The new Nissan Juke may look familiar on the surface if you’ve ever spotted the first generation of this funky small crossover – but under the skin, the all-new ‘F16’ generation is completely different. And, happily, much improved. Equipped with a new, stiffer, modular platform borrowed from French small car expert Renault, an efficient but torquey three-cylinder engine and a more sophisticated interior than before, the 2020 Juke is a big step in the right direction for Nissan.
Fans of the previous Nissan Juke lauded its particularly extroverted styling: it looked like nothing else on the road, and was a strong counterpoint to Nissan’s other compact SUV – the conservatively-styled Qashqai. The second-generation Juke retains the good parts of the outgoing car’s looks – the front-end is still pretty bold – but tones down some of the unnecessarily garish angles. The result is a more cohesive design, but one that’s more fun than most SUVs.
The Juke matches Volkswagen’s new T-Cross crossover in kicking off from $27,990 ($31,692 driveaway). Both are design-forward, raised hatches that basically sit on supermini platforms. Where the T-Cross uses Polo underpinnings, the Juke is based on the new Renault Clio chassis – sadly, that car hasn’t been confirmed for Australia, so it’s been up to Nissan to bring the goodness of its CMF-B platform down under.
Increasing stringency in the criteria to earn a five-star safety rating from ANCAP means that the base Juke carries plenty of equipment: AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, traffic sign recognition and standard LED headlights are a good start. Base cars sport a crisp eight-inch touchscreen that can be used with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though navigation and digital radio are held over for the $2,750-dearer ST Plus.
The base Juke, which sports comfy-enough seats and cloth inserts on the dash and doors, impresses with solid build quality inside. However, the positive impressions are paused when you note that the ST – and even the $30,740 ST Plus ($34,526 driveaway) feature a plastic steering wheel and gear shifter. We might gloss over that on a $15,000 city car – not crossover that cost more than thirty grand. The lack of a leather steering wheel across the range is very surprising.
This disappointment is compounded because otherwise, the ST and ST Plus look like a great way to save money on a new Juke. They’re well equipped, and they run on relatively chunky tyres and 17-inch wheels that give these grades excellent ride quality. But with a cheap plastic wheel, we couldn’t recommend them…
That means jumping up to the ST-L: finally, here at the third tier, the Juke steps up to leather finishing on the wheel. It also jumps up to cooler-looking 19-inch alloys … those these don’t ride as comfortably. The ST-L costs $33,940 ($37,822 driveaway), while adding quite a bit of kit over the ST Plus: a seven-inch display between the analogue gauges, two more speakers for a total of six, sportier seats with a cloth/leather mix, plus adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree camera, and an electric park brake.
A further $2,500 buys the flagship Ti ($36,490, $40,447 driveaway): forty grand on road swaps in quilted Alcantara/leather seats, Alcantara trim on the dash and doors, an eight-speaker Bose premium stereo with headrest tweeters, tyre pressure monitoring, and headlights that stay on for a while after you turn the car off.
We spent most of our time in the $37k-driveaway ST-L, which is the specification Nissan expects about half of Juke customers to ultimately purchase in Australia. The experience drove home two points: that the new CMF-platformed Juke is a substantial improvement over the fairly ricketty old model, and also that value in the small SUV segment is generally a little flimsy compared to traditional hatchbacks.
First, the good: the new Juke scores 8/10 for a reason. That reason is that Nissan’s engineers have done a great job in making the Juke feel like a far more sophisticated, grown-up crossover. That starts with the one-litre, three-cylinder turbo petrol under the bonnet. On paper, it looks really modest: 84kW/180Nm isn’t much. In reality, that torque is available almost from idle, and is plenty to shift this featherweight 1.2-tonne vehicle around town. It consumed about 7.5L/100km in real-world suburban driving.
We’d even call the new Juke sprightly, though the tuning of its seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox is a few years’ behind Volkswagen’s now quite refined DSG. You feel the occasional lurch in the Juke if you confuse the transmission by getting quickly on and off the throttle – but be smooth with your inputs and progress is made sweetly. On the highway, the Nissan accelerates around slower traffic with decent confidence.
It’s quiet while doing it, too: VW’s T-Cross also uses a one-litre triple, but the German car is noisier in action. The Nissan’s engine thrums along happily but the note is subdued; you have to be listening for it. Wind and road noise, too, are pretty well insulated.
The ride quality also adds to the relaxing nature of the Juke driving experience. The 19-inch wheels do pick up pothole edges, but the Juke handles regular bumps and undulations with aplomb. If you can live with the lower-spec cars that ride on 17-inch wheels, the ride becomes truly supple.
In a testament to the balance engineered into the Juke, though, this small SUV also feels like it can handle pretty well. Our launch drive was largely limited to Sydney’s suburbs due to it occurring at the tail-end of the COVID-19 outbreak – but the faster urban curves we did find demonstrated a fluency between steering inputs and the front end’s eagerness to turn in with agility. We look forward to a longer drive in the country to confirm this.
There has also been a great leap inside, with the exception of Nissan Australia’s wrongheaded decision regarding steering wheels. Leaving that crusade aside, the Juke re-enters the Australian market with an interior that finally brings this badge into the 2010s, let alone the 2020s.
A larger eight-inch touchscreen sits atop the dash, in the driver’s line of sight. Nissan’s latest infotainment software is crisper, quicker to respond and generally easier to use. Most people will just plug their phone in now, and the system has wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Ahead of the driver, in the ST-L and Ti at least, is a good digital trip computer that shows nav directions, your current song, or a digital speedo. It’s not on the level of the T-Cross’s fully digital gauges, but it looks good.
Seat comfort was decent across our admittedly short drive, but the improvements in space throughout the cabin are noticeable. The back row will fit two adults without too many complaints, while the deep 422-litre boot represents a big practicality improvement.
Better looking, nicer to spend time in and well-equipped – albeit at a reasonably high price, compared to a more traditional hatchback like a Ford Focus, Hyundai i30 or Volkswagen Golf. That’s pretty much the story of the new Nissan Juke.
If you’re shopping in the small SUV segment, we’d recommend giving the 2020 Juke a close look. With this car’s substantial dynamic leap and the integration of neat new technology inside, it makes a solid case for itself.
Key specs (as tested)
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