2011 Nissan Juke 1.6 Review

The received wisdom is that the Juke is an odd-looking vehicle with no obvious purpose. Is this true? I drove one in order to find out.

2011 Nissan Juke
2011 Nissan Juke

To avoid disappointing people I’ll get the driving stuff out of the way immediately. After three hours on a route that took me from Stansted Airport to almost exactly the dead centre of Britain I had covered every major road type available in England barring gravel and mud. On motorways the Juke in 1.6 litre flavour can keep up with traffic and proceed to license-losing speed and stay at that pace unbothered for as long as you care to keep risking your permission to drive.

The ride is comfortable but the car’s a bit noisier than I’d have expected. I wonder if the belt driven 1.4 DOHC is quieter than the chain-driven 1.6 DOHC sampled here. A-road driving doesn’t trouble the vehicle at all. You have a nice view out due to a H-point that is more SUV than super-mini. Then once you’ve veered off onto country lanes you’ll notice that the limit is not the car’s own capability but your personal responsibility.

Perhaps inspired by sight-line effect of the Mini’s front end, the Nissan’s bulging headlamps provide a nice sense of road-positioning, protruding as they do well above the average altitude of the bonnet. This is pleasing. The brakes work precisely as you’d expect. They slow the car reliably. Box ticked.

2011 Nissan Juke rear
2011 Nissan Juke rear

Twenty laps around Brands Hatch

Ah joy, the Juke has five-speeds as cars are supposed to to have. Changing up and down was effortless, almost sporty in its feel. Six speeds really are the automotive equivalent of a volume dial that goes up to 11, aren’t they? The steering tells you what the car is doing and the turn-in is crisp and direct. Was the steering meaty and chunky like a big bowl full of Pedigree Chum topped with raw steak? No. It was nice and light. I simply don’t feel that heavy steering is desirable or advantageous.

Despite the raised seating position, I didn’t feel unstable as I went about the business of trying to drive too fast around tight corners. So, we can say the Juke feels planted, something to do with its almost hefty 1329 kg. Some versions are much lighter: the base model is a stripling at 1172 kg.

As for handling, who can say? Without twenty laps around Brands Hatch I can’t tell you about the Juke’s on-the-limit manners. What I can say is that any normal driver who might want to punt the car at or near 50-80 mph down the type of small road you find in rural England will find it’s not the car that stopping them but fear of the unknown and invisible.

Incidentally, the Juke comes in 2WD and 4WD versions. Most models are 2WD and one such as this I tested. The suspension consists of McPherson struts and coil springs up front and torsion beam axle and coil springs at the back. The fuel tank holds 46 litres. Autocar claim the Juke gets about 35 mpg. This means you´ll stop twice getting from Calais to St Jean Cap Ferrat, once a third of the way there, another time with about two hours to go. Instead of an ashtray there is a big rubber grommet. Bother.

Tiny computers

Certain editions of the Juke offer drivers the chance of changing the engine’s responses via a dashboard-mounted electronic digital control interface. Tiny computers using silicon microchip technology make this possible. The main difference between settings is that in one of them a/c doesn’t come on automatically when you turn on the ventilation.

2011 Nissan Juke interior
2011 Nissan Juke interior

So, the car moves from rest to quite fast at an acceptable pace. The car won’t fall off the road when driven by anyone with a social conscience. On motorways and A-roads the Juke keeps its occupants comfortable. Or those in the front anyway. The rear of the car is cramped and dark.

Unforgiveable stupidity

Where I have chosen to focus my attention now is on the other aspects of the car beyond its basic motive competency. Ergonomically, the Juke has a number of failures which you may learn to work around or to loathe. The six switches on the driver’s door kept tripping me up so that I often locked the car instead of operating the window.

I didn’t like the HVAC controls which seemed determined to keep the air conditioning on. This turned out to be due to a design feature that encouraged user error. It took me from Stansted to Luton to work out how to set cruise control. Having done that, I used it a lot, especially in areas with speed cameras (most of England now, apparently). The speedometer is designed with unforgiveable stupidity: the markings are calibrated with the 20 mph increments dominant. Deviation from the norm of clear 10 mph steps is breathtaking in its wrongness.

Silver. How unusual.
Silver. How unusual.

A really cheap and flimsy attempt

One of my big gripes with modern cars is the poor outward visibility and this one adheres to that new norm. The Juke’s fun styling leads to a problem with the view towards the c-pillar. It really gets in the way. The head restraint on the passenger side was so obtrusive I yanked it off and threw it angrily into the boot which, it must be said, is tiny for a car of this size.

This leads me to the cheeky way Nissan have fitted a really cheap and flimsy attempt at a rear parcel shelf. Unattached when I found it lying in the boot, it defeated my attempts to work out how it was supposed be fastened. While trying to fit this I noticed Nissan had decided to get cost cutters to do the interior hard trim. There’s nearly none on the inner tailgate. And the a-pillars are not only hard plastic but they’ve been left with raw edges at the upper ends.

Nissan probably saved half a million pounds of development cost throughout the car with this kind of expediency. The most glaring example of this tight fistedness is an odd square gap somewhere under the dashboard, near the base of a-pillar. In other car companies a hole like this is what you find when the interior CAD model is six months from sign-off.

No fitted, matching luggage here, thanks.
No fitted, matching luggage here, thanks.

Dazzled by bling

In marked contrast to the hard trim that most show-room visitors won’t notice, the dashboard and doors were nicely designed and made. I find the inconsistency a bit hard to take. Very plainly Nissan expect and hope that buyers will be dazzled by the bling around the dashboard and console and miss the really cheap stuff until after the car has been driven out of the dealership. You could call this a bit cynical. Normally manufacturers hide the cheap stuff where it won’t be seen not where it won’t be seen for three days and then noticed forever after.

60_40 split fold.
60:40 split fold.

Taste and value

Whether or not this kind of cost-cutting matters leads us to a matter of taste and value. If you think that 2.5 mm fillets on a-pillars and b-pillars and judiciously resolved trim-to-trim joins matter to your ownership and driving pleasure then the Juke is not for you. But then we must ask ourselves, does this kind of trivial stuff actually matter at all? I’d argue that it doesn’t.

Personally, I think for the sake of completeness Nissan might have found the 54 hours of sub-contractor time to close the square gap they left behind. But they made the right call in leaving the rest of the interior trim finished as per an 1987 Ford Escort. But then they made the wrong call in fastening the centre console so poorly that I was able to pull it free just by tugging at it casually. Why did I tug at it? To see if it was fastened properly. But if I didn’t tug it, it wouldn’t have moved….Hmm.

“…the flimsy trim and compromises…”

Rationally speaking, the Juke has a lot to commend it. If you like the way it looks then you will not have a problem with the flimsy trim and compromises necessary to make the styling work. You will have no problem with the driving, handling or performance provided your benchmark is not a car costing twice as much. The Juke is fast enough to be fun and behaves in a suitably light-hearted way when asked to entertain.

If you don’t mind the cramped back seats and the small luggage compartment that will help too. This all leads me to determine that the role Nissan have imagined for the Juke is to function as a competitor for the Mini. This is another compromised package where styling triumphed over functionality. Once you’ve accepted the absurdity of a car as defective in its packaging as the Mini is you are then ready for the Nissan Juke which has the advantage of visual originality on its side thus making up for the disposable nature of its fit and finish.

Prices: £13,400 -£16,70 (Mini £13,400 to £14780 for similarly powered models)

Facts:

Height: 1570mm

Width: 1765 mm

Length 4135 mm

Weights: 1172 kg, 1213 kg, 1254 kg,1329 kg, and 1286 (4WD version)

Max payload: 435- 473 kilos.

 Ergonomics:

Driver is 50 percentile height male, 70 kg.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

8 thoughts on “2011 Nissan Juke 1.6 Review”

  1. “Ah joy, the Juke has five-speeds as cars are supposed to to have. (…) Six speeds really are the automotive equivalent of a volume dial that goes up to 11, aren´t they? ”

    Not really. Gear ratios and available torque, the absence of obvious gap between gears (unlike on the Toyota Aygo you tested recently) and a top gear that has long enough legs to sustain 70 to 80mph on the motorway with the engine running below 3000rpm are more important factors than the number of gears required to get the best out of a particular set-up.

    Also I’m pretty sure you said 4 was the number of gears cars were supposed to have before…

  2. Other than that, I agree completely with your assessment of the Juke. I drove one while on holidays in Spain last year and thought it was quite pleasant and didn’t suffer from excessive body roll. But the interior is far too cramped, particularly the boot which couldn’t cope with our luggage, and the interior finish was mediocre at best.
    Also rear visibility was appalling and I returned our car with a big dent in the bootlid despite the rear view camera.

  3. Hi: It was Archie Vicar who thought four gears were enough. I feel five properly spaced gears is sufficient. Adding a sixth makes no sense if some of the others aren´t doing their job properly.
    I maybe didn´t make myself clear but in the end I quite liked the Juke, despite the cost cutting. I would rather one of these than a Mini (a terrible choice to have to make though!).

  4. I agree about gears. I believe that modern engine management should certainly give you enough spread of torque with only 5 gears. The suspicion is that 6 gears benefits the official consumption figures but, in the real world, just makes for fussy driving.

    I would like the Juke if it seemed special inside. As it is it seems to be shouting ‘hey, I’m funky and edgy’ at passers by whereas, inside, it knows it is just dull and ordinary. Where are the interesting interiors? After all that’s what I see most the time. My enthusiasm for the Cactus has been mightily dimmed by SV’s review. A recent desire to buy a Skoda Yeti has been dimmed by the dull grey prospect from the driver’s seat. On the other hand I am always irritated by the MINI’s stupid central panel. Should I just buy something and stick pink shag-pile on the dashboard to make my point?Actually I’m getting fonder memories of the Fiat Multipla I used to drive. A pity it was such a poor drive (for me at least)

    1. Interestingly I was thinking about the same thing this morning while stuck in traffic on the M4, and came to the conclusion that the increase from four to five then six gears – or up to eight or nine (9!) on auto boxes – could only be explained by the increased focus on fuel efficiency figures. Which makes me wonder why the top gear still rarely seems to act as a decent overdrive on most cars – or maybe I got that wrong and need to go out out more? Either way I don’t find that 6 gears would make for fussy driving, and often reach for a non-existent sixth in my car.

      As for car interiors I was more bothered with the Juke feeling flimsy but maybe if it had a quality finish it would feel a bit special. Regarding the Yeti, it might be worth looking to see if you can specify a two-tone dashboard. I find it makes a huge difference and lifts the atmosphere nicely even if the top is black.

  5. What I remember of the Juke was the interior was fun but not so well assembled. I have to give it some marks for avoiding the usual tropes and for the centre console having a motor-bike theme.
    As to gears, I find I get lost between 4 and 6. If you can get used to this then it seems the problem is personal to me. I get the feeling 4th has been split to make a new fifth but that sixth isn´t doing anything different than the old top gear did. I´d like an engine expert to explain what is supposed to be the effect. In contrast, fifth gears did help out compared to old four speeders where the fourth wasn´t high enough for motorway cruising. The engine would be revving too much and the addition of fifth allowed those to drop when sustaining a constant speed.

    1. What you suggest I think is closer ratios between 4 and 5, while 6th has a comparatively much higher one – the same way the ‘old 5th’ would have had a much higher ratio than 4th.

      At one point on the motorway today I needed 4000rpm to maintain 80mph in 5th, which is simply wasteful and unpleasant. Another factor could be lack of torque at higher revs but I’m just guessing.

    2. Laurent. Your comments support my earlier point. The official Extra Urban test cycle gives an average speed of 63 kph with a peak speed of 120kph (held for just 10 seconds). In order to get the best consumption and emissions figures, the gearing of the car would be optimised for this. Prolonged motorway cruising is of no interest to the testers.

      We all know that official figures have scant correspondence with what happens under real-world conditions. What is more concerning is the idea that car gearing is effectively set by the marketing department, who want the best paper figures when compared with their rivals, rather than engineers looking to provide the best driving experience, and even arguably best fuel consumption under actual conditions, for customers.

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