First DriveRevamped Juke gets minor tweaks for 2014 and remains an appealing, interesting and well-priced choice
First DriveDownsized 1.2-litre engine adds to the Juke's appeal, with its smooth feel and punchy responses suiting both urban commutes and the open road
What is it?
This is Nissan’s latest cross-over, a Qashqai in miniature of still stronger style. Huge wheelarch blisters, a tapering, turret-like glasshouse, a great grin of a grille and exceptionally shapely lamps give this five door hatch an admirably individual and tough-looking character.
The Juke’s direct competitors are rare but include the new Mini Countryman, the Kia Soul, the Suzuki SX-4/Fiat Sedici twins and Toyota’s near-invisible Urban Cruiser. Like these rivals this Nissan is a cross of supermini and SUV, its size placing it near the top of the segment in terms of scale.
Four-wheel drive – complete with rear axle torque-vectoring – is available, though only with the most powerful 187bhp 1.6 turbo and the highest trim, this car far more about on-roading than off. Other engines include a normally aspirated 1.6 of 85bhp, the likely best-seller (but unavailable for test) and the 109bhp 1.5 dCi diesel sampled here.
What’s it like?
This is a highly stylish car outside and in, and it has a fair depth of capability to go with it. Once you’ve absorbed the almost startlingly bold exterior there’s a pretty distinctive interior to enjoy too.
A high-mounted floor console and door trim details finished in metallic silver (attractive) or metallic red (a bit much) are complemented by quite a shapely dash, its canopied silver-rimmed instruments and gloss-black infotainment display diverting you from the fact that all of these structures are hard-surfaced.
There’s loads of stowage space – in contrast to the Qashqai – and aside from the need to manoeuvre knees and feet past the ‘B’ pillar into the rear, there’s plenty of room too, to be enjoyed from seating of some height.
But the best on-board toy, found on all but the entry-level Visia, is the Nissan Dynamic Control System, this low-mounted panel toggling between a set of driving mode controls (Normal, Sport, Eco) and the climate control, the markings on the switches changing to suit either sub-system at the stab of a switch.
The Juke’s Renault-sourced diesel sounds lightly chattery on start-up, a characteristic that never completely fades, and the torque hole beneath the 1750rpm peak demands a firm right foot to get this not especially speedy machine to go.
But at its torque peak and beyond the motor pulls with conviction, especially if you master its six-speed stick, which shifts slickly in a north-south plane but can lose you between east and west. Occasional hesitancy and a clutch that needs nursing are minor powertrain glitches besides, and the brakes can be grabby too.
These flaws and largely numb steering don’t promise much on the dynamic front, but the Juke surprises with strong body control for a car this tall, decent understeer resistance and a ride that does a good job of taking the edge of sharp bumps. Throw in some grippily fat tyres and you have a car that can be hustled along back roads with enjoyable resolve, though you’d hardly confuse this diesel for a hot hatch.
Should I buy one?
As with the Qashqai, the Juke serves a compelling blend of qualities both emotional and practical. Not all will like its funkily chunky look, but whatever your view it’s very cleverly rendered, and the stylish cabin within is practical (small boot aside) and comfortable too.
The diesel powerpack is not the most polished but it’s good enough, the handling and ride are pleasingly effective, there’s sufficient civility and the Juke is well priced.
Which leaves only the higher-than-average CO2 emissions (it’s a cross-over, burdening the motor with more heft, more drag and fat tyres) to weigh against the fact that this is one of the most originally styled and appealing cars in the class. The Juke should be another Qashqai-like hit for Nissan.