Fret not! You might have spied the £20k price tag on this Nissan Juke first drive review, but rest assured: we’ve climbed into the top dog, turbocharged and 4×4 Juke aimed at Mini Cooper S territory. We’ve driven cheaper models in the range too (the Nissan Juke starts at a much more palatable £12,795), but the tech on the 1.6 DiG-T warranted a look first.
The Juke is Nissan’s new crossover, a baby SUV to slot beneath Qashqai. At just 4.2m long, it’s in the same ballpark as the upcoming Mini Countryman, although priced considerably below.
Nissan Juke: the tech story
This junior crossover is based on the Renault Nissan Alliance B platform; the same bag of bits you’ll find under a humdrum Clio or Note, then. This architecture has been stretched and updated with a host of new tech, including on this range-topping petrol turbo a 4×4 option. This will remain a rare car on UK roads, however; way over 90% of Juke buyers will stick with front-wheel drive.
The 1.6 DiG-T is interesting as it heralds a new direct-injection petrol turbo engine in the Nissan empire. It’s punchy on paper, pushing out 187bhp and 177lb ft of twist.
It’s certainly, err, challenging to look at!
Yes, let’s get the inevitable aesthetic argument out of the way now. The Juke is a Marmite car – you’ll love it or hate it. Spend time with the car and you begin to ‘get it’, after the initial shock and awe. The front end is especially odd and a very busy design canvas, thanks to a multi-storey light show, the wine rack lower grille and the main air intakes. There’s plenty to like in the GTR-esque raked canopy windowline, and those 370Z rear boomerang lights are cool too.
Inside is more modestly designed. It’s less busy in here, with simple design and a few flourishes. A long centre console runs the length of the front compartment, styled on a motorcycle fuselage – you can pick red or silver metallic finishes, and it really brings the cabin to life. Even to these restrained eyes, the zingy red is the feature colour of choice.
Mid-range Acenta trim and upwards comes with Nissan Dynamic Control System, which replaces knobs and switches in the heating control area with some rather nifty soft keys. They’re cleverly backlit and the glossy black buttons change purpose depending on whether you’re altering the ventilation system or the car set-up. Sounds gimmicky, actually works well and cuts down on button clutter. It combines the best of touchscreens with physical buttons.
Based on a Micra… How does the new Nissan Juke drive?
This precise spec of car rapidly shows its true colours. The new 1.6 turbo is a strong performer, offering punchy acceleration at almost any engine speed (peak torque is generated from 2000-5200rpm) and it’s quiet enough about its business, although lacking in character.
What lets the side down is the CVT transmission. Nissan’s pioneered this for years and I remember the hoopla over the stepped ‘gears’ offered on the late 90s Primera. Well the tech’s still here and it’s improved, yet it does this engine few favours, the car mooing and lurching somewhat as the gears expand and stretch while a computer works out what your right foot’s signalling.
Slip into manual mode and things improve, but then if you want to change gear yourself, surely you’d pick the front-drive manual turbo? There are no paddles, either, so you end up banging the large gearlever back and forth. We didn’t drive the manual turbo, but the stick-shift diesel had a pleasingly precise and speedy action.
Juke: ride and handling
The new Nissan baby crossover rides very well. The 4×4 version tested here is the only model to get Qashqai-derived independent rear suspension and it smothers road scars better than the torsion beam of lesser models.
What’s most striking is the speediness of the steering. The Juke’s rack is fast-geared and the car responds like a greyhound to changes of direction. This will appeal to Mini owners and lends the car a pointy, agile feel.
However, the rest of the chassis lacks the polish of a Mini. While it rides well most of the time, the Juke doesn’t feel as composed through corners as a Mini rival. In extremis, the Nissan can lurch a little – almost as if the nose is moving so quickly and the rest of the car can’t catch up. The 4×4 comes with torque vectoring, and either rear wheel can do all the driving during hard cornering, feeling like a skier pirouetting on his edges during hard, low-speed corners.
This is not the best Juke, and we’ll be running separate drives of the other versions we’ve driven. Yet on first acquaintance, Nissan has turned out a really interesting alternative to a Mini Countryman, Audi A1 or Alfa Mito. At least, those are the cars that it wants to compete with.
The styling will make or break the Juke and there are bound to be people out there for whom a crazily styled, look-at-me wagon will be spot-on. This is a very expressive car and while many will be deterred, we can’t help feel that a small slice of target customers will find a really interesting alternative here.
Yet another quirky Nissan.