"The Nissan Juke looks like nothing else on the road... if only it could be a little more exciting to drive."
The quirky SUV-style of the Nissan Juke is a fun alternative to the Ford Fiesta and MINI Countryman, especially given it's low list price. Don’t be fooled by the high driving position and chunky 4x4 looks, though – underneath is a car that is definitely more of a supermini. It comes in six specs – Visia, Acenta, Acenta Premium, n-tec, Nismo and Tekna. You only get a choice of three engines in everything, including the souped-up Juke Nismo – a 1.5-litre diesel and two 1.6-litre petrols (with or without a turbocharger) - but only one model actually offers four-wheel drive and you can only get that with a CVT automatic gearbox. Plus, the boot space is also more akin to the MINI's tiny offering rather than the capacity of a Range Rover, and tall passengers will struggle for space in the back. However, you do get loads of equipment for your money and if you want better performance, the 197bhp 1.6-litre Nissan Juke Nismo is quicker and more powerful, with an even more distinctive look.
The Juke is capable rather than fun to drive – which is a shame given its funky looks. The steering may be a little light but it more than makes up for that by being very easy and accurate to use around town, which is where it’ll probably get the most use. Because of its height and shape, it does suffer from more body roll around corners than something like a Ford Fiesta, but it's generally comfortable and good over uneven roads. If you want the Juke's popular looks but with a little more performance, then the 197bhp Juke Nismo is faster in a straight line, has heavier steering and stiffer suspension for a sportier drive, including going from 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds. The Nismo does have a slight bobbing motion on some roads, but not enough to be uncomfortable. Other engine choices are an 80bhp 1.5-litre diesel, a 187bhp 1.6-litre petrol turbo and a 115bhp 1.6-litre petrol without a turbo. Of the engines on offer, our choice would be the 1.5-litre diesel, which has a good balance of power and efficiency, but we’d avoid the CVT automatic gearbox on all models because of its jerky gear changes. Also, the four-wheel drive substantially hikes up the running costs, so unless essential to your needs we’d steer clear. On mid-range Acenta models and above you also get Nissan's Dynamic Control System, which has Sport ad Eco modes, but we didn’t really find there was much difference between them.
Normally, when a car is fitted with relatively soft suspension (like the Juke) that means you get a smoother ride. But weirdly, the Nissan doesn’t seem to have done this with the Juke. The car still feels a bit firm when going over bumpy roads but still has the extra body roll through the corners that you get with softer suspension. But at least the interior is well insulated, so there's very little road and wind noise inside, even when driving on the motorway. It's common for most superminis to get a bit loud and intrusive when really pushed and while the Juke is no exception to this, it is quieter than many of its rivals and is more impressive as a result.
Nissan's reputation for building reliable cars is very good. However, it took a bit of fall in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, falling eight places in the manufacturers rankings to 12th. That's still a good position, but for a while Nissan was threatening the break into the top three (Lexus, Skoda and Jaguar). Reflecting this, the Juke itself fell a pretty massive 49 places to 62nd in the top 100 cars. It was the top-ranked supermini in 2012, but lost points in 2013 because of poor practicality and disappointing levels of interior quality. Luckily it still scored highly for reliability and technology. It is true that the interior is smart but functional, though, and lacks the distinctive showmanship that makes the exterior truly stand out. Some of the materials – particularly the plastics – are also a little downmarket, but they do seem tough enough to last a normal car lifetime, however. The list of safety equipment is reassuringly long, even on the lowest spec Visia models, and includes six airbags, anti-lock brakes, active head restraints that help prevent whiplash and ISOFIX child seat anchor points. So little surprise then that the Juke was awarded the full five stars in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests.
Front passengers will have no problems in the Juke. Despite being a supermini the front seats are comfortable and supportive for anyone of any height. Get in the back, however, and it's a different story. The stylish sloping roof means tall adults will find it very difficult to find a comfortable place to sit, and it's even a bit tight squeezing through the back doors. Suddenly, the Juke feels more like the small car it really is. If the rear passengers give up and go home, you can fold the 60:40 split-folding rear seats flat to instead create 550 litres of boot space. That's not a massive amount of luggage capacity but it certainly improves on the 251 litres on offer with the seats up. That's reasonable for the supermini class but doesn’t sit well with the expectations that the SUV styling creates. Luckily there are extra compartments underneath the boot floor for stashing away any valuables you need to carry. Making up for these limitations, the interior has been decked out with plenty of storage cubbies and drinks holders that will keep families happy, including two large cup holders in the centre console and a deep glove compartment.
Value for money
The Juke comes in six specifications – Visia, Acenta, n-tec, Acenta Premium, Nismo and Tekna. Each model adds useful optional accessories to the already excellent list of standard equipment, with the Nismo adding that little bit extra performance appeal, too. All specs are decent value and come fitted with desirable alloy wheels and air-conditioning, while the top-of-the-range Tekna adds leather seats, keyless start and a reversing camera. The mid-range Acenta model also offers a hands-free Bluetooth mobile phone connection, a USB port for music, plus climate and cruise control, all as standard. Nissan Jukes should also hold their value well in the used car market thanks to the model's popularity and desirability.
Unfortunately, none of the Juke's engines are particularly efficient. Even the 1.5-litre diesel returns only 55.4mpg and emits 124g/km of CO2, with no engine in the range qualifying for tax-free emissions status. If fuel efficiency is what you're looking for in a car, there are better places to look, especially in the supermini segment, which does make the Juke more of a case of style over substance. However, the fact that the resale values of the car look to be strong over three years could mean that you'll make up for the lack of efficiency when it comes to resale time.