Regardless of what you may think of the JUKE, its impact on the automotive world as we know it has been far more profound than we think. Back in 2010, Nissan was setting the stage for a segment that was about to take the car business by storm.
Its love it or hate styling overshadowed the significance of this vehicle as the originator of the subcompact SUV/CUV segment. The JUKE initiated a great many things from a very mild utility standpoint including pairing driving pleasure, available AWD, and the all-important higher driving position. Its shortcomings were limited to being unable to carry more than a pair of normal humans and some gear and driving around unnoticed.
For the 2015 model year, the Nissan JUKE continues mostly unchanged on the outside. Updates to the front and rear ends include a new grille more in line with the latest products from Nissan and some new alloy wheels. Technically speaking, the very sweet 1.6L DIG-Turbocharged engine has been revised for more torque below 2,000 rpm and the AWD is improved with a Torque Vectoring System.
What makes a JUKE is its styling, which is unapologetically unique. It deters a great many of us from considering what is otherwise a very good car. Newcomers like the Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V and the very excellent Mazda CX-3 will give the Nissan a serious run for its money.
My Solar Yellow SL AWD was also shod with a number of faux carbon-fibre accents, such as on the rear hatch, door handles and the headlight surrounds. Um, no, thanks. Looks terribly tacky and whatever the cost is, it’s way too much. The base SV FWD JUKE retails for $20,498. My SL AWD has a starting price of $30,178.
Turbo for the win
Despite the very tough competition, the JUKE’s rogue (see what I did there?) stature still makes it stand out, if given the chance. That turbocharged 1.6L mill is just about the most powerful of the lot, and it’s not just numbers on paper. The Juke boogies thanks to its 188 horsepower, available as of 5,600 rpm, and 177 lb-ft of torque on tap from 1,600 rpm all the way to 5,200. And believe it or not, the standard-with-AWD CVT manages the power quite well.
From a standstill, the go-pedal is met with little resistance but there is a brief lull before things get underway. Call it an effort to save on fuel. Thanks to Nissan’s Integrated Control (I-CON) system drive mode selector, I can select one of three different drive modes that modify throttle/transmission/steering response settings. Normal is fine, but Sport’s where it’s at. With it in play, the lull all but disappears and the JUKE makes good use of its power.
Good to drive
You might be understanding that Nissan’s little ‘ute is quite sporty and you’re correct. With AWD also comes a fully independent suspension (compared to a torsion beam with FWD) that features a rear multi-link setup. This utility vehicle handles surprisingly well, in fact. To boot, the ride is not overly stiff as it is in the new 2016 Fiat 500X. This means that interior trims will not shake themselves lose after a few years of avoiding big potholes by aiming for smaller ones.
The JUKE is a little dart-y in nature and that’s part of the fun-factor. Its electric steering may lack in tactility but it makes up for it with quick response and good precision. The 4-wheel disc brakes are up to the task with a strong initial bite when pressure is applied to the pedal.
Tight but cool
On board, the JUKE continues its job of being different. It all goes down in the centre console where the JUKE’s I-CON is located. The display is sufficiently user-friendly, however, the occupants need to remember to press the D-MODE button to switch from one menu to the other.
The compact Nissan’s biggest fault is behind the first row of seats and on. The rear bench is snug with precious little legroom, and accessing said seats can be a chore if avoiding knocking your head on the roof is a thing for you. The trunk may be larger than in previous FWD models, but the fact remains that larger suitcases will not fit unless the rear seatback is folded forward.
Keep it in mind
As a starting point for this now very popular segment, the Nissan JUKE is a winner. However, if it wants to thrive, I expect that the next generation will offer more interior volume without necessarily sacrificing its signature styling.
In the meantime, I’d take a serious look at the Mazda CX-3 before leaving the Nissan dealer lot with your new 2015 JUKE, just in case…