Nissan Juke: 'Design is everything...'
Design is everything... or so says Nissan about its eye-catching Juke. But these days there's more to the junior crossover than look-at-me styling, says William Scholes
AGAINST the crippling backdrop of Covid-19, it won't have been a surprise to anyone that the new car market has collapsed so far this year, writes William Scholes.
April is traditionally one of the most important months of the year for the industry, not least because it coincides with the start of a new financial year.
But compared to the same month in 2019, April registrations were down more than 97 per cent in the UK. In Northern Ireland, just 24 new cars were registered. It was a similar picture all over Europe.
The only way, then, is up. Factories have resumed production, albeit at slower rates, and fractured supply chains patched up.
Showrooms in Northern Ireland could be reopening as early as next week. Car companies had already been investing in selling cars online, and the coronavirus experience will make that sales channel increasingly important.
People will start buying cars again, and the industry fervently hopes that the collapse at the start of the year will be more a case of a purchase deferred than a purchase disappeared.
When - if - consumer confidence returns, the car on this page, the Nissan Juke, is the type of vehicle that manufacturers reckon we will be buying in large numbers.
Before Covid-19 struck, the two motoring macro-trends were electric - and electrified - vehicles and SUVs. There is no particular reason to think that the virus will have changed this direction of travel.
Within the SUV and crossover market, the biggest growth was forecast to be in the smaller size-class.
Nissan, much as it did with the one-size-larger Qashqai, arguably created this baby SUV class when it rolled out the oddball Juke a decade ago.
It proved to be a rather unlikely success story because it lacked many of the attributes normally associated with an adequate small family car.
For example, that first Juke wasn't especially nice to drive, the back seats were cramped and awkward to access, the boot was small and it looked plain weird.
Compared to the original car, Juke v2.0 is better in every single way that matters. Now you've got a back seat that can accommodate passengers taller than leprechauns and a boot bigger than a primary school child's pencil case
But people loved it. They loved its individualism, its raised driving position and the fact that it wasn't a completely rational product. The Juke injected a bit of emotion into a previously rather staid market.
Fast forward 10 years, and competitors have piled in on the Juke's territory.
The Mini Countryman, Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008 got there first, but a flurry of box-fresh rivals from Ford (Puma), Volkswagen (T-Cross), Seat (Arona), Skoda (another car called K-something-Q), Kia (Stonic) and Hyundai (Kona) - among others - mean the Juke no longer has it all its own way.
Another of the Juke's remarkable features was just how long it hung around. The car that debuted in 2010 was still on sale last year, giving it an unusually venerable lifespan.
Compared to the original car, Juke v2.0 is better in every single way that matters. Now you've got a back seat that can accommodate passengers taller than leprechauns and a boot bigger than a primary school child's pencil case.
It's nice to drive, too, with the 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine - your only choice - well matched to the car. It makes 115bhp and 133lb.ft of torque, which rises to 148lb.ft under hard acceleration with an 'overboost' function. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard but you can opt for a seven-speed double-clutch automatic.
None of this makes the Juke a rocket-ship. If sharp-driving is your thing, you're best to head in the direction of a Mazda CX-3 or Ford Puma, but I reckon it hits the bull's-eye for what most people will expect of their snazzy small SUV.
In any case, of greater importance to punters is how the Juke looks. You can see for yourself that it is unmistakably still a Juke, and Nissan says this is exactly what existing owners demanded. It also manages the trick of appearing crisper and more modern. As we heard repeatedly at the Juke's international launch: "Design is everything."
But the biggest revelation is the quality of the interior, both in its execution and the materials used.
The orange trim of the test car won't be to everyone's taste - at least it's different from the grey, black and beige norm, and my 11-year-old loved it...
This might even be the best interior Nissan has ever done - a low bar, perhaps - and it is certainly the most 'connected', to use the jargon.
That means many digital screens - here they look good and work well, though there's no full digital dash like you can get in a Volkswagen, never mind the 3D hologram effect that Peugeot now has on the latest 2008.
The Juke's look-at-me styling means it won't be for everyone; but those that do 'get it' will still love it. And in these coronavirus days, how can we begrudge a car that makes people smile and feel good?
Anyway, the Juke does the important stuff well. It's quick to hook up your mobile phone, for example, and to switch radio stations. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can be had.
So-called over-the-air updates are catered for too, meaning you don't need to bring the car to a dealer whenever there's a new version of the car's software available.
You can get an embedded 4G sim card to turn your Juke into a mobile wifi hotspot and there's even a way for parents to set up alerts to tell them how the car is being driven by their teenagers flying solo.
And, should you wish, you can also talk to the latest Juke using Google Assistant and an app.
You can ask the car how much petrol is left, for example, or send it sat-nav destinations from your living room. Personally, I prefer to look at a gauge or type in a destination myself, but car-makers keep telling us that customers are demanding these sorts of connected services.
It all underlines the ubiquity of the smartphone, I suppose, and how its features are bleeding into parts of our lives where ye olde worlde telephones could never have ventured.
High-tech these days also extends to the safety features fitted to a car. The Juke can be had with Nissan's swanky 'ProPilot' system, which does a smooth and reliable job of assisting with steering, braking and acceleration.
But the most crowd-pleasing feature of all are front seats which can be specified with Bose speakers built in to the head rests, giving fresh meaning to surround sound. I've driven soft-tops, including the Mazda MX-5, with similar set-ups but I don't think I've come across a family car so equipped. It's a very good sound system, plus the speakers serve as a bit of a talking point, perhaps emphasising that style is an important part of the Juke package.
Trim levels start with the fairly Spartan Visia grade, from £17,440, and end with the Tekna+ (from £23,940) and Premiere Edition (from £24,040) which come fully loaded with all the gadgets, like a trolley dash around Currys.
A Tekna (from £22,540) is probably the sweet spot; it's the first model in the range to come with 19-inch alloys as standard.
These might sound unfeasibly large for a small car, but on this occasion they really help make most sense of the Juke's design - and aren't looks what this car is all about? - and give it a sort of pumped up rollerboot aesthetic.
The large wheels coped well with the more corrugated sections of Northern Ireland's road network. You couldn't call it a 'magic carpet ride' but it certainly wasn't notably poor.
Objectively, there are more convincing all-rounders in the small SUV class than the Juke. The Volkswagen Group cars, for example, offer more space and a greater choice of engines.
But they also all look like Volkswagen Group cars, where there is still nothing that looks like the Nissan Juke.
Look-at-me styling means the Juke won't be for everyone; but those that do 'get it' will still love it. And in these coronavirus days, how can we begrudge a car that makes people smile and feel good?
AT A GLANCE
Nissan Juke Tekna
Price: £22,540. As tested £23,515, with two-tone metallic paint at £975
Engine and transmission: 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol turbo, front-wheel-drive, seven-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox; 115bhp, 133lb.ft (148lb.ft on overboost)
Performance: Top speed 112mph, 0-60mph in 10.7 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 44.8mpg (WLTP), 38.7mpg (real world), 143g/km
Car tax: £215 in first year, then £150 annually
Benefit in kind: 31 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (94/85/81/73), 2019