Sunday, April 26, 2015

2015 Nissan Juke

Much has changed since we first visited the Nissan Juke back in late 2013. What was then a bourgeoning compact SUV segment has now blown into the fastest growing automotive set in Australia, with fresh competitor offerings like the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V.However, one constant remains with Nissan's smallest SUV, which has just received its first mid-life update...

The quintessential feature for the Juke round two is that its polarising styling persists, which could be a deal maker or deal breaker, depending on where your tastes lie. The distinctive front end now wears LED 'boomerang' lights found on the larger Qashqai, while Nissan's trademark 'V-motion' styling is now found in the front grille. The side mirrors now incorporate LED turn indicators as well.

The headline news for this subtle model update is a new 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine that now becomes the base model in the line-up, shared under Nissan's alliance with Renault.

It is a willing and flexible powertrain for such a small capacity unit, pulling away pleasantly off the mark during our drive loop near Melbourne and steadily gaining enthusiasm as it nears its circa 7000rpm cut out. In-gear torque is relatively solid, with only steeper inclines provoking the need to peddle back through gears. Equally, overtaking manoeuvres are executed gracefully, the engine hitting peak power and torque from 4500rpm and 2000rpm respectively – though the added exertion is accompanied by some audible strain from the engine as works to move the Juke's circa 1300kg mass.

The four-cylinder engine is also relatively efficient, calling on standard stop-start technology to return a combined average of 6.5L/100km on test using the recommended premium unleaded blend of fuel.

One potential issue with the new powertrain is that it is allied exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission – pointing to popular demand in Europe and the UK, from where the Juke originates. The manual is a clean shifting unit that is easy to come to terms with. There is an adequate throw and a light clutch take-up, but the shift isn't the most well lubricated going.

Elsewhere the Juke pleases with predictable and surefooted handling, without threatening the freshly-crowned class leader, Mazda's CX-3. The steering feels light at low speed, weighing up adequately through corners and without exhibiting unwanted kickback, while the body feels suitably well restrained given its 180mm ground clearance. There is some expected lean and pitch through headier corners, and when really pushed, there is understeer and oversteer present as its 17-inch Continental tyres struggle for adhesion.

However, the immediate trade-off is a favourable ride package that takes the edge out of sharp bumps with soft damping. Swift recovery from larger, faster hits in the road – even on the base model car's Torsion beam rear suspension – ensures a comfortable and pleasant driving experience.

As before, the Juke will be offered with two 1.6-litre petrol engines of varying tunes. The middle tier offering is a naturally aspirated unit that produces 86kW and 158Nm, allied solely with a CVT automatic, while the flagship is a turbocharged version of the same engine, producing 140kW and 240Nm and mated with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions.

Nissan says it opted against offering a diesel version of the Juke because of low demand. It has also pared the range back to two grades, the base model ST and range-topping Ti-S, available in two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, to simplify the line-up.