It's got a wide grin, a cartoon body, and it will either make people smile – or recoil in horror
Sunday 31 October 2010
When Disney releases Cars 2, I hope it contains a Nissan Juke.
It's hard to imagine a car less in need of "imagineering" to render it an automotive actor. The Juke has the wide grin and the exaggerated, distorted, cartoon-like body. It's the perfect cheeky character.
This is Nissan's latest interpretation of the so-called crossover idea, the notion that cars can mix two or more automotive genres and offer the most appealing parts of both. Sometimes the crossbreeds are a little discomfiting, but sometimes they create just what many buyers had craved – even if they hadn't realised it.
Nissan is good at this, as the success of the part-hatchback, part-SUV Qashqai demonstrates. So the Juke is a smaller, younger-generation take on a similar idea, but the tone has changed. Giant wheelarches and a racy windscreen line hint at the potential for driving fun, making the Juke look like a sort of shrunken SUV sports car in super-springy trainers.
Look inside and the work of a third set of genes is revealed. In its wilder moments the Juke thinks it is a motorcycle. The instruments are set in a mock-aluminium surround, looking more like the dial cluster normally found ahead of a motorbike's handlebars, while the gloss-painted centre tunnel cover resembles a motorbike's petrol tank. You almost want to sit astride it.
The top model, with Tekna trim and a 1.6-litre, 190bhp turbocharged engine, can be had with four-wheel drive and the continuously variable automatic transmission that goes with it (and a £19,995 price tag), but most people will buy front-wheel drive Jukes (from £12,795) with that turbo engine, a 117bhp non-turbo 1.6, or a 110bhp, 1.5-litre turbodiesel.
The Juke's steering is quick and accurate, if slightly viscous-feeling, and it feels engagingly quick-witted. Firm suspension is the key to this ability, particularly its anti-roll bars, but it's not so firm as to be annoying over bumps. It's a good compromise.
Then there is the Nissan Dynamic Control, a toy worth having, which is why you need at least the middle Acenta trim level. With this you can select Normal, Eco (with reduced throttle opening to force you to drive more frugally) or Sport (a quicker, sharper accelerator response and heavier steering). With each mode comes a different display on a panel low on the centre console: a power gauge for Sport, a torque gauge for Normal, and an economy gauge for Eco. You can also log your eco-driving success via bar graphs.
And here's a very neat feature. Press the Climate button and not only does the display change to show the temperature selected, but all the mode-selection buttons suddenly change to air-con control buttons. It makes you smile, and helps you overlook the fact that the steering wheel can be adjusted only for height, the rear seats don't slide as you might expect them to, and the interior plastics are all hard.
As for which engine to choose, the 190bhp turbo gives the Juke an impressive turn of speed. The six-speed gearbox of the front-wheel, drive-test car proved intermittently unwilling to select first gear, however, and the engine emitted some curious mechanical whines.
This is a contrived car, but the coalescence of disparate genes works. The Juke is good fun to drive and to own, and it certainly gets noticed. Some people recoil in horror at the sight of it, others smile. Nissan don't make many "normal" cars any more. The likeable Juke shows there is no need.
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