The Juke is about to meet the jury! A radical blend of SUV and sporty coupé, this is Nissan’s bold new entry into the expanding arena of small crossovers – a category soon to include the MINI Countryman and Mitsubishi ASX.
In a world exclusive, we were given the opportunity to sample a pre-production all-wheel-drive Juke around the hillsides in Malibu, California. Has the Nissan done enough to be crowned the new crossover champion?
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Nissan Juke
Whether you find the car’s looks appealing or appalling, there’s no denying it is eye-popping to behold. Penned at Nissan’s UK design studio in London, the Juke gets exaggerated bumpers, 370Z-inspired tail-lamps and huge circular spotlights at the front. The rear door handles are ‘hidden’ for a coupé-like appearance, and 17-inch rims fill the bulging wheelarches.
That audacious exterior theme carries over inside. There, a motorcycle-inspired centre console complements accommodation for five and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat.
A slick user interface controls the audio system and the drive mode selector which alters throttle sensitivity, speed of gearchange and steering effort when switching between Normal, Sport and Eco.
The back seat is tighter than in a Countryman while boot space, at only 251 litres, is compromised, even for a small SUV.
Based on Nissan’s global-B platform, which underpins the Cube and Renault Clio, the Juke offers an all-new 1.6-litre direct-injection petrol turbo engine boasting 187bhp and 240Nm of torque.
The range-topping turbo tested here with all-wheel drive comes exclusively with a CVT auto box, while the front-drive version gets a six-speed manual. Nissan will also offer the Juke with a 115bhp 1.6-litre petrol and a 108bhp 1.5 turbodiesel, the latter matching the 1.6 turbo’s peak torque. Neither the naturally aspirated 1.6 petrol nor the oil-burner can be had with all-wheel drive.
Paired with the CVT, our 1.6 turbo was eager to rev, sending the 1,280kg Juke from 0-62mph in around eight seconds. Unfortunately, the engine sounds rather dull. In the pursuit of sporty handling, the 4x4 system utilises torque vectoring. This can split torque 50/50 between front and rear, and side to side across the back axle, reducing understeer and boosting cornering agility.
To complement the upgraded performance, the flagship Juke gets a multi-link rear suspension.
Over our winding test loop through the coastal mountains north of Los Angeles, the torque-vectoring set-up made quick work of tight turns and sweeping curves, rotating the rear end effortlessly and with composure. The electric steering is lacking in feel, but weights up nicely in Sport mode.
Given the stand-out styling, high fun factor, trio of advanced engines and prices starting at only £12,795, the Juke represents excellent value. And based on this first encounter, there is nothing to suggest it won’t emulate the Qashqai’s success.
Rival: MINI Countryman
SOME MINI aficionados might not like the concept behind it, yet the Countryman is versatile and fun to drive. It’s pricey, but perfect for families who love the brand and can’t fit into the basic car.
* Price: £19,995
* Engine: 1.6-litre, 4cyl turbo
* Transmission: CVT, 4WD
* Power: 187bhp
* Torque: 240Nm
* 0-62mph: 8.0 seconds (est)
* Top speed: N/A
* Economy: 30mpg (est)
* CO2: 180g/km
* Equipment: 17-inch alloys, part-leather upholstery, panoramic roof, iPod connection, sat-nav, electric windows, climate control
* On sale: October