Ever wondered what would happen if you stuck a 4x4's bodywork onto the chassis of a super-mini? You're in luck, because Nissan has done just that with the Juke. It's a miniature sports utility vehicle based on the Nissan Micra platform.
The Juke promises the handling and convenience of a small car in a rough and ready 4x4-style package. The model tested here is the Juke DiG-T Acenta Premium, which comes with a 1.6-litre turbo-charged petrol engine and a five-speed manual gearbox. Prices for this model start from £20,274 while the entry-level Juke Visia starts from £15,594.
If looks could kill
When it comes to design, many manufacturers play it safe to appeal to as broad a variety of people as possible. But not Nissan. It appears to have set fire to the rulebook and designed the Juke specifically to raise eyebrows, ruffle feathers and get on wicks.
The car's front end is particularly unusual. It has large, circular headlights, a bizarre air intake that makes the car look as if it has an underbite, and bulbous sidelights that protrude above the surface of the bonnet like the eyes of an insect.
It isn't what you might call 'pretty', but we absolutely love the design. For better or worse, the Juke is a real head-turner in traffic and stands out from the plethora of dull hatchbacks and derivative super-minis that generally clog up our streets.
Part of its charm is due to the fact it's so compact. It might look like a big SUV from a distance but, up close, it's no larger than most family cars -- the high roof line aside. There's room for up to four passengers and, although the boot is on the small side, you can just about fit a week's worth of shopping for four in the back.
The Juke's insides are novel, too. Nissan's fitted body-coloured plastic panels on the centre console and doors. While they're slightly plasticky to the touch, they make the cabin far less dull than that of many cars today.
House of gadge
The Juke may be a distant relative of the humble Micra, but its cabin tech is far from modest. Most functions are accessed via a 5-inch touchscreen. The screen's a little small for our liking, but it provides easy access to a range of features, including the Garmin-powered sat-nav system, reverse-parking camera, audio set-up, and Bluetooth telephone connectivity.
Most of the technology is of a high standard, although some aspects are rather hit and miss. The audio system, for example, has plenty of input options -- AM/FM radio, CD, USB, aux and Bluetooth A2DP streaming, which allows users to pipe audio from a mobile phone to the car's speakers. But the speakers are pretty mediocre, particularly those in the rear -- they barely sound like they're even connected. There's also no option for DAB digital radio, a flaw that could become slightly annoying if and when the government switches off the analogue radio spectrum.
Plight of the navigator
The sat-nav system is flawed, too. It's able to accept seven-digit postcodes, which eliminates the need to enter lengthy street names, but it'll confuse and frustrate the living daylights out of you. Voice instructions are given at such a slow pace that there's every chance you could drive past your next turning before you hear the instruction in its entirety.
Also, the on-screen directional arrow that shows the distance to your next manoeuvre isn't very reliable. In our tests, it usually spent its time claiming our destination was several miles straight on -- even if the journey involved numerous twists and turns.
Below the central touchscreen, Nissan's installed a smaller, secondary display that forms part of the Juke's Dynamic Control System -- available in the Acenta and Tekna trims. The system gets its name from the fact that its function changes depending on whether you press the 'climate' or 'D-mode' buttons immediately above the display.
Hit the climate button and the cabin temperature and fan speeds are shown on the display, while buttons on either side of the screen let you toggle the air-conditioning system and alter the direction of air flowing to different parts of the cabin.
Hit the D-mode button, however, and those buttons besides the screen transform into driving-mode buttons, allowing you to change the Juke's on-road personality. Also, the screen dumps all the climate info in favour of data related to your driving performance.
While in D-mode, 'normal', 'sport' and 'eco' driving modes can be selected. In eco mode, the throttle response is reduced significantly. The Juke doesn't respond as urgently to inputs from the accelerator, meaning you're more likely to save petrol as long as you're using the right gears. While in the eco mode, the Dynamic Control System display shows an economy meter telling you just how frugally you're driving.
In sport mode, the opposite happens. The throttle is more responsive, so the merest contact from your big toe causes the engine to rev its heart out, which is great fun when you're in a hurry to get somewhere. In this mode, the Dynamic Control System display shows a rather funky gravity meter -- like the one seen in the Nissan GT-R -- to illustrate roughly how many Gs you're pulling as you accelerate, brake and corner.
Barrel of laughs
The G meter is a complete gimmick, it must be said. Even the tiniest steering-wheel, accelerator or brake inputs cause the meter to register high levels of G force. But that's not to say the Juke isn't fun to drive. The 1.6-litre turbo-charged engine and five-speed manual transmission in our DiG-T test model produces a highly respectable 187bhp, which is enough to get the Juke from a standstill to 62mph in a very nippy 8 seconds.
We had a little trouble getting traction in first or even second gear at times -- the car's tyres appear incapable of doing anything other than spinning aimlessly when you pull away in a hurry. That said, there's plenty of power and traction for overtaking once on the move, and the car handles admirably.
The Juke isn't as well-balanced as hatchbacks with the same amount of power, due to its high centre of gravity. Also, the steering feels rather lightweight and the car's all too keen to stray off line when you're on roads with adverse camber. Nevertheless, like a mischievous puppy, this car's misbehaviour somehow puts a smile on our faces.
Our opinion of the car's sometimes skittish handling may change when the weather turns and we're sliding all over the road sideways through snow. Those worried about such matters should probably opt for the four-wheel-drive version of the Juke, which uses a CVT automatic transmission instead of a manual system.
The Juke is available with a variety of engines and gearboxes. Our test model's 1.6-litre turbo-charged engine and five-speed manual 'box return 40.9mpg combined, although this figure dropped to 25mpg around the city in our tests. The car spews carbon dioxide at a rate of 159g/km, meaning it falls into the £155-per-year band G road tax category.
Those figures aren't terrible, but they're not especially impressive, either. The larger Nissan Qashqai can achieve 47.9mpg and is considerably greener, spewing 139g/km of CO2. That car resides in band E and costs just £110 to tax for 12 months.
The Nissan Juke may be challenging to look at, but it's practical, it's hugely entertaining to drive, and it features some fun cabin technology. Overall, it's a fabulous baby SUV that's let down only slightly by its mediocre fuel economy and CO2 emissions.
Edited by Charles Kloet