Latest report: Nissan Juke long-term test
29 September 2020
Author: Pete Tullin
The recent launch of the Renault Captur E-Tech gave some insight into how two fundamentally similar cars can feel different.
|Nissan Juke Tekna + 1.0 DCT |
|As tested:|| £25,295|
|Official consumption:|| 44.1mpg |
|Our average consumption:|| 42.3mpg|
3rd Report: Juke comes face to face with Captur cousin
Let's face it, very few, if any of us, are immune to the persuasive powers of the advertising and marketing industry.
How else do you explain why people will gladly fork out £60 for a bunch of recycled plastic bottles reconstituted in the colours of their favourite Premiership football team? Even more baffling is why some folk are willing to blow over a thousand quid on a pair of designer jeans when they know full well they can get a near-identical product off the local market stall for under a tenner.
Yep, brand power is alive and well and nowhere is it flourishing more vigorously than in the car industry, where a premium badge can add thousands to the price of some pretty ordinary vehicles.
Thankfully, there are still some cars that offer solid value for money, even if they tend to carry less auspicious badges.
Take our long-term Nissan Juke. Everything from funky alloy wheels, heated seats and a quick-clear heated windscreen, to a stonking Bose stereo, complete with headrest speakers, jazzy leather seats and trim, cruise control, climate control, a reversing camera, a contemporary infotainment system, and a whole host of accident avoidance technologies are all included in the £25K asking price.
Try adding half of that lot to a fancy German or Italian sports car and your invoice will spiral out of control quicker than you could say 'would you also like the shirt off my back?'
Sure, in previous reports I've been a wee bit critical of some of the Juke's driving attributes, which, for the want of some additional development time or more scrutinous tuning, haven't quite measured up to the standards I expect, but even I can't argue with the amount of standard kit the Juke brings to the party.
Recently, I had the opportunity to validate or dismiss some of my dynamic grumblings by driving the Juke's nearest relative, the Renault Captur.
The two cars share plenty of fundamentals, including the same underpinnings and many of the same powertrains. Although both are styled to appeal to the same compact SUV customer base and rely heavily on extravagant styling, you would probably struggle to recognise how closely related the two cars are driving them back-to-back. There's no doubting the Juke is the 'sportier' of the two. Its firm suspension settings and more responsive steering mean it changes direction and takes corners with more zeal than the Renault, but the French car is no sluggard, seems to suffer from less road noise, and is more comfortable overall, save for its more prevalent cabin shudders when crashing over potholes and drain covers. Even though it is firmer, our Juke shrugs off these single wheel impacts with less drama, or at least it would were it not for the driver's side front door being such a poor fit.
I've long been an admirer of Japanese manufacturers' solid build quality and their enviable reliability record, so I find it all the more surprising that the Juke's door has developed such a pronounced creak and rattle, which has become a constant source of annoyance even when travelling over relatively smooth surfaces.
I'm hoping it's just a simple misalignment issue and one that can be resolved by booking it into my local Nissan dealership. I'm also hoping workshop techniques have moved on since I last had a door-fit issue, with a long-term Citroen Xsara test car some 20 years ago, which involved a couple of hefty fettling whacks from a big rubber mallet. Harsh but fair as it turned out, as it solved the issue once and for all.
Although it would be hard to prove conclusively without three months' worth of decibel meter data, I feel sure that the Juke's engine is becoming more grumbly as the miles pile on. It's not in anyway unseemly, but especially on cold starts I swear the three-cylinder engine rattle has become more pronounced and there are more distinct whines as various mechanical components are raised from their slumbers. Of course, many people might say that is also a perfect description of yours truly.
2nd Report: Do not adjust your driving style
I have to say I've been pleasantly surprised by the number of admiring glances our long-term Juke gets and the number of folk who feel compelled to express their approval of its slashed body panels splashed with gunmetal grey and contrasting cherry-red highlights.
More often than not, the conversation then falls to the vibrant orange interior trim, and the way it clashes with the red body highlights more violently than a pub full of Millwall and Leyton Orient football supporters. Let's just say a rough straw poll suggests it has rather more dissenters than devotees.
Personally, I have become immune to this design faux pas and tend to concentrate on more rewarding aspects, such as the Juke's exceptional driving position. Its sternum-aligned steering wheel, spaciously gapped pedals, wide left-side footrest and supportive seats mean it is a far more comfortable car to live with than many small SUV rivals, which can all too often subject their owners to spine-twisting offset controls.
I also like the hairline heating elements in the heated windscreen, which create minimal visual distractions as I gaze at the road ahead.
The Juke steering tune is one of the better examples I've come across too, providing a connected feel to the front wheels and a smooth increase in weight when turning into corners. Allied to sharply tuned chassis dynamics, the driving experience is more akin to a junior hot hatch than a lofty SUV. The downside to the roll-resistant suspension is a rather punishing ride quality, which feels especially brittle at low speeds. Those large alloy wheels and stiff springs induce a pronounced amount of side-to-side shimmy even on relatively smooth surfaces and some fairly hefty wallops when driving over anything resembling a serious lump or bump.
I've already spoken about the Juke's switch-like relationship between the accelerator pedal and the automatic gearbox's take-up but since my early stumblings I've managed to hone my dancing shoes to a degree where I can cagily tap the accelerator pedal to encourage the requisite amount of crawling speed when parking. That said, this still requires more concentration than is ideal and things are decidedly worse if I forget to turn off the auto-hold braking feature. Leaving it switched on not only means trying to placate the schizophrenic nature of the accelerator responses but also the mousetrap-release of the clamped rear brake pads. Let's just say it's bad enough to evoke sweaty-palmed teenage memories of trying to marry a calf-trembling clutch spring and a failing hand brake lever to a mountainside hill start. To be honest, I'm pretty ambiguous on the subject of auto-hold braking systems. As much as I like that they save me the bother of selecting park or sitting with my foot on the brake pedal while waiting at traffic lights, I hate the fact that they also engage the brake lights, so at night I blithely sit blinding the poor soul sitting behind me.
Along with myriad driver safety systems, the Juke also comes with ProPilot autonomous driving features. First seen on the electric Leaf, this system employs a suite of cameras and smart electronics to enable active cruise control and self-steering features, which theoretically helps reduce driver fatigue. In practice, even on its least-sensitive setting the active cruise is so risk-averse it begins braking way before it gets anywhere close to the car in front - so much so that if I need to overtake slower-moving traffic I have to pull out so far in advance it leaves me open to accusations of middle-lane hogging and possibly something more punitive from the Old Bill.
If anything, the steering assist system is even worse, as it allows the Juke to drift like a drunk from white line to white line when attempting to plot a steady course on the motorway, and it circumnavigates every bend in the road as if they were 50p pieces. Needless to say, I think I'll stick with my old-style approach to driving; it has served me pretty well for more years than I care to remember.
1st Report: Improving with age
If I'm honest, the original Juke's kaleidoscope of kinky body panels, bonkers wing-top lighting stack, and motorcycle-inspired interior always felt a bit wacky for my taste. Even so, I know plenty of folks who would vehemently disagree with my aesthetic assessment.
Having driven quite a few Jukes, I was never convinced by an underwhelming driving experience, panel-van noise, vibration and harshness levels, and comparable over-the-shoulder blind spots.
Ultimately, though, my protestations counted for nothing, as the same hordes who dismissed my visual assessments as folly were prepared to put their money where the mouths were, turning the Juke into a stellar seller for Nissan.
Pandemic permitting, that sales success looks likely to continue with the introduction of an all-new Juke, one of which I'll be running for the next six months or so. Buoyed by historic sales success but under increasing pressure from newer rivals such as the Ford Puma and Volkswagen T-Cross, this new Juke will certainly have to be a lot more than just a pretty face.
Obviously, it's easy to recognise the new Juke's heritage, but to my eye, the fresher styling is far more cohesive than the quirky original, and this new design also brings tangible benefits. As well as feeling more spacious overall and generally airier inside, forward visibility is improved thanks to slimmer A-pillars and relocated door-mounted rear-view mirrors. That said, the view through the pillar box slot-sized rear screen remains somewhat sub-optimal, so it's as well that the Tekna+ spec comes with a rear-view camera, which also projects a 360° overhead view to help when parking in tight spaces.
There have also been many detail changes, such as the steering column, which now goes in and out as well as up and down, and resculpted seats to enable more people to find the ideal driving position. Undoubtedly, though, the things that will do most to boost showroom appeal are the improvements in interior quality along with a more sophisticated dashboard design that features bullseye air conditioning vents and Nissan's latest infotainment screen.
The Juke has also received a boost in rear legroom, although the seat cushions are still set quite low, so it remains difficult for little ones to see out through the dinky rear windows. Boot space has grown too, and although it is still more baby buggy friendly than golf club accommodating, there is an adjustable boot floor board, so articles like brollies and wellies can be stored underneath with shopping stacked on top.
On reflection, optioning the acid orange interior trim may have been a bit of an error, but in my defence I specified it before I'd signed up for school run duties. With two fully fledged members of the under-fives wrecking crew inhabiting the rear pews it'll be interesting see just how well the various bits of trim stand up to systematic seat back kicking, torrid toy-tossing, and a general inability to direct food and drink into the requisite orifices.
Power for our Juke comes from Nissan's latest 115hp 1.0-litre three-cylinder. Obviously, it's no ball of fire, but it feels willing, and its official 44.1mpg fuel economy and 116g/km CO2 output place it into a 26% BIK band.
While the latest twin-clutch automatic gearbox linked to the engine is reasonably adept at delivering the performance it does suffer from the odd shunt on upshifts, but that is far from its worst trait. Selecting drive, especially from cold, is a particularly imprecise experience, as there is a prolonged delay before first gear is engaged - if you happen to be parked on an incline the car will start to roll backwards - followed by a significant lurch forward as drive is established. No doubt I will learn to cope with this by employing a dab of left foot braking, but I fear things will be a bit more hit than miss when it comes to swapping from forward to reverse drive while parking. Watch this space.