Nissan Juke review
Distinctive styling marks the Juke out from the SUV pack, and it's well-equipped too - but it's getting on in years
Still a head-turner despite being five years old and popular, the Nissan Juke nonetheless forces buyers to choose form over function by virtue of its cramped cabin and relatively poor fuel economy.
It started an entire market segment – the compact crossover – but rival manufacturers have since created equivalent models that offer far more space and flexibility than the Juke, and are cheaper to run. The Renault Captur and Mazda CX-3 are two such cars.
A 2014 facelift saw the Juke improved markedly, with a much bigger boot and a greater emphasis on technology – much of it safety-related. Add the great visibility that the high-set shape provides and the Juke remains an appealing small car, if a compromised one.
When the Nissan Juke launched back in 2010, its quirky styling was a stand-out feature - and it revolutionised the crossover sector with SUV looks at an affordable price. Refreshed in 2014, the facelift tweaked the design, added extra equipment and improved practicality - turning the tiny boot of the original car into something much more palatable.
The Juke as it currently stands remains an appealing choice when looking for a fashionable compact crossover.
It’s an alternative to regular superminis like the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, but the Juke has forced other manufacturers to emulate it, creating a growing group of similar small SUVs including the Renault Captur, Peugeot 2008 and Vauxhall Mokka.
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The Juke range is somewhat confusing owing to Nissan’s odd naming convention for its trim levels, but there are currently six models: Visia, Acenta, Acenta Premium, N-Connecta, Tekna and Nismo RS. The last of those is a standalone high-performance variant, and N-Connecta is basically a replacement for Acenta Premium, which was discontinued.
Equipment levels are good, and the Juke gets plenty of clever safety tech backed up by a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. The entry-level Visia version starts under £14,000 and gets 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning and electric windows all-round as standard. The £15,600 Acenta model adds 17-inch alloys, Bluetooth, USB connectivity and cruise control.
It’s the hot Nismo RS that provides a halo model for the range, powered by a 215bhp 1.6-litre petrol turbo engine (although slightly less powerful if you opt for the automatic gearbox, strangely).
Below this is a range of more humble petrol and diesels, including a naturally aspirated 93bhp 1.6-litre and a new, more powerful and more efficient 1.2-litre turbo. There’s also a 187bhp DIG-T 1.6 turbo for those who want extra performance but don’t quite fancy the stretch to the more hardcore Juke Nismo RS.
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There’s only one turbo diesel model on offer – a 108bhp 1.5-litre – while four-wheel drive is only available on the higher-powered DIG-T 190 and Nismo RS versions. However, don’t expect Land Rover levels of off-road capability from the compact Juke. A CVT automatic transmission is optional.
A 2014 model update added extra practicality thanks to a bigger boot, but didn’t rectify the cramped cabin that the Juke suffers from – there’s limited head- and leg-room in the rear, and it’s all very dark and claustrophobic.
Engines, performance and drive
The Nissan Juke can't match a traditional small hatchback like the Ford Fiesta for cornering ability – it’s definitely more in the SUV camp in terms of handling. That said, it's not bad to drive and is quite comfortable in most situations.
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Around town, the Nissan Juke's light steering makes driving straightforward but it provides very little of the feel that would add confidence on a twisty B-road. Factor in the taller SUV-style body, and the Juke tends to suffer from some body roll while cornering.
Along with the visual updates that the 2014 facelift brought to the Juke, a new 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine, called DIG-T, was introduced. Borrowed from the larger Qashqai range, it's a much better fit in the compact crossover and feels much more eager.
Our pick of the Nissan Juke range would be the efficient 1.5-litre dCi diesel though, despite a few refinement issues. If you really can’t live with the diesel chatter, or you don’t put in the mileage to make the extra cost worthwhile, the 1.2-litre turbo is the next best bet.
Nissan’s Juke Nismo RS is much more focused than the rest of the range. The steering is weightier and the sports suspension is stiffer than standard. However, this increase makes the ride twitchy across poor road services, and trying to make a sporty car from a tall, high-riding crossover is the very definition of ‘starting on the back foot’. Sure enough, the Nismo feels strangely disconnected compared to the best small hot hatchbacks.
If you must have one – the outlandish looks could easily have that effect on you – then we’d recommend going for the six-speed manual version of the Nismo rather than the CVT, which truly bursts the car’s sporty bubble.
That rule applies to all versions of the Juke, in fact. A CVT automatic might be the most economical choice because it always keeps the engine in a ‘sweet spot’, but the reality on the road is that it drones loudly under harder acceleration. It’s very tiresome.
There are six engines in total, four of them petrol – though three of those have similar power outputs, before the range makes a strangely large power leap to the fourth and fifth.
The petrols begin with a 1.6-litre non-turbo with 93bhp, which takes 12 seconds to hit 62mph but has a major torque deficiency – just 140Nm – so it needs to be worked hard. There’s a 115bhp version of that engine that’s automatic-only, but as that automatic gearbox is the performance-choking CVT, the 0-62mph only improves by half a second and the Juke becomes even louder.
More refined is the 1.2-litre turbo DIG-T engine, which on paper is not that much quicker – 113bhp and a 10.8-second 62mph time – but better torque (190Nm) and more refinement make it altogether more pleasurable to drive.
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Following on there’s a big leap to 187bhp, courtesy of a 1.6-litre DIG-T turbo petrol, which chops the 0-62mph time down to an almost hot hatch-like 7.8 seconds. It’s also available with a CVT and four-wheel drive, but this is an excessive combination that makes the car less involving while reducing performance (0-62mph down to 8.4 seconds) and offering very little additional useable traction.
Finally there’s the 215bhp 1.6-litre DIG-T engine of the Nismo RS, which chops the 0-62mph time down to seven seconds. It’s very quick, but not as exciting as it promises to be on paper, especially given its engineering links to the Nissan GT-R supercar.
The standalone diesel is a 1.5-litre dCi unit also found in the Qashqai. It has 108bhp and 260Nm torque, which is only 20Nm short of the torque on offer with the 215bhp turbo petrol in the Juke Nismo RS. This makes the diesel feel very flexible at low revs, but it’s also a course engine that’s noisy and not best suited to being worked hard. Given the Juke is not very dynamic in nature, though, this is the one we’d pick.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The Juke's strong residual values should help keep lifetime running costs low across the range, although on the whole, the Juke doesn’t offer as economical an engine line-up as you might think – so choose wisely.
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Although the 1.5 dCi is a little noisy, Nissan claims it returns combined fuel economy of 70.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 104g/km, which is why it’s our pick of the range. The newer 1.2-litre petrol is more refined but can't match the efficiency levels of the diesel, with a claimed 49.6mpg and 128g/km. That means a realistic 40mpg around the doors, while the standard VED rate will be £130 after the first year.
Although there’s no ‘green’ model in the Juke range as such, all manual models come with start-stop to save fuel at traffic lights and junctions. There’s also an Eco driving mode that alters throttle response so that standard inputs use less fuel, plus it reduces the air conditioning’s power consumption. It displays an economy meter too, so you can keep an eye on your driving style.
The only Jukes available with four-wheel-drive are the turbocharged 1.6 DIG-T Tekna and Nismo RS spec cars. The 4x4 mechanicals hurt efficiency significantly though, with the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol in the DIG-T and Nismo RS models emitting 153g/km and 172g/km CO2 respectively, equipped with the CVT automatic gearbox.
Neither of these is going to top 40mpg unless driven extremely carefully, which in the context of the performance on offer is an unrealistic expectation. Plus, an automatic Juke Nismo will command £205 per year in VED, compared to £130 with a Ford Fiesta ST, for example – a small performance hatchback that is, frankly, better in every way.
It’s worth noting that no Juke comes with sub-100g/km CO2 emissions, when rival small hatchbacks increasingly offer at least one such version.
Most Nissan Juke models sit in insurance groups 11 to 13, though reflecting the big leap in power from the 1.2-litre DIG-T to the 1.6-litre turbo engines, their insurance groups also leap.
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An N-Connecta 1.6 is in the same insurance group as the Nismo RS – 20, which is high considering the Vauxhall Corsa VXR is in group 16. A Renault Captur will be a little cheaper to insure generally, being a couple of groups lower like-for-like.
Data from residual values experts CAP when the car was launched suggested that a Juke would retain 52 per cent of its value at three years/60,000 miles, and despite the very evident popularity of the model, that’s held up.
Interior, design and technology
When it launched in 2010, the Juke was a breath of fresh air in a contracting car market bored with conventional superminis. Its divisive design meant you were either a fan of the quirky five-door crossover or you weren’t – but over the years, the car’s appearance has become more familiar. Now, following a spot of gentle cosmetic surgery in the middle of 2014, the Juke looks sharper than ever.
It was actually the 10th best-selling car in the UK in 2014, so the Nissan’s styling is still proving popular. The car’s trademark wide grille, big spotlights and angular light clusters higher up on the front wings mean it rivals the Mazda CX-3 for visual appeal and is more exciting than the Renault Captur – Europe’s most popular compact crossover.
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At the rear, the taillights are similar to those of the 370Z coupe and help give the Juke a sporty stance along with the raked hatch. Inside, the funky theme continues, with a coloured transmission tunnel that Nissan says was inspired by the shape of a high-performance motorcycle’s fuel tank. There’s also a gloss-black plastic surround to the sat-nav and climate controls, but, unfortunately, this is where the Juke’s interior highlights end.
The interior of the standard Nissan Juke, from the entry level Visia to range-topping Tekna, is more functional than upmarket. However, higher spec models do add some more premium features.
Sat-nav, a reversing camera, DAB radio and Nissan Connect, which features Google’s Send-To-Car technology (allowing drivers to send sat-nav destinations from their smartphone to their car) come as standard on the Acenta Premium model (and N-Connecta), while Tekna grade cars get leather seats and Nissan’s Safety Shield.
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The Nismo RS version is even more striking than any of the standard models, as it gets an aggressive body kit, lowered suspension, big black alloys and Nissan’s sports division’s traditional red highlights, including in-your-face red wing mirrors. There’s more than a hint of Nissan GT-R about it, and it was designed to clearly appeal to the so-called ‘PlayStation generation’.
The Nismo’s interior differs slightly from regular models too, as the hot Juke gets a splash of Nismo badging and lots of soft-touch Alcantara trimmings for the steering wheel and sports seats. It’s impressive, but it still can’t hide the Juke’s fundamental quality shortcomings.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
More basic Visia and Acenta models come without a central touchscreen, making do with a cheap-looking stereo head unit and, in the case of the Visia, a four-speaker setup of poor sound quality and with no Bluetooth phone connectivity. That issue is resolved in the Acenta, which also comes with six speakers.
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Acenta Premium (or N-Connecta) and above come with Nissan’s touchscreen infotainment and navigation system, which is easy enough to use thanks to shortcut buttons, but suffers from a small display. DAB is standard with the system though, as is a USB port for phone charging, steering wheel mounted controls and a colour reversing camera to assist parking.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The Juke is a lesson in form over function, with the shallow windows, rakish stance and dark coloured interior all conspiring to make the cabin a cramped place to be. The boot is a reasonable size on paper, at 354 litres, but it’s still hampered by a shallow opening and an odd shape.
Be wary if you’re buying a used Juke, though, because the 2014 facelift saw boot space improved by 40 per cent and the addition of a false floor that can be raised to the height of the lip. These make new Juke models considerably more practical than pre-facelift models.
However, be aware that if you go for four-wheel drive you’ll have to make do with just 205 litres of space – that’s less than a three-door MINI. Fortunately, though, Nissan has placed plenty of useful cubbyholes around the interior, plus a deep glovebox and extra storage under the boot floor.
From the driver’s seat things remain disappointing. The steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach and it’s difficult to find a comfortable driving position as a result. It’s actually a longer car than the Renault Captur, but a shorter wheelbase means there’s much less room; and with hard, dark plastics covering the dash and doors, it feels cheap.
While it can't match its more traditional supermini rivals for in terms of practicality, the Nissan Juke's availability in four-wheel drive means it capable of towing, and should you want to, the system will allow you to venture (slightly) off the beaten track.
It’s worth noting that in our 2015 Driver Power survey the Juke finished 192nd of 200 cars for practicality, demonstrating that owners are frustrated with the Juke’s shortcomings in this area.
The Juke looks deceptively tiny because its SUV proportions are more often the stuff of much larger cars. In fact, it’s longer than a Ford Fiesta, wider and, logically, quite a bit taller. Still, the high driving position makes front visibility excellent, and this is an easy car to place on the road. Rearward, though, the styling does leave large blind spots at the thick C-pillars.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
As a package the Juke is the opposite of, say, the Volkswagen Up because its sloping roof, high interior floor and chunky interior styling eat into space noticeably. The Juke simply doesn’t have much room and lags behind rivals like the Renault Captur and the Ford EcoSport.
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In reality this makes the Juke the sort of car that’s best for those who don’t always need the back seats. This is not a five-seat car (despite having five three-point seatbelts) and headroom is restrictive for taller people. The thick-set front seats don’t help rear knee room, either, and also mean that rear facing child seats placed in the back will force the front-seat occupants to move their seats forward to perhaps an uncomfortable position.
The original Juke came with a paltry 251-litre boot, so in response to criticism Nissan improved it to a more useable 354 litres and included a twin floor, handy not only for easier loading but for concealing smaller valuables underneath the load cover.
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The rear bench is 60/40 split-folding as standard and when fully folded liberates 1,189 litres of space. The problem with the shallow boot opening remains, but that’s a respectable amount of space. Again, though, it’s trumped by the Renault Captur’s 1,235-litre capacity.
Reliability and Safety
Despite the plastics feeling cheap in the Juke, Nissan’s reliability is largely excellent – all models are built at the firm’s Sunderland plant – and the car should be sturdy enough to stand up to daily wear and tear.
Higher end cars get an advanced dashboard-mounted screen, which shows a range of information such as cornering G-force. Unfortunately, as the Nissan Juke is essentially a small family crossover, it all seems a bit pointless.
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Thanks to its five-star Euro NCAP rating, the Juke is also one of the safest cars around – and considering it was tested before the 2014 update added features like Safety Shield, that’s an encouragement. It scored especially well for adult occupant safety (87%) and child occupant safety (81%).
Safety Shield, which is standard on Acenta and optional on N-Connecta, comprises lane departure warning, blind spot warning, and a sensor that detects people or animals moving behind the car. Six airbags are standard across the range, including driver, passenger, side impact and curtain.
Nissan’s warranty is the same for all cars and covers three years or 60,000 miles – whichever comes first. It includes touring assistance, meaning hotel accommodation is covered if occupants are stranded as a result of a breakdown, and it covers a replacement vehicle if appropriate in the same circumstances. The paint warranty is three-years long too, though the mileage is unlimited, while the corrosion warranty is up to 12 years, also unlimited mileage.
While some manufacturers offer multiple service visits for a one-off payment over the life of the car, Nissan operates a simple fixed price policy per service. For petrol models a minor service is £149 and a major one £219, and for diesels that’s bumper up slightly to £159 and £249.
Every service includes one year’s roadside assist, a free courtesy car, and the dealership will even send you a video outlining any problems so you can assess it before additional work is carried out.