Ten years on, are we ready to forgive yet?
In most creative spheres, there are only so many ideas to go around. Easier then to blend and repackage the pre-existing, a familiar gambit amid the mainstream arts, and especially so in film. We’re all familiar with the putative movie pitch: “It’s Love Actually meets Inception, but, the twist is, everyone’s really a werewolf“, and so forth. After all, why go to the trouble of being original, when its easier to reimagine someone else’s idea.
To many observers the Nissan Juke came across in a similarly contrived manner when it debuted in 2010. A confection of wholly contrary styling features more or less co-existing in an uneasy truce, it was not what anyone would call attractive, but it certainly got itself, not to mention its owners noticed – if not always for entirely the right reasons.
Prior to the post-millennium period, Nissan was not renowned for its visionary qualities. Yes, there had been the occasional lapse into more interesting territory (the Pike Factory cars being a particularly memorable digression), some wilful aberrations (the GTR series, and some JDM oddities), but for the most part, gruel of thinnest variety. The advent of the Qashqai in 2006 did something to alter that perception. Not that the C-segment crossover was particularly avant-garde, but it was ground breaking, and like Renault’s first generation Scenic in 1997, it was both first (to market) and crucially, it was convincing.
Much like the movie business, the motor industry loves successes and wastes little time emulating them. Hence, within a comparatively short space of time, the sector would become littered with rival crossovers, and while Nissan retained its sales lead, management in Yokohama began actively seeking other Troys to burn.
Believed to have first found form in Nissan’s London studio (there was a brief fashion for such activities in Britain’s capital at this time), the concept was viewed in thinly veiled form at the 2009 Geneva motor show. While those of us within the autoshow bubble were aware that Nissan were at least toying with a vehicle of this ilk, the advent of the production vehicle the following year was for a fascinated yet perplexed public, something of a blow to the solar plexus.
The Qashquai was in product planning terms a risk that paid off handsomely for Nissan, but while it was (initially) quite different to the C-segment norm, it remained a wholly accessible, easy to assimilate offering that didn’t require much by way of explanation. The Juke by contrast was a step into the unknown. An untapped sector, and a product which in perception terms was probably loved and detested in equal measure.
So while on one hand, Nissan can be congratulated for taking the path (at the time) less travelled, the Juke underlines that time-honoured adage which states that because one can, it does not necessarily entail that one should.
As Autocar observed when it carried out a full road test report, the Juke’s transition from concept to production car seems to have taken place “from free-form design sketch to solid metal without passing through any credibility filters en route”. And while the above statement suggests an ignorance of the stylistic process, the Juke was clearly created to elicit a strong response in the viewer, with its wildly exaggerated, voluptuous wheelarches and applied graphic flourishes. But beneath the cartoonishly distended light fittings, the scoops and faux-vents and the vaguely coupé-esque silhouette lurked a somewhat banal raised-height hatchback.
Meanwhile, underpinning all that visual noise lived a Renault/ Nissan alliance platform based upon that of the contemporary Clio with an entirely predictable suite of hardware: struts up front and the ever-reliable torsion beam aft. Engines choices included a turbocharged 1.2-litre, naturally aspirated and turbocharged 1.6 litre petrol units, while diesel-lovers could opt for a Renault-sourced 1.5-litre. Four-wheel-drive aficionados had to make the best of a 1.6-litre petrol turbo and CVT gearbox.
What Autocar and our own correspondent did note however, was that the Juke was an entertaining thing to punt about, but the price to be paid for its relative agility (given the likely location of its centre of gravity) was in ride, rear seat comfort (Autocar described it as “bleak in the back“), and boot space – the latter two a factor of its pseudo-coupé layout. On the plus side, Nissan was praised for imbuing the Juke with a sense of both visual and dynamic fun, which ran to some amusing interior flourishes – at least as long as one didn’t interrogate the quality of the plastics (or ergonomics) too closely.
A certain three letter word was therefore to be the Juke’s leitmotif, Nissan hoping that people would recognise this playfulness as a reprise of their much-loved retro Pike Factory series like the Figaro, Pao and S-Cargo. Hope was rewarded in strong sales, with over 800,000 sold across Europe alone. Factor in North America and Asia and something in the region of a million were sold before Nissan switched to an all-new model last year.
Sales of that magnitude were not to be ignored, and imitators abounded – even stodgy old Volkswagen attempting to display their hipster credentials, much to everyone’s collective embarrassment. What is relatively certain is the fact that stylistic excesses like Hyundai’s Kona and Toyota’s wildly outré C-HR would not have had a reason to exist without Nissan’s blazing Juke-shaped trail.
For this alone, the Juke ought to live in infamy. Today the European B-crossover segment is the hottest there is in sales terms; one no carmaker who is interested in the volume game can afford to absent themselves from. All to a greater or lesser extent owe their success to Nissan’s original sin. May they repent in contrition and mend their ways.