Ryan Bubear gets to grips with the range-topping Nissan Juke DIG-T Tekna
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Every year, the world's foremost car manufacturers churn out weird-and-wonderful concept designs, promising a future filled with outrageous styling and never-before-seen technology. And, for the most part, the world studiously ignores them, safe in the knowledge that all the juicy bits will be tossed in the bin marked "Too Bonkers To Contemplate" should the vehicle ever reach production.
But Nissan's oddball Juke (it was dubbed the Qazana back in its pre-production days) somehow made it through the often arduous transformation from concept car to mass-produced vehicle virtually unscathed. Were the accountants on holiday? Did the designers wrest control of Nissan for a day? Or were the company bigwigs just being uncharacteristically brave? Whatever the case, the Juke is certainly unusual...
This sports crossover vehicle polarises opinions wherever it goes, and its styling has been described as anything from "funky" to "strange", and even "ugly". You see, the Juke is an assault on the senses that consumers are not used to; a veritable melting pot of accepted vehicle styles that refuses to be classified. Thanks to its high waistline, bulging wheelarches and 17-inch alloys, the Juke shouts "SUV". But its coupe-like profile, insignificant (almost hidden, thanks to the integrated handles) rear doors, and muscular curves just scream "sportscar", too. It doesn't fall neatly into a single category, and leaves consumers wondering: "what the hell is it?"
Add to that, quirky touches such as the positioning of the front indicators/running lights on the top of the bonnet (visible from driver's seat), and you have a truly unusual-looking vehicle. Incidentally, other motorists are not used to looking for indicators lights in this position, as I found out when I was cursed by an elderly woman in a Ballade for not indicating, when I most certainly did...
A class of its own?
The Juke is so different, in fact, that it doesn't have any true competitors (yet) and has carved its own niche in the market. And it's selling remarkably well — both locally and globally. In its first month on the South African market, 457 units were sold. That figure rose to 526 in month two, and 492 in month three, making it far-and-away Nissan's best seller. That's almost 1500 Jukes sold across the country in just a quarter. Pretty impressive stuff.
The test vehicle that arrived at iafrica Motoring's headquarters was the range-topping DIG-T Tekna with leather, sporting Gun Metallic paintwork and powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine. The Juke is also available with a naturally-aspirated 1600 (in the entry-level Acenta and mid-range Acenta+).
The punchy turbocharged engine is a pleasure to use, pumping out a substantial 140kW and 240Nm (comparable to the VW Polo GTI's 132kW and 250Nm). It's remarkably quiet at idle, but could do with a sportier tone when given the beans — it feels as though it's missing an aural fizz to go with its physical zip. But it pulls from almost any gear, thanks to the ton of torque on tap.
The six-speed manual gearbox is also a breeze to use, and sees the Juke sprint from 0-100km/h in an impressive eight seconds flat, in Sport mode. Handling, too, is impressive, despite the raised ride-height, while the steering is tuned for city use, and is quite light and well-suited to low-speed parking manoeuvres. Fuel economy on a combined cycle is a claimed 6.9 litres per 100km, but most would struggle to resist driving the Juke enthusiastically in Sport mode.
It's not just from the outside that the Juke shocks with its unconventional styling. Step inside the cabin, and there're plenty of unusual elements, most notably the centre console inspired by a motorcycle tank. This unique feature — which incorporates the gear-lever and cup-holders — separates the driver from the front passenger, and is available in either "Performance Red" or a toned-down gunmetal finish.
Indeed, the Juke draws its inspiration from a number of different sources: the headlights are inspired by those of rally cars popular in the 1960s and '70s, while the layout of the rear light clusters mimics the Nissan's 370Z sportscar. It takes a bit from here, a bit from there (there's even something aeronautical in the mix), yet somehow manages to feel complete. Small details, such as the pair of tiny bulges on the roof reaching into the rear spoiler, also make a marked difference.
Back inside, the flagship Tekna model gets comfy bucket seats covered in leather. Keyless entry is standard, and an inviting, round start button — which suits the off-the-wall Juke well — is situated to the left of the steering wheel. Space up front is considerable, but taller passengers will feel cramped on the back bench. Heated front seats, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, Bluetooth, a multifunctional steering wheel and iPod/USB/Aux connections are all standard, and make the interior an enjoyable place to spend your driving time.
The Juke's interior party piece is without a doubt the I-CON command system. Situated in the centre of the dash, the monitor adopts different displays, colours and functions depending on the mode selected. The driver can alternate between drive and climate modes. In the former, there is the choice of Normal, Sport and Eco, with each mode having unique throttle and steering sensitivity settings and torque curve, while the display reveals driver info (think torque, boost, and economy). And at the touch of the climate button, the monitor switches to displaying interior temperature and climate control settings (see image below).
Luggage space is a bit disappointing at 250 litres, and a storage compartment hidden under the boot floor feels almost wasted. The back seats, however, fold flat, which opens up more space for larger loads.
Those of you who think ahead will be pleased to know that the Juke comes standard with a warranty of three years or 100 000km, and a service plan of three years or 90 000km. It may be wild in looks, but it's reassuringly conservative when it comes to after-sales support.
So, is the Juke different for the sake of being different? Is it a mere fashion statement, or does it have substance to back up the style? Well, wacky, completely unnecessary elements — such as an integrated G-force meter — are exactly what makes the Juke work, setting it apart from anything else on offer. It's a relative breath of fresh air in a market characterised by a certain "sameness".
Judging by South Africa and the world's reaction — in terms of sales figures, anyway — there is indeed a market for off-the-wall vehicles. But as more and more Jukes are sold each month, this oddball will appear less and less quirky.
Nissan's bravery has certainly paid off. Which leaves me wondering: what on earth is next?
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