Model year 2016 has marked the introduction of two very important additions to the compact crossover segment; namely the Mazda CX-3 and the Honda HR-V. Now that we’ve sampled both newcomers, it’s time to revisit an old friend and see how well it has aged. Nissan’s odd-looking Juke has been around since 2011, and has remained fundamentally the same with the exception of a few light freshenings and some fun new models over the years. I was tossed the keys to a 2015 Nissan Juke SL to see how competitive it still is.
Despite decent sales numbers, the Juke’s main challenge remains its odd face. It has a relatively attractive side profile, sporty roofline and cheery rear end, but the face with its frog-like headlights isn’t universally loved. In fact, the poor thing has been the recipient of far too much hate from the car enthusiast community despite actually being a fun, practical pick. Along with the Mini Countryman, the Juke was one of the first legitimate compact crossovers available this decade.
To add to its unique styling, Nissan has implemented a series of customizations on the Juke, a few of which were equipped on my tester. Contrasting with the tri-coat pearl white paint job, our Juke featured a bunch of purple trim bits thanks to the new “Colour Studio” program. The wheels, rear diffuser, spoiler, headlight surrounds, side mirrors, side skirts, and front lip are all painted a neat shade of lavender. This theme continued to the interior trim as well, and along with purple, colours such as red, orange, matte black, yellow, and blue can also be selected. This is appreciated simply because it’s different, as opposed to the sea of beige that is the majority of the crossover segment.
Not to be confused with the slightly more powerful Nismo and Nismo RS models, the Juke SL soldiers on with the same 1.6L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that it was launched with. However, Nissan claims the motor has been heavily revised for this model year. The result is a healthy 188 horsepower at 5,600RPM and 177 lb-ft of torque, peaking at 2,000RPM. There is a six-speed manual transmission available on some front-wheel-drive models, while all-wheel-drive Jukes like our tester get the Xtronic CVT that Nissan has perfected over the better part of a decade
If I’m being perfectly honest, I have never been a huge fan of the Juke’s styling even though I like the concept of “different”. Don’t get me wrong – I’d still have one of these over most of its competitors, but that’s because of how good it feels to drive. The engine is extremely responsive, and the Juke feels very peppy in both city and highway applications. We had the chance to use it to pre-drive the country roads for one of our annual drives, and the little frog behaved superbly. The transmission is excellent and predictable (yes, I’m saying that about a CVT) and manual mode with its simulated gears is a blast to use. The “D-mode” controls on the centre stack allow the driver to choose between “Eco”, “Normal”, and “Sport” modes, and the Juke drastically changes its behaviour in each of these.
Typically, handling characteristics of crossovers are very foreseeable. They have acceptable steering, but lack feel and don’t have much in the way of feedback. Nissan has always been a brand that takes pride in their sporty vehicles, ensuring that they deliver that pure driving experience that buyers want. Surprisingly, the Juke is a part of this philosophy, because the steering has feel and the little guy dances happily around corners with confidence and poise. Because my test took place in July, I didn’t get a chance to play with the all-wheel-drive, but there is a button to leave the Juke in 2WD mode for fuel savings.
Maneuverability is great as well; the light steering allows the Juke to be effortlessly parked in tight areas, and the overall small size also helps. A particularly nice touch is the AroundView monitor that uses front, rear, and mirror-mounted cameras to create a bird’s eye view in the screen. This doesn’t replace the reverse camera, but rather supplements it using a split-screen setup on the main display. It sounded a bit gimmicky at first, but then I realized that it’s something that none of the Juke’s competitors offer even as an option. The Honda HR-V does offer Honda’s signature LaneWatch blind spot camera system, but that’s not a parking aid.
Fuel economy is another area where the Juke actually did much better than I expected it to. Although people online have been reporting similar numbers with regular 87-octane fuel, I went by my own philosophy to never feed a forced-induction engine anything but premium 91-octane. Over roughly 500km of mixed driving, I observed 7.3L/100km on the highway and an average of 7.8L/100km. Even when sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic during gridlock, I never saw numbers worse than 9.3L/100km. The small displacement motor and versatile transmission go a long way to help overall efficiency, a huge priority at Nissan over the past few years
The base 2015 Juke SV starts at $20,498 with the six-speed manual gearbox. This loaded-up SL includes everything from leather-appointed interior, a sunroof, navigation system with voice recognition and a 5.8” touch screen, power front seats, Rockford Fosgate audio system, and hands-free text messaging assistant. For 2015, new standard features on all Juke models include push-button start, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, NissanConnectSM with mobile apps, a colour display, and reverse camera. The total sticker on our SL tester came to $30,178.
Interior materials aren’t exactly Infiniti-grade, but it’s important to remember that the base Juke starts at just over $20,000, and any incentives offered at dealerships could easily bring it below that number. There are plenty of hard plastics around the cabin, and the shifter surround is a shiny plastic bit. There’s no center armrest, so those who plan to drive (improperly) one-handed won’t have anywhere to rest their right arms. The driving position, on the other hand, is fantastic. The driver’s area is snug enough for myself as well as the couple of six-footers on our team, and everything is nicely within arm’s reach.
What I would like to see in coming years is a full redesign and technology overhaul. The addition of NissanConnectSM is good, but the overall tech in the Juke is pretty dated. The trip computer in the instrument cluster is monochromatic and appears straight out of a 2007-2012 Altima, and the steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope. The LED parking lights are cool, but the headlights on this SL level are halogen as opposed to LED or xenon. I definitely like the availability of the aforementioned personalization options, along with the ground effects kit, something the competitors don’t offer (save for the $50,000+ John Cooper Works packaged Mini Countryman).
The Juke is up there with the Mazda CX-3 and the Subaru XV Crosstrek as my favourites of the segment, leaving the more boring and obvious choices behind. Interior space for rear passengers as well as trunk space are two areas where the Juke compromises in favour of sporty styling, but there’s definitely a niche there of buyers whose priorities echo this setup. Thanks to its great all-wheel-drive system, this Nissan is a great choice for the urban Canadian lifestyle. The 2015 Nissan Juke offers a boldly different face, unique interior, and surprisingly nimble driving dynamics. It stands out in a crowd, not to mention its ever-growing segment, and is a great choice for those who appreciate spontaneity and individuality in life.