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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Width: 1765 mm
Length 4135 mm
Weights: 1172 kg, 1213 kg, 1254 kg,1329 kg, and 1286 (4WD version)
Max payload: 435- 473 kilos.
Driver is 50 percentile height male, 70 kg.