Juke's popular ... but still polarises

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 05:01 14/06/2012
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The Nissan Juke

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With some cars, the test-drive experience begins something like this: Well, here we go, I'm behind the wheel, let's get going and find out what the public reaction is going to be.

And with a bit of a grimace and a gritting of teeth, you head out on your way.

Usually, this scenario plays out with some high-end sports car. I particularly remember it happening with the first- generation Audi TT, the design of which so enraged some bloke that he stormed out of a suburban New Plymouth pub and told me to go away.

It has also sometimes happened with certain Japanese models, particularly the very small vehicles. You just know you're going to get some smart-alec comments along the way, so you mentally comfort yourself with the knowledge that you can always explain that the car isn't really yours. Or, you can go on the offensive on behalf of the product.

I took that latter approach the other day with the Nissan Juke. That's the London-designed and Sunderland-built five-door hatch that is selling like hotcakes in Europe and the United States, and which has recently been launched in New Zealand.

It hasn't been launched in Australia, because the Nissan people over there reckon the Juke's distinctive bodyshell design simply wouldn't satisfy Aussie tastes. Instead, that country will get the new Pulsar hatch.

But over here in New Zealand, the Nissan people were keen to get their hands on the Juke as soon as possible, reasoning that history has always shown that whatever motoring product proves popular in Europe, it invariably proves popular here.

A few weeks ago, when the first models were shipped in, Nissan NZ managing director John Manley said he was confident Kiwis would not only embrace the car's unusual style, but also quickly realise it is perfect for New Zealand's driving conditions.

He added they did it with the Qashqai, which also had unusual looks - and now they would do it with the Juke, forecasting that sales would be 70 to 80 units a month.

Well, a couple of months in from its launch, the Nissan NZ people are proving to be right on the mark. The Juke is selling at a rate of 75 a month; and last week, John Manley told me the company would sell more if it were not for supply issues caused by the hatchback's continuing popularity in Europe.

And yet - at this early stage anyway - the Juke continues to be a polarising car.

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Late last year, when I had the opportunity to drive one through north-east England and into Scotland, they seemed to be everywhere, and were therefore as familiar as any other vehicle on the road. But it's not yet like that in New Zealand, and this meant that recently when I spent a week driving one on home turf, the comments flew thick and fast about its looks.

Granted, the Juke is a very distinctive hatchback, with its dune-buggy styling and lights that protrude at the front and are hockey-stick-shaped at the rear. As a result, the immediate comment of many was that they didn't like it.

Personally, I do like the shape of the Juke. I think it is a fun alternative to standard hatchback fare. Not only that, but underneath that curvy bodyshell with the pronounced wheel arches, there is a vehicle that does its job very well.

Two versions of the Juke are sold in New Zealand. The entry model is the ST, which is a well- specified car for its $31,990 asking price; and the top model is the $33,990 TI, which for the extra cash, provides automatic headlight control, privacy glass for the rear windows, a better seat trim, and climate-control air conditioning instead of the standard aircon.

The TI, which we had for test, also gets 17-inch alloy wheels instead of 16-inch steel versions, and the fact it is shod with the bigger tyres means its ride and handling are just that much better. The car also comes standard with a push-button Dynamic Control System that gives it more oomph and a sharper drive by changing the settings of its continuously variable automatic transmission and the electric power-steer system.

This same system can also drop the Juke into an Eco mode, which is there purely to lower fuel consumption and should only be used when quietly cruising along a wide open road.

Only one engine is used to power both Jukes - it's a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol unit that offers 86 kilowatts of power and 158 Newton metres of torque. That's sufficient to offer performance that I suppose is best described as sprightly, and only moving into peppy when the Sport setting has been selected.

So the Juke certainly isn't performance-oriented, although I did find that its chassis and suspension setup are more than capable of handling enthusiastic driving. There's an all-wheel-drive 140 kW turbocharged version overseas, and I reckon it would be a beauty.

My only real criticism of the Juke is that although there's good room inside for those in the front and rear seats, the luggage space is a pretty hopeless 251 litres when all seats are in use. Space increases to 830 litres when the rear seats are folded down.

But overall? Hey - I like the Nissan Juke! At a time when the design of most other product is so conventional it can all become a bit of a yawn-fest, I love it that a bunch of young London-based designers have come up with a hatchback of such memorable design.

Now, if only performance could be as out-there as its looks . . .

NISSAN JUKE TI

POWER PLANT: 1.6-litre four- cylinder petrol engine, 86 kW at 6000 rpm, 158 Nm at 4000 rpm.

RUNNING GEAR: Front-wheel drive. Continuously variable automatic transmission . MacPherson strut front suspension, torsion beam setup at the rear. Electric power steering.

HOW BIG: Length 4135mm, width 1765mm, height 1570mm, wheelbase 2530mm.

HOW MUCH: $33,990.

WHAT'S GOOD: Fun design inside and out, enjoyable ride and handling.

WHAT'S NOT: Small cargo area.

OUR VERDICT: Once more of these Nissan Jukes get on our roads - and it is happening - hopefully the naysayers will get used to its design and begin to appreciate it for the very good hatch it really is.

* What do you think of the new Juke?

- Taranaki Daily News

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