Yes yes yes oh YES: well equipped, decent value, fairly comfy
Oh dear me no: Air conditioning ineffective at times, looks won’t appeal to all, no reach adjustment on steering wheel
The Juke is a juxtaposition of the uber weird and the very familiar. There is very little hint inside of the daring design on the outside. It means the interior is slightly disappointing.
The exterior has a pugnacious front end, a wedge profile and a bulbous bum. The profile has strong muscular haunches highlighting each of the four wheels.
The rear doors are almost an afterthought with their tiny proportions and hidden handles. It’s meant to appeal to a modish hipster who is conscious of fuel consumption and yearns to be different, as all hipsters do. To a degree, JUKE succeeds in that, more or less. The looks either appeal or they don’t.
There are 2 grades (ST and ST-S), with a manual and CVT option (the ST-S CVT has a manual mode). There are 3 engines: a 1.2 turbo 4, a naturally aspirated 1.6, and a forced induction 1.6. Forced induction is fancy talk for a turbo of supercharger. Our ST-S is the top model with selectable 2WD, or 4WD with and without torque vectoring. The 1.6 turbo puts out a respectable 140kw/240Nm and while that won’t make noses bleed, it’s still perky. The CVT kills much of the snap. Why not just have a good old 6 speed auto? The sound of a CV T revving the tits off an engine is just wrong. The engine revs like the cylinders are going to pop through the bonnet and doesn’t change until the speed has picked up. Only the engineers and marketers really know what the sudden infatuation with CVT is all about. I can tell you that anyone who owns a CVT auto feels silly driving it, or, at least that’s what they tell me. Like most manufacturers, Nissan has limited the way in which the CVT and manuals are offered. For example, the 4WD option is only offered on the ST-S CVT. If you want to shift gears yourself as well as go off-road, you’re fresh out of luck.
The cabin is much less successful at conveying the sense of energy and excitement that the exterior does. It is neat and tidy but feels slightly unimaginative. The centre stack houses swtiches and two LCD screens. The lower LCD displays either driving info or climate info. Changing the function also changes the function of the direct select buttons on either side of the screen. It feels like a very primitive form of I-drive and although it works well, could have more function considering how fiddly it is. This LCD is very difficult to read with any kind of glare, and in bright sunlight, is completely unreadable. While we are on the subject, the air cond was rubbish. Even in manual mode with the temp set on Lo and the fan on high, the cabin never really felt properly cool. Auto mode was hopeless, and a 43c day tested the mettle sorely. It isn’t that Nissan don’t have fabulously Arctic A/C in their other cars so perhaps it was just this particular example that was found wanting.
The main LCD is the command system for the 6 speaker audio unit. It is incredibly easy to use and allows you to pair you phone in jiff. You can input Satnav info directly via the touch screen or by scrolling the buttons and knobs. It’s intuitive because of its simplicity.
Behind the wheel is where the JUKE does well. The seats and suspension are firm but not so firm that they are uncomfortable. The cabin is quite unless you stick the boot in. Brisk acceleration makes the turbo sing in a not unpleasant way, but it is intrusive. The problem is JUKE doesn’t really know what it wants to be. The handling isn’t sporty enough to be a sports car and it is too small to be a useful SUV. A CVT wouldn’t be all that brilliant off-road either, although I’ve never put it to the test. In a way, I can see why Australians haven’t taken small SUV’s to their hearts in the same way that they have with larger SUV. In fact SUV sales are the fastest growing area in all but the smallest of offerings. This is mainly at the expense large passenger cars as soccer moms abandon 4 door sedans in favour of vehicle they can’t park, or drive, or see out of. The JUKE is easy to park, easy to see out of and nice to drive. It’s a shame that the looks might turn off buyers who may otherwise give it consideration.
The engine feels responsive and brakes are sharp, but the steering took a little getting used to. Because there was no reach adjustment it was difficult to get the wheel into exactly the right spot. You either feel too close for comfort or too far for easy control. Once you get settled, you become used to the position and it all starts to feel familiar. It isn’t as sharp as some competitors.
We did a highway run, and a few tight turns in country lanes and came up with more questions than answers. It’s no secret that we quite fancy sports cars so it’s no surprise that the further handling moves away from sporty, the less we like it. The only exception to that rule is a commercial Pick-Up 4WD. They tend to drive like trucks because they are trucks. JUKE handled the course competently without excelling in any particular area. Our JUKE costs a sensation under $37,000 and for that price I’d rather a Subaru BRZ or Toyota 86. I realise it’s a different kind of vehicle altogether but unless a buyer is dead set on a particular car, experience shows they’ll cast a wide net and look at lots of offerings in their price bracket. Jeep Cherokee, a pucker 4WD starts at 35 grand and leaves JUKE for dead in every way possible.
The price tag brings a well quipped trim level to compensate for other shortcomings. The blind spot warning, auto lights and wipers, smart key entry/start, are handy but the 360° camera with split screen display is brilliant. You have to be in reverse for it to work. It would be even handier creeping forward into a tight parking spot and being able to see all round. As it is, it only works going bnackwards.
Look, JUKE did nothing wrong, nothing whatsoever, but nor did is tickle my sweet spot. I took a few of the chaps for a spin just to confirm my perception, and they agreed. It performed well, was smooth, and reasonably quiet, but none would buy one. When asked why, they said they’d buy something else or that $37,000 was too much money. They said it felt like a 25k car, not a penny more. The problem is this: for 37 grand there are many buys which are better value. You have even more choice if you don’t want 4WD. Hatches like Focus and Golf are much nicer to drive, and the sporty 86/BRZ is in the same price range too. In its favour, JUKE has a high driving position with the front seats easy to get into and out of. The doors are tall so you don’t have to bend but the rear doors are not quite so accommodating. Form over function!
Would I buy one? No. Jeep Cherokee comes in at $35,000 drive-away. It has proper 4WD and a luxurious interior as well as a fist of additions and is a nicer drive. It is a proper off-roader.
Price: $36,941 drive away-NSW (range starts at $26,641)
Engine: 1.6 turbo 4 cyl, 140kw/240Nm, Euro 5 (range includes 1.2 turbo and 1.6 non-turbo)
Trans: CVT continuously variable transmission with manual mode (ST-S only)