Nissan Juke turns from ‘automotive jape’ into justifiable maturity
For the past decade, writes Iain Robertson, one of the most daring of new cars has led the compact crossover segment, with its avantgarde design and largely unchallenged rate of sales successes, but a new Juke is now available.
Around 11 years ago, at that spring’s Geneva Auto Salon, I can recall being mildly irritated by a blousy and almost hatefully grotesque concept car on the Nissan stand. Its case for having struck every branch during its fall from the ugly tree was not helped by it being finished in a loathsome shade of ‘Norf Lahndun’ Racing Beige. When asked by Nissan’s ever-attendant press and PR team what I thought about it, most of them seemed to be uncannily revulsed by my answers, not a single one of which was complimentary.
In truth, had I taken time to contemplate its potential, productionised place in the new car scene, I might have been slightly less dismissive of it. As an ‘SUV-esque’ model, based on the same platform as a Micra, it had the potential to be very successful, not least because it was breaking new ground, in a fast-growing market. However, combining a tightly crimped greenhouse area that bore a minor visual likeness to that of the company’s 350Z sports coupe model (according to the blurb: ‘a crash helmet visor’), with over-blown wheel-arches for the ‘off-roader’ look, turned out an imbalanced and impractical proposition.
The Micra’s cabin was cramped enough. That of the car that would become Juke was even worse. It boasted space for five…very abbreviated persons but I had insufficient space to work the clutch pedal on manual models and none to work the throttle on auto-box alternatives. It was, in my book, an abysmal failure.
Yet, it was a pioneer. The first entrant in the sub-compact crossover segment. Over 1.5m examples have sold worldwide since its 2011 launch. It attained a top-selling status in the UK. It was even built in the UK, at Nissan’s Sunderland plant. However, none of that changed my original view. I have been told how reliable it is and how much its predominantly female audience seems to love it. Yet, I look on in amazement, at how anybody could tolerate parking one in a domestic driveway.
It was important to Nissan to be perceived as leading the market, rather than following it slavishly. The company had endured a period as the ‘go-to’ purveyor of 4x4s. It needed something novel. The outgoing Juke has served purpose through its reported, likeable personality, moderate driving characteristics and an engaging sense of fun. To be frank, as the SUV based on the Micra hatchback, it simply lacked the space that a driver of my two metres height needs. However, based on an entirely new platform (CMF-B), it’s all-change at Nissan Motor GB.
To a certain extent, were you to draw a horizontal line halfway around the former Juke, you might be able to spot where the old model ended and the new version begins. Of course, it is not as elementary as that, as the new substructure creates a significantly roomier cabin, which will only serve to enhance its practical popularity. There is now space in abundance.
Nissan suggests that its newcomer is THE most-connected Nissan ever. Its safety features include Intelligent Emergency Braking with Pedestrian and Cyclist Recognition, Intelligent Speed Assist, Traffic Sign Recognition, Intelligent Lane Intervention, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Blind Spot Intervention (for the first time on any Nissan and it even guides the car out of harm’s way). Naturally, some of them are geared towards a future of questionable autonomy, so it is fortunate that several of the invasive systems can be switched off.
New Juke drivers also benefit from Nissan’s advanced ProPILOT technology on automatic gearbox versions, which controls steering, acceleration and braking to maintain JUKE’s position in lane and at a constant, safe distance from other vehicles, even in slow-moving traffic queues. Again, I am not a fan of this type of technology but there exists an increasing percentage of the motoring population that seems to desire such disruptive tech.
Yet, Nissan knows that its customers expect their cars to fit in with their connected lives. Thus, Juke features effortless integration of smartphones, an app to control and monitor the car, and in-car WiFi. Naturally, Apple CarPlay, or Android Auto, mirror their apps on the integrated 8.0-inch touchscreen, which also provides access to TomTom Maps & Live Traffic. Its Google Assistant includes the ability for drivers to send destinations to the car’s sat-nav by talking to their smart devices. To be frank, I cannot see the point, when tapping a few buttons achieves the desired intent within seconds of entering the cabin.
Powering the new Juke is a 114bhp 1.0-litre turbo-petrol ‘triple’. It has bags of torque and drives through a choice of 6-speed manual, or 7-speed twin-clutch automated-manual gearboxes, the latter of which is my personal favourite, as it seems to suit the engine’s eager delivery to perfection. It is the same power unit used by the current Micra. In that form, the Juke can manage 46.3mpg, emitting just 110g/km CO2, with a 0-60mph time of around 10.9s and a top speed of 115mph (WLTP figures). Three driving modes can be selected; Standard, Eco and Sport.
Yet, it is the somewhat softened exterior detailing that will have the greatest impact on Nissan customers, not least because it is sure to attract buyers from other brands. The design is more mature and less frantic than before, while retaining the circular lamps up front, with less radical head and taillight arrays (all LED). To be fair to the newcomer, it looks best on big alloy wheels, as the smaller stock alternatives leave too much unresolved space around them. A wide range of paint options and accessories will keep personalisation on a pinnacle and the Juke’s upmarket cabin trim more than justifies its list price starting at £17,395.
Conclusion: While the original Juke exercised a polarising effect on potential buyers, the greater normality and range of improvements of the new version will provide a compelling attraction to even more people.