Latest report: Nissan Juke long-term test
08 January 2021
Author: Pete Tullin
A visit to Nissan's Tunbridge Wells dealership turns out to be a very illuminating experience.
|Nissan Juke Tekna + 1.0 DCT |
|As tested:|| £25,295|
|Official consumption:|| 44.1mpg |
|Our average consumption:|| 46.9mpg|
6th Report - Service with a smile
I've been doing this job for 20-odd years now and during that time I've visited quite a few car dealerships. It's fair to say my experiences have been somewhat mixed. Ranging from "I wouldn't go back there if you paid me" to "Why can't all dealerships do it like that?" My recent visit to Motorline Nissan Tunbridge Wells definitely falls into the latter category.
Booking our Juke in for its slightly overdue 12,000-mile service couldn't have been more straightforward, as I simply typed my details into the online request form and in under an hour a friendly soul rang me asking when I would like to book the car in and whether I like a courtesy car while the work was being carried out.
As with so many of life's encounters, first impressions are key. But there were no worries on that front because although Motorline's Nissan showroom sits on a retail park surrounded by several flashier brands, it doesn't feel in any way like the poor relation.
No doubt built on a modular platform copied the world over, a gargantuan Nissan logo heralds entry to a vast expanse of tinted glass, clinical white tiling and banks of widescreen TVs, displaying glossy videos of the latest Nissan models being steered by inexplicably beautiful people in equally gorgeous locations.
Despite all the Covid-19 restrictions, including a receptionist wearing a full visor, rows of sanitising condiments and barrages of social distancing screens dividing rows of sales desks, the greeting I received couldn't have been warmer.
In between pauses, while the chap designated as my liaising point photocopied my driving licence and I busied myself filling in forms to cover the hire car's insurance, he enquired as to how I'd been getting on with the Juke.
When I told him I generally liked it and had even warmed to the acid orange interior, and that my only real concern related to the jerkiness of the automatic gearbox, he responded with a somewhat knowing expression. Well, I think that was the look he was going for, but it's the devil's own job trying to interpret facial expressions when the person you're conversing with is wearing a face mask.
Anyway, something must have registered because as he showed me to a Juke courtesy car he said: "We've got a manual version for you to use for the day, so be sure to let us know what you think of it."
To be honest, I could have told him before I even got off the glitzy forecourt because I almost stalled as I pulled away before zooming off up the street hoping that no one had noticed my indiscretion.
Yep, it seems the problem with our Juke isn't so much the automatic gearbox, as the pronounced amounts of lag produced by its turbocharged three-cylinder engine.
Faced with a manual car you'd probably only ever experience this lag sensation once, as even the most cack-handed driver would quickly learn to up the revs beyond said lag levels before easing out the clutch and sashaying off like the Queen's chauffeur.
Obviously, being a twin-clutch automatic, our car is incapable of accessing this get-out clause, so the transition from resting idle to on-boost aggression is quite switch-like, with predictable jerky results.
As much as I'm no fan of CVT transmissions, if memory serves me right, the previous-generation Juke with its slippery auto transmission is a lot smoother to drive at low speeds and a darn sight easier to park.
Later the same day I received a text from Motorline with a video attachment featuring a neatly overalled fella walking around the car holding a camera and describing how everything, including the brakes and tyres, were still well within tolerance, and other than the items that had been replaced during the service there was no further work needed.
Driving the courtesy car back I did wonder how differently my previous reports might have read because other than transmission irritations the Juke has performed pretty flawlessly.
5th Report - Time for a service
It seems like only yesterday when we were basking in endless summer days and our long-term Juke rolled up smelling as fresh as a bunch of daisies.
I'm never entirely sure why we use that terminology, because as far as I'm aware, and I'll bow to anyone with superior arboreal knowledge, daisies don't have any scent.
Anyway, the point I'm making is that the unmistakable whiff of a new car, and the floods of hedonistic endorphins it triggers in all of us, is as much a part of a salesman's armoury as any fancy design elements, any reassuring-sounding door slam, or any whizzy tech feature.
Of course, along with memories of freshly cut grass, sizzling barbecues and salesman's 'guarantees', the Juke's fragrant array of fresh fabrics and new carpets have long since disappeared into thin air.
I have to confess, in the Juke's case, the ephemeral nature of its newness and the inevitable decline from daisies to damp Labrador's blanket may have been foreshortened somewhat, having spent the past five months being subjected to the slings and arrows of young children and their 'little accidents', along with several trips to the dump to dispose of countless bags of garden detritus.
Thankfully, help may be just around the corner, as notification has been served, via an illuminated notice on the Juke's dashboard, that an interim service is now due. Lockdown permitting, I'll book the Juke into my local Nissan dealership for an oil change, which, fingers crossed, will also include a new pollen filter and a comprehensive valet.
I'll also be intrigued to find out if any software updates are scheduled. Thanks to my previous existence as a vehicle integrity engineer, I know how stressed things get when a prototype vehicle is approaching the end of its development phase and how tetchy some members of the various sign-off teams can become as the sounds of the production line cranking into life becomes ever louder.
The most likely candidates for the headless chickens' award are normally the PED (performance, efficiency and driveability) guys, who are the people responsible for signing-off the performance and driveability aspects of the vehicles. Now I'm not saying this is categorically the case, but the fact that the Juke's accelerator pedal and gearbox relationship seem so much at odds with each other, especially at low speeds, when they don't appear to be even speaking the same language, leads me to suspect someone at Nissan may have been a wee bit late getting their homework in.
Of course, I'm not expecting any dealer to admit remedial brain surgery would ever take place behind closed doors alongside the more basic aspect of a service, but if I drive away and the Juke progress is notably less schizophrenic then I'll know some software shenanigans have been secretly squirrelled away.
As tardy as the PED guys can sometimes be, the lighting gang are usually one of the first to finish.
Primarily this is because headlights, along with countless other components, ranging from seats to airbags, to air conditioning units, and even fundamentals like gearboxes and chassis subframes, are often ordered in from outside suppliers. Consequently, there's no scope for dillying or dallying when dealing with these support merchants, as they need to know years ahead of production so they can plan for and sometimes even build new factories to satisfy the demand.
Whoever signed the Juke's LED lighting off certainly knows their onions.
As well as a creating a wide spread of starched, white light and an excellent range of clarity, there are almost none of the dark astigmatisms that are often clearly visible in some headlights. Check yours the next time you're out at night.
Just as impressively, the Juke's auto high beam function works flawlessly. It's never fazed by light bouncing back from large reflective signage and I've yet to have a single angered flash come back at me from any recipients of cornea scorching. Highly illuminating.
4th Report: In the heat of the moment
Unless the world suddenly moves about its axis it is highly unlikely we will ever experience the extremes manufacturers expose their prototype vehicles to.
From the freezing depths of an Arctic winter to the crucible of a Death Valley high summer, test mules are pushed to breaking point and beyond in a quest to understand the ultimate working limits of every one of the thousands of components that make up a modern motor car.
That said, even in our more moderate climes it's possible to see the effects temperature change brings about, and that's something I've witnessed first-hand with our Nissan Juke.
Perhaps not surprisingly, after a period of inactivity sitting in this summer's searing 38ºC heat, the Juke's climate control struggled to reduce the cabin temperature to a level where I could touch the interior surfaces without fear of sustaining third-degree burns.
Straining to match such an abnormal demand, the poor circulation fan would begin to pant like an asthmatic retriever.
To be fair, the system never gave up on its quest, but it did leave me thinking it was probably designed to cope with European climate parameters, and Nissan probably fits a much stronger unit to its tropical-market models.
Long before such specific market approaches existed I remember driving a 1990s Japanese-built Honda Prelude that had an air con output so intense it would induce an ice cream headache before reaching the end of the street.
As well as less strain on the air con the recent fall in temperature has brought some other benefits to our Juke. In my last report, I harped on about the driver's side door creaking and rattling more vociferously than my ageing joints, but the cooler days seem to have had a restorative effect on those commotions. Whether it be the shrinking of metal or the contraction of rubber seals, I couldn't say for certain, but what I am sure of is the squeaks and rattles are now noticeable by their absence.
Living in a rural area I'm beginning to brace myself for the inevitable onset of overnight frosts, so I'm chuffed the Juke has a heated windscreen and heated seats.
Avoiding frozen ice-scraper fingers will certainly be a welcome bonus and although the heated seats never get much more than a degree or two above tepid, at least I will not suffer from the toasted buns syndrome dished out by the flaming seats fitted to many premium German execs.
Not that the Juke needs much help on the warm front because in all my years of testing cars I've never known a motor so quick to transmit heat into the cabin from a cold start. It's almost as if there is a bypass circuit sucking hot air directly from the exhaust pipe because after a few seconds of a first morning start-up a cosy jet stream of warmth begins to flow through the bullseye air vents.
Sadly, the lower temperatures have done little to improve the mood of the Juke's automatic gearbox. Even after four months of familiarity I'm still very wary of its snatchy behaviour. Experience has taught me that a judicious tap of the accelerator pedal will raise the idle speed by the requisite amount to engage a safe-ish crawling speed, enabling me to extricate the Juke from a tight parking space without fear of bumper kissing. Unfortunately, anything more than this adroit touch results in an uncontrollable leap in the Juke's forward momentum as well as my heart rate.
On more than one occasion the Juke's autonomous braking has also caused my pulse to race.
One particular example occurred when the Juke decided that I was not capable of calculating our closing rate to the car in front that was about to turn left and it decided to slam on the brakes regardless of my assessment. What the bloke following me thought remains anyone's guess but I gleaned a pretty good idea from his red-faced gesturing. Of course, this only goes to confirm what I've always thought about artificial intelligence: it's no substitute for the real thing.
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.