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Nissan's Juke still young at heart

Road tests

Johannesburg - We’ve spent the past year getting to know Nissan’s crossover range on a day-to-day basis and after living with an X-Trail 2.0 XE and Qashqai 1.2T Acenta for roughly five months at a time, we now get to spend some quality time with the wild child of the range.

It may be the most youthful in spirit, with a quirky design that makes it look like the lovechild of a dune buggy and a 370Z, but it’s also the most dated - whereas the X-Trail and Qashqai were completely redesigned fairly recently, the Juke has been around for five years without a major redesign. That said, Nissan did give it a good makeover early in 2015, where the little crossover received subtle styling tweaks, additional standard kit and, most importantly, a new-generation turbo engine for the base models.

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That new 1.2-litre Dig-T turbopetrol motor powers our 1.2T Acenta+ long-termer and it’s the same 85kW, 190Nm direct-injection unit found in humbler Qashqais. Yet the power-to-weight advantage is not as vast as we’d expected - despite being somewhat smaller in size, the Juke is just 40kg lighter than the Qashqai, which shows the difference that a modern weight-saving platform can really make. Fuel consumption is in the same region, with our Juke sipping an average of 8.1 litres per 100km in a combination of urban and freeway driving.

Lively performance

The Juke does still feel sprightlier than its bigger brother, however, perhaps not so much on the open road, but certainly off the mark. That flat-spot below 2000rpm is still there, but it’s not as apparent nor annoying as it is in the Qashqai. Once there’s enough exhaust pressure to wake that turbo from its slumber, performance is lively enough, but you do have to work the gearbox to get it into that sweet-spot when snatching gaps in traffic.

Thankfully, the Juke’s manual gear-shift mechanism (with six forward cogs) has a solid, sporty feel and a short throw and is quite satisfying to stir. In fact, compared to Nissan’s larger crossovers, the Juke has an altogether more involving feel to it, its smaller dimensions, slightly lower stance and stiffer suspension making it more agile, while the steering feels direct and nicely weighted. Altogether it’s just more fun and, although the ride is a bit firmer, it’s still reasonably comfortable.

But can it do the sensible gig? Given its racy dimensions, the Juke is far from being the most practical compact crossover out there, but it’s still a long way from the automotive equivalent of a sardine can. It feels quite roomy up front and rear legroom is reasonable by compact car standards - only taller occupants will complain about a lack of headroom.

Quirky cabin

The facelifted Juke also has a bigger boot, with Nissan having shuffled things around to increase luggage capacity from 251 to 354 litres - while still leaving the space-saver spare in place. That’s a touch more room than you get in your average small hatch, but the kitchen sink will have to stay at home.

The cabin still looks quite quirky with its superbike-inspired maroon-painted transmission tunnel, but the rest of the facia is looking a tad dated and the plastics are hard and dark. The steering also lacks reach adjustment, although I did still manage to find a satisfactory driving position.

On the upside, the Juke is really well appointed. Even the base Acenta, at R288 900, comes with automatic climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, six airbags and VDC stability control. Over and above all that, our Acenta+ (priced at R308 900) comes with a keyless entry and ignition system with start button, automatic wipers, suede-like two-tone seat trim and 17-inch alloys.

Of course, you can get even more toys, and some serious muscle, by opting for one of the 141kW 1.6 Dig-T models, which come with touchscreen infotainment and satnav, as well as Nissan’s Around View Monitor and Lane Change Assist. Here you’ll pay R355 900 for the 2WD and R396 900 for the 4WD.

VERDICT

It might be getting on in life, but the Nissan Juke is still young at heart, funky in spirit and fun to drive by crossover standards.

It’s well appointed too, but if you need space for the family, you might find that the Qashqai range, starting at R313 900, is worth stretching for.

FACTS

Nissan Juke 1.2T Acenta+

Engine: 1.2-litre, 4-cylinder turbopetrol

Gearbox: Six-speed manual

Power: 85kW @ 4500rpm

Torque: 190Nm @ 2000rpm

0-100km/h (claimed): 10.8 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 178km/h

Price: R308 900

Warranty: Six-year/150 000km

Service plan: Three-year/90 000km.

Follow Jason Woosey on Twitter @JasonWoosey

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