Original Sin

Ten years on, are we ready to forgive yet?

(c) autoblog

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.

(c) Autoblog

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.

Image: automobilesreview

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

36 thoughts on “Original Sin”

  1. A ruined breakfast…my.
    After reading Eoin’s then Richards review, my judgement remains; a horrible beastie to behold. I’ve heard people call this bugaboo the “joke” amongst many other other profanities. And for what this mutation spewed forth with the roads now “ruled” by such vehicles, repenting is far from happening. The bratachian should be launched into a fiery pit which contains eternal sleeping policemen. Don’t care how it drives, I want it gone.
    Gosh, I need a strong cuppa to recover.

  2. When we look back in a few years time and ask ourselves when style started to go down the drain, the Juke with its exuberant styling gags coupled with non-existent ergonomics will be a negative beacon that cannot be ignored.
    Maybe the world has been waiting for this kind of mini-monster – there is no other way to explain the sales success. Then it seems there are probably different worlds on this earth after all. In my world I have never missed him and his imitators.

  3. I like the juke, and never got all the hate – is it because it was too popular?
    Had it been a japan only model, people would cry because they kept all the playful designs to themselves and only shipped over the boring stuff.

    Would i buy one?
    No…

    Ok, maybe a nismo version, but its a fun and endearingly ugly design, and unlike the new bmw ix, its coherent and not just some random design-features strewn about on top of a regular shaped car.

  4. These are obviously popular with elderly drivers with hip problems so I try to make allowances. I can live with the profile shot – the front end is just ugly. But the first time I saw one from behind it reminded me of a dog defecating…

  5. The Joke, Puke etc is indeed a case study on marketing by itself.
    The design is a mish mash of various styles and identities, The DLO is a copy of the GTR one, compressed to fit a much smaller car and design, the bug eyes reminiscent of a racing/rally car and the rear a version of the Micra one.
    I can understand that it gave buyers of it’s little brother (Micra) a “better” car, as all SUV/crossovers. More space, more capability for not much more money. For them it was the entrance ticket to an arguably better car without the class punishment of buying a cheaper version of something more premium. Arguably now that the market is crowded with all the Q2,X1/X2,XC40s etc it’s not as attractive but it managed to create a category just as the Cashcow Qashquai did some years before it making it the incumbent of the class.
    Also there’s an example within the then Renault-Nissan alliance of making ugly funky with the Renault Megane II so it’s not like they didn’t know that as long as you market something right, people will buy it nonetheless, perceiving yourself different is a strong incentive.

    Personally I still find it ugly 10 years on, the second iteration only mildly better. Whenever there’s one in front of me I cringe at that torsion beam. I understand people who buy them, but thanks but no thanks.

  6. ‘Banal’ is entirely the right word for this. Beneath its cartoonish, attention-grabbing styling, it offers nothing – no technical progress, no space efficiency, no particular dynamic ability. I have a particular loathing for so-called ‘coupe’ crossovers, and the Joke is no exception.

    This from the company that brought us the Nissan Cube, which at least attempted to bring a fresh perspective to urban car design.

  7. While I respect the views of the others here and they seem to be a majority, I found the Juke to be a pleasant drive and I enjoy its silly appearance. This car can´t be held responsible for the inadequacies of later designs. It is also hard to know if these later designs (name some, please) were even on the minds of their authors. I have a lot of time for stone cold sober vehicles like the Mondeo 2, Meriva 1 and W-124 but I also enjoy the design equivalent of yellow thongs. Why not?

  8. Eóin you’ve dismissed Nissan’s history too dismissively; the Fairlady/Roadster, 240Z and other sportscars, plus all the rallying and racing.

    I would not own one, but I can’t complain about creativity and willingness to try something different. Didn’t realize it has been 10 years already!

    1. Nissan has ruined its reputation in racing until doomsday with the Nissan GT-R LM.
      So the cashcow and joke fits this company much better.

  9. When I first came across this, I thought it was a pointless little gargoyle. However, in retrospect, and given what has come since, I think it’s rather nice – the red one in Richard’s review looks rather charming. Further, the organic aspects of its styling tie in with other models in the Nissan range at the time. Well done to Nissan for being brave and selling so many.

    I recall that contemporary road tests weren’t very complimentary about the car’s ride (I think), so it was interesting to find that Richard found it to be okay.

    I guess we ought to appreciate (if that’s the right word) SUVs while we can – I would think putting batteries in a relatively short and tall vehicle won’t be feasible in future, as it could make them unstable.

    Finally, I wonder if where a design centre is located influences design (beyond things like the quality of the light) – designers must come from across the globe, so it would have an international atmosphere in any case.

    1. Ford at the end of the nineties thought where a design centre mattered and put one in the middle of London. Alas, it was closed. I feel that it is a good idea to have designers seeing urban life up close and also to be able to avail of local culture. I´d be interested to see if designers at the metropolitan Ford-Merkenich centre have different references to the ones at Opel in Ruesselsheim (not so urban) or Wolfsburg (industrial town).

    2. Ingeni was very much J Mays’ personal baby. He was the first FoMoCo design VP not to be based in Detroit – making Jac Nasser pay those cheques to set up that studio may have been the most impressive achievement of Mr Mays’ career.

    3. You have to think like a designer to see the value of the city-centre design office. It´s even truer today than in 1999. Innovation is dependent on inputs – it seldom emerges from nowhere. Ideas and insights from city life come from the interconnection of people. And the network of people proportionally affects the network of synapses in a person´s head. The more you know the more you can invent. I have run a class-room experiment on this basis; even from three disparate ideas you can a massive amount more than one single idea alone on a page.

  10. Notwithstanding all of the above, the answer to the title question is still….. No!

  11. I’m late to the party today, but that’s given me the opportunity to take in the viewpoints of our esteemed commentariat before wading in with my size 10’s (EU45’s).

    Actually, that a bit disingenuous on my part. In truth, I’m a bit indifferent to the Juke. I used to hate it for its contrivance and consequential practical limitations (poor visibility, smaller on the inside/bigger on the outside than it needs to be because of those swollen wheel arches and pinched body between). Now, ubiquity has made it virtually invisible. Most I see around these parts seem to be driven by old boys (older than me) but I wouldn’t drive one any more than I’d wear a pair of orange Nike Hi-Top trainers.

    I wasn’t even aware that there’s a new one out. Here it is:

    That’ll be more of the same, then.

    Yikes! I’ve just noticed the A-pillar and sail panel treatment. 😲

    1. Hello Daniel, I started looking for them while I was driving today and saw 2 – one dark grey and the other dark red. I wouldn’t have noticed them, had I not been on the look-out.

      I quite like the new one – CDA has some interesting prototype pictures.

      However, as Andrew says, below, one has to wonder if this emboldened others to rake more (unwise) risks. BMW X6M, anyone?

    2. Hello Eóin. Not only did I not miss it, I actually commented on it at the time!

      I have reached the age when my brain is effectively full, so I have developed a filter to dispose quickly of unpleasant thoughts, and that A-pillar/sail panel treatment is headache-inducing. It’s so bad, it could be from Citroën.

      Charles and Andrew, I fear you’re right about designs such as these lowering the bar and reducing our sensitivities to even worse. Today I found myself writing that the design of the second-generation BMW X4 was “almost discreet”…

    3. The Juke is like the TT: a concept that should not be repeated. That said, the new Juke is harmless fun.

    4. Hi Charles, thank you very much for showing that interesting FB page.

  12. I refuse to use the cars name but has “its” influence created something even worse?

    This does not augur well. Look away if easily offended

    Using a (lot) of movie analogies, this appears to be a Transformer who picked a fight with Godzilla then after losing, popped over to see John McClane for a Lucozade before being pushed out of the Nakatomi Corporation Headquarters building. It’s a Citroën C4
    Puretech, apparently. Cue vomit connotations, maestro…

    1. That one passed me by until now. Thanks Andrew. Now I can´t sleep. It challenges the current Honda Civic for over-wrought awfulness. Oh, for a bit of design clarity instead of cars looking like three themes rolled into one.

  13. My feelings on the Juke were made clear in my last article for this site and hardly need repeating; I do wonder, however, if those defending it have ever been subjected to its rear seats?

    The real tragedy of this already sorry tale is that it was the Juke’s progenitor and enabler, the less awful Kwishkey, that consigned the last Primera, a thoroughly well-designed and attractive car, to history’s dustbin. The apparent lesson? Replace something competent and considered with something faddy and pointless and watch the money roll in.

    I think I’ll go and get the Jenever bottle now…

    1. Hello Chris, I think the Cashcow also replaced the Almera, which isn’t such a bad outcome.

      I liked the Primera, though, and it never seemed to get the attention or sales it deserved. I sat in one when it came out and it seemed to be beautifully built. The concept and, in particular, the interior always reminded me a bit of the Rover P6 – sort of ‘dignified futuristic’.

    2. Where do you get Jenever in the UK? I thought it was a Holland-only delicacy. It´s much nicer than gin, in my opinion. Mix with red vermouth for a Dutch classic martini; add Mondino or Luxardo and it becomes a superior negroni.

    3. ‘Dignified futuristic’ is a nice description for the last generation of Primera; in saloon format it was a finely wrought thing.

      As to Jenever, whilst I’m sure the suggested combinations would work very well with a Jonge Jenever, the idea of mixing anything with the 5 year old Zuidam Oude Genever I’m drinking as I type this is frankly sacrilegious. I live in the Netherlands so have easy access to Dutch distilled products but managed to get some shipped to the UK once from the wonderfully named luxuriousdrinks.com. It’s astonishing how difficult it is to order the good stuff outside of the Benelux; nowhere here wants to ship it out, it seems.

    4. The one I tried was Hoogstraaten from Groningen. For all I know it might be a bad brand in Dutch eyes. The juniper taste came forward more strongly than an ordinary gin. And it was not expensive. I am not willing to spend much on spirits (but will push the boat out for vermouth and sherry).

  14. Can someone please explain to me this thing about tinted rear windows (aka “privacy glass” – for the princess or Hollywood star ensconced in the back…)? We bang on about form on this forum, but this guillotine chopping cars visually in half seems to go unremarked. Where did this ludicrous idea spring from? How did it take off? Why do we put up with it?

    1. It´s cruel for children too. For a more humane way to ferry smaller humans, see the Meriva 2 or perhaps BMW i3 for a much more user-centred design.

    2. Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner. I’ve been on a crusade against this trend since I first noticed it, but have to confess I never mentioned it here. Privacy glass ruins every car. The thing is if you want a specific trim level or option package on a car you get this dark glass and can’t chose not to have it. The only upshot is that if you mention this to a car salesperson in a certain way they’re speechless or switch from their scripted gibberish to unscripted gobbledygook.

  15. Am pleased that others remembered the Primera, the Juke got me thinking of the quality of Nissan’s design in the 90’s. Whilst it was handsome in an anonymous way the Primera was very well proportioned and had excellent attention to detail (Think they also got used as a ministerial car for government members who weren’t high ranking enough for a Daimler or even a Rover 800; as they were built in Sunderland it was therefore flying the flag for British manufacturing). The Mkll Micra was well packaged, friendly looking and just retro enough to evoke something akin to a latter day Mini/ Fiat 500/ Autobianchi. It showed what Rover should have been doing instead of the Rover 100 and “MINI”.

    Reading and thinking got me looking at the many Jukes that live in our corner of SK15 and I realized that while ugly will always be ugly the execution is very well done. The flushness where the DLO meets metal is neat, even the top of the windscreen ending too short looks well finished- and deliberate as if the inspiration was somekind of warrior helmet. Juke also does the hidden doorhandle schtick better than any Alfa.

    A final thought in it’s defence, weren’t cars that were signed off on the noughties the first generation that had to really nail good pedestrian impact scores? I recall a lot of vehicles with very rounded snouts for want of a better word. It wasn’t a look that really worked for any manufacturer and its taken time to work out how to “Do chisseled” again

    1. I loved the P10 Primera, eventually in petrol green, only the 4 doors anyway. The 5 doors was for me disproportionate.
      Micra K11, won the auto of the year, it was really good and “funny”. Again i liked it in petrol green.

    2. A yellow Juke has parked on my street. They aren´t common around Jutland. It got a close look from your truly. After a few minutes of thoughtful analytical gazing, a verdict. It looks correct on its own terms. It´s as expressive as the more fanciful US cars of the 60s and early 70s. I like them and by the same token I like this. I am quite catholic about this matter as evidenced by my enthusiasm for the Ford Fusion which only looks better as the years go by (imagine a Granada-type saloon styled like a Fusion!).

  16. The first Primera was quite wonderful, especially the ZXe version, spoiled only by build quality. The final one was a dog – they couldn’t even put the dials in the right place.
    Ref: the Joke, lucky Americans get the Nissan Kicks instead, which is like a jacked-up Micra and all-the-better for it.

  17. If you don’t like Jukes, then this video could appeal. Euro NCAP have started doing more research in to van safety, and van and car crash compatibility in particular. Here, a Nissan van meets a Juke (at 1 minute 25s in the video).

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