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First drive review: Nissan Juke 1.6 Visia (2014)

Ay, caramba! It's the Bartmobile

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Nissan Juke

CHECK OUT the chunky, funky, newly reappraised Nissan Juke — part car, part training shoe. Is it just coincidence that those ripped upper front lights and their boomerang-shaped rear counterparts seem quietly to allude to a Nike swoosh?

Maybe. But the more pressing question is, do you have the wardrobe to get behind the wheel? The Juke seems to demand of its driver an outfit of low-crotched jeans, T-shirt with sleeves loosely rolled, possibly a reversed baseball cap. And then you’re going to need somewhere to hang.

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If its massively popular big brother, the Qashqai, has cornered the market in cheerful, innocent, family-based purposefulness, the Juke seems created in anticipation of a life of mild urban menace, a vehicle apparently designed for slowly circling a nightclub at dusk.

Or maybe that was just my test model, uncompromisingly painted in a boiling-hot shade of banana, referred to on Nissan’s paint charts with heroic understatement as “yellow”. But there’s yellow and there’s yellow, and to sit inside this raging skin for an hour or two was to get a strong sense of what it might feel like to be Bart Simpson.

One should note, of course, that other, less blinding colours are available, although whether even the quietest among them will ever entirely douse the cartoon aspects of the Juke’s body shape is open to question. Suffice to say that, from Nissan’s point of view, tonal modesty is not part of the mission here.

But there’s yellow and there’s yellow, and to sit inside this raging skin for an hour or two was to get a strong sense of what it might feel like to be Bart Simpson.

A thick aluminium “U” has been stapled to the blingy, watchstrap-style grille, and our attention is excitedly drawn to the availability of new, interchangeable colour inserts for the wheels, headlamps, bumpers, transmission hump and more — pretty much anywhere you fancy. “Go loud or go home” seems to be the message.

Since it first prowled among us in 2010, the Juke has racked up half a million sales, 99,000 of them in the UK. Nissan was never going to tear it up and start again, so much of what’s new this time is cosmetic. Not everything, though.

The first Juke didn’t offer a boot so much as a rear glove compartment. The new one contrives a whopping 40% increase, boosting capacity to a competitive 354 litres and enabling you to pump it full of supermarket shopping, assuming you ever end up doing something that uncool in it. (Confession: that’s exactly what I did — Waitrose, to be precise. I also used it to take my dog for his biannual haircut at Top Dog in Raynes Park, southwest London. I’m not sure that either of these activities would have earned me a photo spread in the car’s brochure.)

My version, alas, wasn’t fitted with the new, optional, all-glass roof, but the rumour is that it makes the cabin lighter, and I see no reason to argue that this wouldn’t be the case. I did, however, benefit from the arrival on board of Nissan’s trusty Safety Shield — a confidence-enhancing trio of early warning systems for lane departure, moving objects and blind spots.

Nissan interior

Select reverse and the 5in screen on the dash divides to show an overhead surround-view image of the car and video from a reversing camera, which would be great if the images weren’t so tiny, fogged and grainy — to the extent that they could easily be mistaken for early experiments in photography. Indeed, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was peering at a view of the Waitrose car park or a daguerreotype of a Victorian doctor and his family.

Still, the raised driver’s seat affords a crystal-clear view of the streets and the tops of those bug-eyed side lights bulging above the bonnet. In this commanding position you can select three driving modes — Normal, the feistier Sport (which causes the dials to throb red and brings up a largely cosmetic but yob-pleasing torque read-out) and somnolent Eco, in which the car pretty much seems to resign itself to sitting in traffic.

Indeed, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was peering at a view of the Waitrose car park or a daguerreotype of a Victorian doctor and his family.

The suspension has been tweaked, but the car still dips and bounces around a bit and certainly doesn’t stick to the road in the way promised by that fiercely back-sloping roof and those chunky arches.

The breakthrough, though, is a new 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine of Renault/Nissan descent. This is 2bhp less powerful than the 1.6-litre engine that was the standard fitting on the old model — and remains available, along with a 1.5-litre diesel — but is turboed to provide better performance and, hooked to the Juke’s pleasingly snicky six-speed gearbox, makes a better match for the car’s punchy, maverick character.

The growing problem the Juke faces is that manifestly “different” cars on this scale are themselves not such a different idea these days. The rethought Juke will have to fight for attention at a party now crowded to the point of airlessness with scaled-down SUVs taking plucky approaches to matters of design: the Renault Captur, the Kia Soul, the Citroën Cactus, the Vauxhall Adam Rocks, the Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all.

The Juke is built in Sunderland, so it can be considered local produce, if that helps you to make up your mind. It is also, surely, the most yellow car ever.

Verdict ★★★☆☆

Eat my shorts

Nissan Juke 1.6 Visia specifications

  • Engine: 1586cc, 4-cylinder petrol
  • Power:  93bhp @ 5400rpm
  • Torque: 103 lb ft @ 3200 rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual, front wheel drive
  • Acceleration: 0-62mph in 12sec
  • Top speed: 104mph
  • Fuel:47.1mpg (combined)
  • CO2: 138g/km
  • Vehicle tax band: E
  • Price: £13,420
  • Release date: On sale now


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Nissan Juke 1.6 Visia rivals

  • Kia Soul Start 1.6 GDi, from £12,600

For Competitively priced; striking looks; spacious cabin; perky performance
Against  Average ride comfort and roadholding; styling not to all tastes

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  • Ford Fiesta Style 1.25, from £12,795

For Terrific to drive; frugal on fuel; lower running costs than Juke or Soul
Against You won’t stand out from the crowd – but for some that’s just fine

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