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2015 Nissan Juke Test Drive Review
Representing an acquired taste, the Nissan Juke looks like something Andrew Zimmern might crunch into with his teeth while visiting a jungle.
The 2015 Nissan Juke is not for everybody. First, you need to love the styling. Second, you need to accept space limitations. And third, you must dismiss unimpressive crash-test ratings and a lack of safety technologies. Still interested in learning more about the Nissan Juke? Read on.
Look and Feel
When it comes to design, Nissan is unafraid to take chances. With no more than a glance at a GT-R, a Maxima, a Murano, or the subject of this review, the diminutive little Juke crossover SUV, it's clear that Nissan prefers to push the styling envelope with those vehicles upon which the company is not dependent to drive the bulk of its profits.
Representing an acquired taste, and looking like something Andrew Zimmern might crunch into with his teeth while visiting a jungle, the Nissan Juke’s design is nevertheless well balanced and deftly detailed. This undersized crossover has an oversized personality, one that you either love or you hate, and this bold appearance serves to endear the Juke to the people who adore it.
As if Solar Yellow paint weren’t a large enough virtual exclamation mark for this crossover, the 2015 Juke can be customized through Nissan’s new Color Studio, which provides contrast-color trim pieces to help personalize a Juke to its owner’s tastes. My test vehicle did not have any Color Studio upgrades, which is just as well, as it attracted plenty of attention without them.
For this review, I drove a Juke SL with front-wheel drive, an optional floor and cargo mat kit, and an extra-cost center armrest, bringing the price to $26,525, including the destination charge of $825. Two additional models, called the S and the SV, are available at lower prices, and two performance-tuned variants are also for sale, known as the NISMO and NISMO RS.
The Juke S, SV, and SL all look the same on the outside, including the silver-painted 17-inch aluminum wheels shown on my test car. The NISMO models get a sportier appearance along with dark-finish 18-inch wheels. Stacked front lighting includes turn signals on top, round headlights flanking the grille, and fog lights located on either side of the lower air intake.
Bulging, almost obscene fenders combined with hidden rear door releases and a rakish roofline further ensure that you’ll mistake this vehicle for nothing other than a Nissan Juke, while around back a set of boomerang-shaped taillights are said to resemble those on the automaker’s 370Z sports car.
Inside, the Juke features what Nissan claims is motorsport-inspired design. The center console is meant to evoke an Italian motorcycle’s fuel tank, and Nissan says the instrumentation conveys information with a glance. My test car’s red interior panels didn’t go well with the Solar Yellow exterior paint, but should contrast nicely with every other color offered for the Juke.
Overall, the interior’s design looks sporty and purposeful, the snug driving position and immediacy of the dashboard and controls conveying a clear sense to a driver that the Juke exists for having fun. Plus, once you’re inside, you can’t see what it looks like on the outside.
In all versions of the Juke except for the NISMO RS, a turbocharged, 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine generates 188 hp at 5,600 rpm and 177 lb-ft of torque between 1,600 and 5,200 rpm. While these figures match last year’s Juke, this is actually a next-generation version of this engine, one updated for 2015 to provide better fuel economy, emit fewer pollutants, and provide better responsiveness.
A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is standard, powering the Juke’s front wheels. A manual gearbox is offered only for the NISMO models, but all Jukes are available with an all-wheel-drive (AWD) system that includes torque-vectoring technology.
Most Jukes also have Integrated Control technology, a fancy of way of saying you can choose Normal, Sport, or Eco driving modes that adjust the throttle, transmission, and steering response accordingly. Most of the time, I kept my front-drive test vehicle in Normal mode, which felt the most natural to me for the majority of my driving.
The engine offers decent power, and in Sport mode the Juke is downright quick. Still, the Juke lacks what I’ll call zing, that thrill that puts a big smile on the driver’s face.
Despite the broad torque curve, power delivery does not encourage the driver to explore the higher end of the engine’s rev range, where peak horsepower resides. I’ll blame the CVT for that, which clearly sucks some of the life out of the Juke, even though Nissan tries to make it sound and feel more like a conventional automatic through what it calls D-Step Logic Control.
Also, if you forget that you’ve chosen the Sport or Eco driving mode, the transmission doesn’t behave like you might expect, either resisting your inputs to conserve fuel in Eco mode or holding revs too much and for too long in Sport mode. This is why I just left the Juke in Normal mode for the majority of the time.
Torque steer is a real problem in the front-drive version of the Juke. Floor this little crossover, and it wants to depart the intended path of travel, forcing the driver to wrestle with the steering wheel. The Juke’s optional AWD system includes torque-vectoring technology, which likely resolves that issue.
Speaking of steering, the Juke’s speed-sensing electric steering is nicely done compared to many other Nissan products, providing linear response off-center combined with a natural feel on-center. The taut ride quality, capable brakes, and nimble handling recall Nissans of the past, too. This is a fun little crossover to drive, except perhaps for on the highway, where wind and road noise are inescapable.
As is true of most vehicles, you’ll get better gas mileage on the highway, though official EPA ratings demonstrate a relatively small spread between city and highway driving. Officially, a Juke should return 28 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway, and 30 mpg in combined driving. I averaged 28.9 mpg.
Form and Function
Since prices start at just over $21,000, the Juke’s interior materials are predominantly hard plastic, which is expected at this price point. Fortunately, for the most part, they exhibit low gloss levels and match well in terms of tone and texture.
The Juke’s controls are logically arranged and easy to reference, but even the larger 5.8-inch version of the NissanConnect infotainment system’s touchscreen is too small for easy use and reference. Plus I had trouble rectifying illumination and glare problems, especially while wearing polarized sunglasses, making the NissanConnect display and the climate display below it a consistent source of aggravation while driving.
Unquestionably, a Juke is snug for everyone aboard. Once you’re settled into the driver’s seat, though, you’ll find a perfect driving position on a comfortable seat. Even the optional center console armrest offers decent padding, a rarity in the cheap wheels class. Just don’t lean too much weight on it, because it feels like it’ll snap right off, likely right about the time the warranty expires.
Getting into and out of the Juke’s rear seat is easy enough, and despite my height and girth, I wouldn’t mind riding back there during a cross-town jaunt. The front seatbacks are soft and padded, making them friendly to knees and shins, thereby incrementally improving comfort. The bottom cushion is mounted high enough to deliver decent thigh support, and larger feet have no trouble fitting under the front seats.
Cargo room is at a distinct premium. The trunk offers 10.5 cubic feet of space, a little more than a MINI Cooper Hardtop. Fold the available 60/40-split folding rear seats and room expands to 35.9 cubic feet. Lift the cargo floor to access a compartmentalized bin, which is perfect for carrying groceries.
Every 2015 Juke is equipped with NissanConnect Bluetooth connectivity and a text-messaging assistant, as well as a Mobile Apps feature that provides access to popular smartphone applications right from the Juke’s 5-inch touchscreen display. When paired with a navigation system, NissanConnect adds a larger 5.8-inch touchscreen and voice-control technology.
I had no trouble pairing my iPhone 6 to this system, making or receiving calls, or streaming music through my test car’s Rockford Fosgate premium audio system, which kicked out serious amounts of neighborhood-rattling bass.
Notably, Rockford Fosgate is a sponsor of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and the Mayhem Festival, attendees of which are likely to see someone driving a Solar Yellow Nissan Juke and then laugh hard enough at them to puke up a couple of forties of Pabst.
Safety is not one of the Nissan Juke’s selling points.
True, it does offer a standard reversing camera and is available with an Around View Monitoring system that shows a 360-degree, top-down view of the vehicle, which is perfect for maneuvering in tight parking areas. Also, the Around View Monitoring system includes Moving Object Detection, helpful at identifying approaching vehicles when the Juke is reversing out of blind parking spaces.
Otherwise, this funky puppy is in need of serious improvement.
An easy short-term fix would be to offer NissanConnect Services for the Juke. Currently, it is unavailable, which means that this affordable crossover with wild styling, such a natural fit for younger drivers, cannot be equipped with automatic collision notification, speed alert, curfew alert, geo-fenced boundary alerts, and more. But hey, a Juke provides access to Facebook. W00t!
The thornier issue relates to crash-test performance. In the small overlap frontal-impact test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Juke gets a Poor rating. Granted, the Juke is an older design, and this is a newer standard, but something ought to be done to make that rating better.
What’s hard to explain is the Juke’s mediocre performance in NHTSA frontal-impact testing, conducted to standards in existence since the 2011 model year. The Juke gets an overall rating of 4 stars, but the rating for frontal-impact protection earns a 3-star rating due to the 3-star level of protection for the front seat passenger.
Of all the reasons to cross a Nissan Juke off your shopping list, this one is the most significant. Several competitors provide a greater level of safety in terms of technology and structural integrity.
Flog a Juke, like I did, and you’ll still get good gas mileage. Really, I was not expecting to extract 28.9 mpg from each gallon of gas. Just remember that the Juke’s turbocharged engine slurps premium fuel, so filling it costs more.
A Juke also gets a 4-star depreciation rating from ALG, and Consumer Reports thinks it will be affordable to own over time. Reliability ratings are average, but J.D. Power trends show improvement in terms of quality ever since the Juke first went on sale.
As far as deals are concerned, as I write this review buyers can get up to $1,000 in cash rebates, or take advantage of short-term, zero-interest financing. Nissan also offers attractive leases on this vehicle. You could, in theory, lease my Juke SL test vehicle for around $325 per month with nothing out of pocket.
Rumor has it that Nissan might be phasing out some its lower-volume models, the ones that give the brand personality, because they’re expensive to design, engineer, build, and keep up-to-date over their life spans.
Rumor also has it that Nissan is planning to sell its Qashqai model in the U.S., a small crossover designed to slot into the lineup beneath the Rogue. Undeniably stylish, and an award-winner overseas, the Qashqai would make an excellent addition to the company’s lineup.
Either way, these developments could spell doom for the Nissan Juke. I’m simultaneously saddened and gladdened by such a prospect.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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