The Nissan Juke is a rare breed, a quirkily styled model that by all accounts should have immediately failed in a discriminating consumer market. This subcompact crossover utility vehicle, however, rolled out in 2011 and stayed around through 2017, as it seemingly defied everything the skeptics thought about the vehicle. After a seven-year run, the Juke was replaced by the Nissan Kicks, but not before leaving an indelible mark on the industry.
What Were They Thinking?
Credit Nissan for behaving like an automaker that pushes the design envelope from time to time when crafting a new model. Before the Juke’s arrival, the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet underscored what design calamity looks like. Blending a sport crossover with a convertible formed an unusual canvas, one that was never popular, but certainly drew attention. This Murano joined a handful of other outlandish Nissan designs that made it to the market, at least in Japan and were not easily confused with other vehicles.
And that is the point of a radical composition – to stand out in a sea of competitors. For better or for worse.
The Juke was timed to follow the popular Nissan Rogue to the market, itself a late arrival amongst compact crossovers. At that time, Nissan trailed its competitors in crossover offerings as the market gradually shifted from cars to utility vehicles. The Rogue responded strongly, although the Juke never did.
Inspired by Bugs?
What was meant as a styling coupe in a nascent segment likely contributed to Juke’s downfall. Its insectoid visage featured the oddest of all front fascias. Marked by headlights that sat lower than the grille and accent lights above the same, the demeanor was immediately disjointed. Run your eyes along the canvas and various bulges, swells, and odd angles emerge. The roof drops drastically to form its wide rear haunches, with winglike lighting elements serving as twin exclamation points. One part crossover and another part rally racer is perhaps the easiest way to describe what Nissan’s designers intended. Notably, the rear door handles blend in with the roofline, giving this model a distinctive two-door look.
Inside, the cabin is no less controversial. The gauges seem co-opted from a motorcycle along with ample circular displays and controls throughout. Vibrant inserts and an assortment of fabric color choices ensured that nothing was subdued.
On paper, the Nissan Juke seats five but is comfortable for two adults. The rear seat quarters are constricted, while access and egress require even children to dip their heads to avoid hitting the doorframe. Two children can sit in the rear, but that is about it. We believe most owners simply fold down the rear seat to expand the minuscule standard cargo space from 10.5 cubic feet to 39.5 cubic feet.
Nissan Juke Engine, Transmission, and Drivetrain
With such a polarizing design, what appeal is there with the Nissan Juke? For one, this model is easily customizable with NISMO-inspired trim supplying contrasting rocker panels and a rear wing. For another, its powertrain choice is what makes the Juke a truly fun-to-drive model.
All models come with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with at least 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. Later NISMO models cranked out upwards of 215 horsepower and 211 pound-feet of torque. That’s especially noteworthy for a model that weighs no more than 3,214 pounds.
The Juke’s front-wheel-drive layout works well for it, given its diminutive size. Moreover, with a standard short-throw 6-speed manual gearbox, the Juke’s driving capabilities are quite remarkable. Thank Nissan’s engineers for imbuing the Juke with a sporty suspension system that handles twisty roads with ease and manages corners better than any other utility vehicle. Choose all-wheel drive and this model has an independent rear suspension. However, with this, the manual gearbox gives way to a continuously variable transmission with seven “steps” when operated in sport mode.
Drive Modes and NISMO
What makes a case for the Juke is its three drive modes – Eco, Normal, and Sport. As expected, the Eco is tuned for economy and the Normal for everyday driving. The Sport mode, though, reduces turbo lag and increases engine reaction. Also, the faster responding steering system simply makes this vehicle more entertaining to operate. Thus, it does not take long to realize how capable this model is.
The NISMO models arrived in 2013, bringing with them enhancements that included more than 100 improvements. More powerful turbochargers, a sportier suspension, improved downforce, and sharply bolstered front seats are among the standout features. Further, beginning in 2015, the NISMO variants were the only way consumers could still get a manual gearbox as the CVT took over everywhere else.
Nissan Juke: End of the Road
Light changes throughout its seven-year run could not save the Nissan Juke. A 2015 facelift refreshed the Juke, but three model years later it was replaced by the tamer and underpowered Nissan Kicks. The Juke, though, isn’t dead as the second-generation model rolled out in 2019, sharing its components with two Renault models.
The Juke’s U.S. sales never topped 40,000 annual units and even fell substantially with its 2015 refresh. On the other hand, sales of the Kicks have more than doubled what the Juke reached. The Kicks’ more sedate persona, roomier interior, and affordable price are what make it a popular model.
Gall, J. (2013, May 8). 2013 Nissan Juke NISMO. Car and Driver.
Tsui, C. (2018, July 31). For Better or Worse, the Nissan Juke Is No More. The Drive.
Photos courtesy of Nissan Motor Corporation.