Nissan’s boldly designed compact SUV is back in an all-new form, but can it make more than a styling statement on the road?
The Nissan Juke is back to make a youthful presence in the compact SUV segment, and to breathe some new life into the Japanese brand’s ageing fleet.
It’s been seven years since the original Juke arrived in Australia with its cheeky, opinion-splitting styling. The replacement is clearly related, yet the second-generation model has also matured in both design and size.
An increase of 75mm takes the Juke to 4.21m in length, while it is 35mm wider and 30mm taller than before. The wheelbase increases to 2.64m, though short front and rear overhangs continue the Juke’s wheel-at-each-corner stance.
As with Ford and Volkswagen, Nissan has taken the approach to start pricing higher than is usual for the baby-SUV class and stacking the equipment list as some compensation.
The original Juke started from $21,990 at launch (though $24,390 with an auto rather than manual), whereas the new, auto-only model kicks off at $27,990 before on-road costs for the entry-level ST, topping out at $36,490 before on-roads.
Our review car is the 2020 Nissan Juke ST-L that sits one place below the current range-topper, the Ti. The ST-L carries an RRP of $33,940 and a drive-away price of $36,490.
|2020 Nissan Juke ST-L|
|Engine (capacity, cylinders, type)||1.0-litre 3-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power and torque (with RPMs)||84kW @ 5250rpm, 180Nm @ 2400rpm|
|Transmission||seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type (FWD, etc)||front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||5.8L/100km|
|fuel use on test||7.6L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||422L / 1305L|
|Turning circle||11.0 metres|
|ANCAP safety rating (year tested)||5 stars (tested 2019)|
|Warranty (years / km)||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Ford Puma, Mazda CX-3, Toyota C-HR, VW T-Cross|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$33,940|
There’s plenty of standard kit. LED headlights and daytime running lamps, paddle-shift levers, heated front seats, navigation, digital radio, and front/rear parking sensors are carried over from the ST+ trim grade, before the ST-L adds bigger (19-inch) alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, keyless start, drive modes, cloth/accented-leather upholstery, electric park brake, 7.0-inch digital display for the instrument panel, and Around View monitor.
Auto high beam, blind spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring, speed-limit notification, forward-collision alert and lane-departure warning all come via the ST/ST+, and the ST-L then includes adaptive cruise control. The rear brakes also switch from drums to discs, though the latter should be standard on all models.
What do buyers miss out on by choosing the ST-L rather than flagship, $36,490 ($39,490 drive-away) Ti? The key items are a Bose audio system (with headrest speakers), leather/Alcantara seats, Alcantara trim and privacy glass.
Although the Juke ST-L’s specification is strong, it’s worth cross-shopping with rivals.
A range-topping Ford Puma ST-Line V costs $36,990 drive-away until the end of 2020 (and possibly beyond) and includes a 575-watt Bang & Olufsen Play audio, fully digital driver display and an auto tailgate (though smaller 18-inch wheels).
And a VW T-Cross 85TSI Style with Sound & Vision package costs just under $35,000 drive-away and brings highlights such as a 300-watt Beats audio and customisable digital driver display.
Nissan’s interior designers have tried not to let the exterior stylists have all the fun, providing the Juke’s cabin with some interesting touches – such as the Mini-esque circular gear lever surround and the quintet of circular chrome/black air vents spread across the dash.
The vents make a satisfying click when opened or closed completely, and in general tactility, quality and presentation are all significant advances over the old Juke. Some orange ambient lighting creates another nice visual touch for night driving.
It’s surprising, though, that in Australia the Juke’s interior is available in black/grey tones only, when in some other markets an Energy Orange trim is offered to bring more colour to the dash, doors, centre console and seats.
The Juke also lacks one-touch operation on all windows (driver’s only) unlike the Puma and T-Cross.
The 8.0-inch central infotainment touchscreen also lags behind those offered in those Ford and VW models for slickness of presentation (as well as standard wireless smartphone charging). The display looks of appropriate size for the Juke’s compact cabin, though, and is responsive and easy enough to use.
It also ticks the boxes for digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, navigation and voice commands.
Directly ahead of the driver, regular instrument dials sandwich a 7.0-inch TFT display that features a variety of information, which can be cycled through via steering wheel buttons.
Some useful front-cabin storage areas include well-sized door compartments and a large, dual-section glovebox.
Another area of cabin improvement from Juke old to new is rear-seat space. Most adults can jump in the back – opening the rear doors via hidden doorhandles – without having their knees up against the front seatbacks.
There’s a USB port, cleverly concealed seatback pouches and large bottle holders integrated into the doors, though there are no vents or a centre armrest.
Boot space is another leap – up from the 354L of the old model (front-wheel-drive variants) to 422L. Fairly wide and deep, the Juke’s boot is significantly bigger than the CX-3’s (264L) and slightly above the Puma’s 410L maximum luggage capacity. The T-Cross’s boot ranges between 385L and 455L depending on the position of the VW’s sliding rear bench.
Although the Juke has increased in size, it’s still about the size of a VW Golf, so finding a parking spot won’t take long. There are also sensors front and rear, plus four cameras creating a bird’s-eye view on the infotainment display, though parking manoeuvres are made trickier by the jerky seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
Parallel parking behind or between cars on a hill can be especially fraught, as the auto also allows the Juke to roll forward unless the Auto Hold button has been pressed. Even then, you still need to be careful when the auto-hold disengages. (It’s possible lower-grade Juke models featuring a handbrake rather than electronic park brake might be easier to manage.)
The dual-clutch auto’s issues don’t stop there. The gearbox can hesitate just after the car pulls away from standstill, and often makes the car surge even when applying a modest amount of throttle pressure.
While this doesn’t make the Juke an undriveable mess by any means, the dual-clutch autos in the Puma and T-Cross are significantly more refined.
It also gets better at medium to high speeds, working with the 84kW/180Nm 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder to give the Juke useful acceleration.
The stop-start system could be quicker to reignite the engine, and it also proved to be inconsistent in when it worked.
On-test indicated fuel consumption ended up at 7.6 litres per 100km, with a separate commute-style urban drive registering 6.6L/100km on the trip computer. These figures compare with an official 5.8L/100km – and a bit higher than we’ve recorded for similar drives in the T-Cross and Puma.
As with those models, the Juke needs to run on premium fuel.
The Juke ST-L’s 19-inch wheels are huge for a pint-sized SUV. They’re a great match for the Nissan’s boldly styled bodywork, though they don’t help ride quality. The ST-L feels overly stiff even on smooth freeways, while around town the suspension crashes over deeper potholes and fidgets over patchy roads.
Sporty tyres (Hankook Ventus S1 Evo), however, give the Juke ST-L tremendous grip, contributing to enjoyable roadholding. The baby Nissan turns into corners keenly and without the excessive body lean that afflicts plenty of high-riding vehicles.
The brakes perform well, too.
This all places the Juke at the pointy end of the class for handling, if not quite as great to steer as the Puma.
The Juke is adequately quiet on freeways, and its adaptive cruise system ensures the car gets back up to the set speed after slowing for, and then passing, vehicles ahead.
A cruise-control shutdown was one of two, single-instance glitches we experienced with our test car. The other was an unexpected activation of the autonomous emergency brake system during a night-time drive.
The Juke is a design-focused crossover, and it will attract buyers purely for its bold and playful styling. It’s not without substance, either, with decent interior space, good cabin presentation, and a larger-than-average boot for the ‘light SUV’ segment. There’s also a willing engine and keen handling.
The Juke’s segment has become increasingly competitive, however, and its occasionally recalcitrant auto and average ride quality – at least in respect of the big-wheeled ST-L – are a couple of big downsides against its strong rivals from Ford and Volkswagen.