We drive the stylish younger brother to Nissan's Qashqai.
Just like its bigger brother the Qashqai, the Nissan Juke plays the crossover game with panache - albeit in a slightly smaller package. And while not perfect, its blend of dramatic styling, a lofty driving position, decent handling, reasonable practicality and a tempting price tag means it offers an exciting alternative to not only normal superminis, but premium small cars as well.
Doing things differently has proved very successful for Nissan. When the Qashqai arrived in 2007, offering people a more exciting alternative to the run-of-the-mill family hatchback, it turned the Japanese firm's ailing fortunes around. Now Nissan is hoping for similar success with its baby brother - the Juke.
Arriving at dealers in September, it will take on premium small cars such as the MINI and Audi A1. However, with prices starting from £12,795, the Juke will also temp people out of higher spec versions of more mainstream superminis too.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Nissan Juke
It's not hard to see why. Visually, there is little this side of a supercar that's as striking. Side-on, it looks like Nissan has taken the top half of a GT-R, stuck it on the bottom half of a Pathfinder, and then shrunk the result while, from the front it's more like a moonbuggy. Crossed with a frog. Make no mistake, this is a marmite car‚ you either love or hate the design. Whatever your opinion though, there can be no denying the Juke's originality.
If only it was as exciting inside. Bar a pearlescent centre console, which mimics the shape of a motorbike's fuel tank, the interior fails to live up to the drama created by the exterior. Mid to higher spec versions get a driving computer which not only allows you to change the car's mode between sport, normal and eco but can show you how much G-Force you are pulling, just like in a GT-R. But really this is just a marketing gimmick that most poeple won't bother with after the first week of ownership. And it can't hide the fact that compared to a MINI, overall the cabin feels a little low rent.
The Juke beats the MINI on practicality though. The boot is a decent size and the rear seats fold down completely flat. However, your average supermini will be better for carrying passengers in the back as while the Nissan has decent leg space, the sloping roof seriously compromises rear headroom.
Does this matter though? Not really. This is a car for extroverts who want to turn heads round town, not play taxi. And in the urban environment the Juke‚Äôs crossover concept works well. That raised ride height allows you to skip painlessly over speed humps while the lofty driving position gives you a great view over other traffic.
The Juke also impresses on the open road. It's reasonably quiet and comfortable, although the slightly stiff suspension does get a bit jittery on poorer surfaces. However, the pay-off for the sporty set-up is very little body roll through corners.
Don't expect MINI levels of fun though. The chassis is nowhere near as talented and the steering is totally numb. This is a shame, as when fitted with Nissan‚Äôs new 187bhp 1.6-litre turbochargd petrol engine, the Juke delivers hot hatch performance. Nissan claims it's good for 0-62mph in just eight seconds but from the driver‚Äôs seat it feels even quicker.
And that brings us back to the beginning. Is the Juke really likely to be as big a hit as the Qashqai (which incidentally was the fifth best selling car in Britain last month)? Based on our initial impressions and the fact that Nissan has already sold 1,000 cars three months before it officially goes on sale, the answer has to be yes. Probably more so.
Rival - MINI Cooper S
The cool retro looks and sparkling chassis means the MINI appeals equally to both style and fun seekers. But while it has the Juke beaten in terms of heritage and driving enjoyment, its pricier, not as well equipped and far less comfortable or practical. Plus it's now as common as fish and chips.