distance: 113,4km
Fuel used: 10,68 litres
Average consumption: 9,41 litres/100km
Verdict: We did not attempt to drive the Juke in an economical fashion, so the consumption we achieved wasn’t bad. Nissan claims that you would be able to average 6,9 litres/100km, but that would be hard to accomplish. You could probably wring a few more kilometres out of every litre, but achieving 6,9 litres/100km would require absurdly economical driving.

Engine: Four-cylinder, turbocharged
Displacement: 1618cc
Power: 140 kW @ 5600 r/min
Torque: 240 Nm @ 5000 r/min
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Ground clearance (claimed): 180mm
Price: R258 500
Warranty: Three-year/100 000km
Service plan: Three-year/ 90 000km

A funky little crossover with love-it-or-hate-it looks. Most will buy it because of its fashion appeal and price, but it also offers a fun driving experience.
We love: The 1,6-litre turbo engine.
We don’t like: Some of Nissan’s styling decisions.
We can live with: The lack of an all-wheel-drive system.
We say: This is a crossover that’s aimed at trendy urban individuals. If you’re in the market for something that can go the off-road mile, look elsewhere. But if you want a vehicle that is fashionable, competitively priced, and can even deal with a bit of gravel, the Juke is worth taking for a test drive.

The tiny Juke has carved out a very specific niche for itself, which means it doesn’t actually have any direct competitors. Still, there are a few vehicles that offer buyers similar features and specifications.

Daihatsu Terios 1.5 – R224 995
The Terios offers an affordable entry-point in the SUV lifestyle. It is very trendy and very affordable, which is an irresistible combination.
Buy it if: You want an affordable and economical SUV runabout.
It has: Fashion appeal.
But it doesn’t have: The refinement of the Juke.
We say: The Terios is manoeuvrable, fun and economical, making it a great city runabout.

Mitsubishi ASX 2.0i Mivec – R 279 900
Like the Juke, the ASX is aimed at young and trendy individuals. However, it doesn’t have the eye-catching looks of the Juke. Depending on your personal taste, this is either a good or a bad thing.
Buy it if: You are young and trendy, and want to appear active and outdoorsy.
It has: Quite a bit of fashion appeal, but probably not as much as the Juke.
But it doesn’t have: The Juke’s cool interior.
We say: The ASX is a good crossover with a decent price tag. Sure, it won’t turn heads like the Juke, but it’s a fun little vehicle. Definitely worth a look!

Mini Cooper Countryman – R287 500
It’s the largest Mini that’s ever been built, but it’s still pretty small. It has a lot of fashion appeal and is also fun to drive.
Buy it if: You want to feel like a rally driver.
It has: Fashion appeal. A Dakar medal in its trophy case.
But it doesn’t have: The attractive price of the Juke.
We say: Similar to the Juke, the Countryman will appeal to the young and fashion conscious. The Juke offers better value for money, though.