x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Road Test: Oddball crossover Nissan Juke is sprightly and fun

Kevin Hackett finds he has warmed to the Juke, finally available in the UAE after 18 months of success abroad.

It's been 18 months since the Nissan Juke saw light of day in certain parts of the world and, truth be known, I still can't get my head around that front-end styling. Yet it rapidly became a big seller in the UK with that notoriously difficult-to-impress demographic: the young. I am a dinosaur, I admit; is that why I don't get it?

At long last the Juke is now available here in the UAE and I keep seeing these things everywhere. Perhaps once I get behind the wheel everything will fall into place and I'll fall head-over-heels with it. Time to put aside my deep prejudices about its guppy nose and lighten up - there must be more to this success story than a quirky appearance.

The fact is that the Juke sits alone in the marketplace as unique. It's a mini-crossover, a cleverly packaged car that shares its platform with the diminutive Nissan Micra and Renault's Clio - both of which are small enough to think turning them into an SUV would be nigh on impossible. But here it is and, once I'm sat inside, I'm actually impressed. It's funky, well laid out and surprisingly spacious in here, and it's obvious you could seat a couple of six-footers in the back without too many complaints.

With metallic trim to the centre console and arm-rest sections, painted a dark red, it breaks up the rest of the cabin's blackness and the dials behind the sporty looking steering wheel appear to belong in an Alfa Romeo. I like it. There's a key for the ignition and there's an actual handbrake lever, too - both of which seem to be disappearing from modern cars for no good reason whatsoever. All well and good, but what's it like to drive? Will it be as fun as its maker makes out?

The short answer is yes. The wide stance of the Juke and its relatively short proportions mean it feels sprightly in the corners and not at all wobbly on the straight ahead. It feels rigid, nicely damped and, yes, fun. But there's still a problem or two in the form of its rather asthmatic engine and its CVT transmission. There are two engine options available here: a normally aspirated 1.6L petrol and a turbocharged 1.6L, which comes (depending on the market) with either front- or four-wheel drive. And this one is sans turbo, which is a shame because it really feels underpowered. Oh, my mistake, because when I lift up the bonnet for the photographer to take a picture of the engine, I see that it is, in fact, turbocharged. Oh dear.

I'm surprised at this because the Mini Cooper S has a 1.6L turbocharged in-line four engine and that car is nothing short of a pocket rocket. If the Juke felt anything like that I'd be having the time of my life in it.

A manual gearbox might have made it feel more lively, though, because the CVT (Constantly Variable Transmission), which is supposed to make it more economical, makes the powerplant seem constantly stressed; the effect akin to a slipping clutch. It isn't nice and, unlike when it's combined with a much larger and smoother engine (it shifts about in complete silence in a Lexus LS600h), it sends the revs shooting up when you accelerate even gingerly and the engine sounds like it's being given a thrashing.

The Juke appeals to owners with a sense of (that word again) fun, those who haven't yet given up on life and aren't afraid to stand out from the crowd, and I fully understand that. I suppose I'm just too conservative for my own good sometimes but I still couldn't bear the thought of opening my front door every morning and seeing that front end staring at me.

A colleague of mine - a married lady with two young children - was one of the very first to buy a Juke in the UAE and she can't speak highly enough about it. What won her over was the styling and the interior trim colour combination of black and red, but she test drove a 1.6 Turbo and it was the "almost hot hatch" performance of it that really swung the vote.

Alice's experience with her car differs from my own but as a package the Juke is pretty much unbeatable and it's no surprise that Nissan has a hit on its hands here.

But what if a 1.6L lump under the bonnet isn't enough, with or without a turbo? And how about modifying those looks so it resembles something straight out of a Batman film? A small team of Nissan's European engineers have something up their sleeves that just might work…

The Specs

Base price / as tested Dh87,500/ Dh94,250

Engine 1.6L, turbocharged in-line four

Gearbox Six-speed CVT

Power 187hp @ 5,600rpm

Torque 240Nm @ 2,000rpm

Fuel economy, combined 6.9L/100km