With its exaggerated styling, the Nissan Juke takes the notion of a crossover in a new direction

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Nissan Micra supermini excepted, Nissan no longer makes normal hatchbacks or saloons. Instead, it has become a post-modern car company and champion of the crossover concept.

Having shown with the Nissan Qashqai that a high-riding hatchback with a hint of SUV sits right in many buyers’ comfort zones, it has now applied the formula to the next class down. The Nissan Juke is the result.

Nissan no longer makes conventional hatchbacks or saloons

The Nissan Nissan Juke's wackiness comes from Nissan’s late-1980s special projects offshoot, the Pike Factory. It put out the Pao, S-Cargo and Figaro, all retro-looking with a modern twist. 

Not that there’s anything retro about the Juke, which is a real-world version of the Nissan Qazana concept car created in Nissan’s London studio. The final version of the Qazana starred at the 2009 Geneva motor show and was nearly production ready.



Nissan Juke rear

Opinions are split on the Nissan Juke’s looks. We’re used to seeing calmer concept cars make it to production more or less intact (the Audi TT and the Peugeot RCZ, for example), but the Juke seems to have made it from free-form design sketch to solid metal without passing through any credibility filters en route.

So what look like front foglights are the headlights, inspired by a rally car’s auxillary lights. What look like headlights are the sidelights and indicators, seemingly bursting upwards through slashes in the bodywork.

The Nissan Juke seems to have made it from concept to production without passing through any credibility filters

The lower half of the body is dominated by deep flanks and exaggerated wheel arches which, through a trick of proportion, make the Juke look smaller than it is even with the big wheels that come as standard. What looks like a sumpguard is simply a valance, with three circular vents for cooling. According to Nissan, it looks ‘biotic’. Setting the tone for the whole visual onslaught at the front is that wide, leering grin.

Boomerang-shaped rear lights have shades of Nissan 370Z. They frame an unusually convex rear window. The back window’s steep rake limits overall boot space but removes some visual height and bulk from the Juke. It also means the rear window doesn’t easily attract dirt.

The rising waistline makes for deep flanks and very shallow rear side windows, whose blade-like shape resembles that of the Kia Soul, another urban-flavoured, tough-looking compact crossover.

Underneath all this is a mutated version of the platform also found under a Renault Clio, complete with struts up front and a simple torsion beam at the back.


Nissan Juke interior

A motorcycle inspired interior? Apparently so. The Nissan Juke’s instrument cluster’s two dials seem separate from the dashboard, framed in mock-aluminium with a cowling floating above and joined to the dial cases by two struts. All you need are the handlebars and the rush of wind.

Then there’s the centre tunnel, high and rounded and painted in a glossy silver metallic to look like a motorcycle’s petrol tank. In top Tekna versions, the silver is replaced by body colour.

The NDCS graphics are a bit Windows 2000, but the idea is very neat

Lowest-grade Visia gets remote central locking, six airbags, 16in alloy wheels and LED day-running-lights, while air conditioning, all round electric windows and speed sensitive power steering is included in th package. Upgrade to Acenta, and you'll find Bluetooth, a USB port, 17in alloys, front foglights, cruise control and climate control all included, while the N-Connecta comes with a 5.8in touchscreen infotainment system complete with sat nav, reversing camera, auto lights and wipers, and keyless entry are part of the package.

The range-topping Tekna models come with Nissan's Safety Shield Technologies, which includes - blind spot warning, moving object and lane departure detection and around view monitor. There is also a leather upholstery and front heated seats thrown into the package too.

The Nismo RS Juke comes with a few sporty extras including, upgraded brakes, sports suspension, a limited slip differential and numerous Nismo adjustments to the exhaust, aggressive bodykit, rear diffuser, and bucket seats.

The Juke is not an expensive car, as all the hard interior plastic surfaces show. However, the interesting details divert your senses: chrome door handles like giant ring-pulls, plentiful cupholders, a leather-rimmed steering wheel with knurled switches for stereo and cruise control, the decent stereo itself and, best of all, the Nissan Dynamic Control System, which comes as standard on Acenta, N-Connecta and Tekna cars. The graphics are a bit Windows 2000, but the idea is neat: it controls the climate system or other parts of the set-up (automatic headlights, unlocking regime and so on), activates a trip computer, triggers a g-force meter or opens a bar-graph history of your efforts at driving economically. It’ll also adjust the throttle settings in Sport mode.

There’s enough space in the Juke for two normal-size adults in the back, or three at a squeeze, but there’s no MPV-like seat adjustability here, and the narrow windows make it feel oppressive. 

The Nissan Juke sits you high relative to the road, but with the seat at its lowest setting you can create quite a racy, laid-back driving position. You can still see the bonnet, and the wing-top lights act as a good positioning guide. The steering wheel adjusts only for height; the adjustment lacks a helper spring, so the wheel crashes downwards if you’re not ready to support it. The front seats are comfortable enough, with strong but quite soft lumbar support. 


Nissan Juke side profile

The Nissan Juke is heavy for a supermini. That means it has to be short-geared to give it the friskiness its design promises, with the inevitable outcome that it’s a busy-sounding motorway cruiser.

The upside of every 1000rpm translating to less than 20mph in top gear in the normally-aspirated 1.6 is that you don’t have to drive at licence-threatening speeds to feel like you’re getting somewhere.

The Juke’s diesel engine, sourced from Renault, sounds lightly chattery on start-up

A prominent induction growl on acceleration helps the sporting tone, so you don’t mind much that the 0-60mph time is a leisurely 10.3sec (itself 2.3sec slower than the perky turbo version needs). The 1.6-litre engine is also available with stop-start, offering improved fuel economy at 48.7mpg.

Select Sport though the Dynamic Control System and the eagerness of the throttle response masks the fact that low-end torque isn't great and that hills often need a downshift and a lot of throttle. 

Engage Normal mode and the screen shows a torque indicator. Throttle response has now gone soft, as if the Juke has gained 200kg, but ultimately the same power is available. It’s hard to see why you would ever choose this sluggish-feeling mode in normal driving.

But there’s also the Eco mode, which restricts throttle opening, displays an economy meter and makes the Juke even more torpid. Use this mode only if you can’t force yourself to be light on the throttle when you’re feeling frugal.

The Juke’s Renault-sourced 1.5-litre diesel sounds lightly chattery on start-up, a characteristic that never completely fades, and the torque hole beneath the 1750rpm peak demands a firm right foot to get this not especially speedy machine to go. But at its torque peak and beyond the motor pulls with conviction, especially if you master its six-speed stick, which shifts slickly in a north-south plane but can lose you between east and west.

There’s also the Juke Nismo, which aims to blur the line between hot hatch and SUV. With almost 200bhp on tap it’s certainly quick, but the Nismo's output sits right at the very edge of what should be traveling through the chassis' front wheels – and it shows.


Nissan Juke cornering

Endowing a tall car like the Nissan Juke with taut handling invariably means making the suspension, and especially the anti-roll bars, stiff.

The Juke is true to form here, and it’s as well that the wheelspin-controlling part of the ESP system stays engaged when the rest of it is switched off. Power hard through a fast bend and you can feel the inside front wheel start to spin as the weight rapidly transfers to the outer one, and then the electronics step in. Back off now and the tail edges out obediently.

The electric power steering has the artificial feel typical of its type

Add precise, quick-acting steering to this innate tautness and you soon discover that the Juke can be a lot of fun. It encourages you to flick it through twists, never feeling unstable or top-heavy. You hardly feel its SUV genes at all.

But its electric power steering, for all its response speed, has the artificial feel typical of its type, with a viscous-like resistance either side of straight-ahead and little change in weighting, even during those wheelspin moments.

It’s worse in Sport mode, where steering changes unfortunately can’t be separated from the throttle response changes. Sport, as is too often the case, simply adds resistance to the movement with no gain in transparency of communication.

However, there is amusement to be had from the g-force meter within the D-Mode’s repertoire. It shows acceleration, braking and cornering forces and gives a little taste of Nissan GT-R in your Juke.

Predictably, the Juke is fidgety over small bumps. At speed it smooths out while keeping bigger body movements under firm control, but the ride is noticeably worse in the back.


Nissan Juke

Price-wise, the Nissan Juke competes more with the likes of the Audi A1 and Alfa Romeo Mito than more run-of-the-mill superminis. However, compared to the Audi, the Nissan comes well-equipped and without the plethora of options Audi dealers will attempt to throw at you.

Residuals are currently proving to be slightly above average, as there is strong demand for used Jukes. The only concern on the horizon is how well its looks stand the test of time. More tangible are the running costs, with competitive insurance groups and servicing required once a year or every 12,500 miles. 

You can add a sport pack for different alloys, privacy glass and seat trim

And, for once, our tests showed that the official combined economy figure of isn’t wholly unrealistic for the 1.6. The Juke returned an impressive 46mpg on our touring route in Eco mode and 41.1mpg in Normal. The average for the whole test was 36.5mpg.

The turbo’s average mpg is adequate for its performance, but knocked by 3mpg if you opt for the four-wheel drive version (very few buyers have). The diesel promises more impressive economy and emissions, but again they are competitive with the class norm rather than startling.

The 1.5-litre diesel is, as you’d expect, the leader when it comes to economy. The claimed 57.6mpg is achievable if you’re careful, and with CO2 emissions of 129g/km it’s environmentally friendly, too.


Nissan Juke rear quarter

So, do all the disparate design influences gel into a complete car? They do, to a surprising degree. Driving the Nissan Juke is always fun, partly to gauge reaction from the rest of the world, mostly because it really does drive as its looks suggest it should.

To make a tall car handle with such verve without totally annihilating the ride is an impressive achievement, so you don’t have to suffer much for your high vantage point and your SUV-meets-coupé-meets-motorcycle vibes.

It’s good to see a volume car maker daring to be different and making it work

This isn’t a particularly practical car, but that’s not what the Juke is about. Rear accommodation is passable, but the ride worsens for rear passengers and the tightening window line makes it bleak in the back. The boot isn’t especially large, either.

However, the sense of fun is heightened by a stylish interior that’s very different to anything else out there. It’s well appointed, too, which adds to the sense of value the Juke gives you.

Even the entry-level car is decently equipped for the money, while Acenta, N-Connecta and Tekna models offer impressive kit levels at a competitive price. Running costs are pretty reasonable, too.

Is the Juke for us? We found ourselves liking the car a lot. Interior plastics and numb steering count against it, but on the other hand it is good value for money and will be cheap to run. Best of all, it’s good to see a volume car maker daring to be different and making it work.

The only worry is what will happen when the novelty value wears off. There are timeless designs. And there’s the Nissan Juke.


Nissan Juke 2010-2019 First drives