ROAD TEST: Nissan Juke 1.6 Tekna

It’s not often that an automaker comes up with something so different that it really stands out from the new-model car-park but Nissan sure has with its Juke crossover – is it a car, a wagon, an SUV?

You decide...

The package is original and distinctive in design, amusing in its quirkiness, great on long-distance cruising and general performance and takes South Africa’s gravel byways – and there are lots of them – in its big-wheeled and sure-footed stride.

TO THE WOODS...

If road-tolling really spreads (if it ever starts!) then back roads and our pot-holed and grievously ill-maintained B-roads are all the average Joe and  Jane are going to be able to afford to use to get from alpha to zeta. The Juke could be the answer.

Certainly, it’s not just a box on wheels.

Image gallery.

I had one to drive over the 2012 Freedom Day long weekend and used it for some social time among the apple orchards of Grabouw and Elgin in the Western Cape which included a puzzling traffic-jam crawl between Cape Town and the east side of Sir Lowry’s Pass that required about a zillion gear-changes.

Even that didn’t cause my temper to fray, such was the tractability of the silver Juke with its globulous fish-eye headlights and turbo-boosted 140kW/240Nm 1.6-litre engine.  And neither did the kilometres of roughly graded gravel between the N2 and the farm; for a car designed for the First World, the Juke gave an excellent ride over those of the Third World.



The cars – there are four models in the range, two five-speed 86Kw/158Nm Acenta versions and two six-speed 1.6 Tekna turbos identical except for R6000-worth of cowhide upholstery – are priced from R203 925 to R267 935 which, at first glance, might seem a trifle heavy on the pocket but they’re certainly well-specced.

Power goes to the front wheels only and the six-speed shift in the test car was slick and easy – first gear a bit low but then you might need the ratio with a full load on gravel gradients; sixth turns the busy ride into a steady lope at 120km/h.

Ground clearance is 180mm on 17” alloy rims shod with 215/55 rubber (space-saver spare) and the higher-than-normal ride height gives a clear view over traffic. Anti-lock brakes with electronic pressure distribution and emergency assistance work with electronic dynamic stability control (which can be disabled) and high-speed control is outstanding.

The Juke is, however, only a little over 4.1m long so there’s a luggage space penalty (241 litres) and for some reason Nissan has come up with a flexible security cover that simply doesn’t work on its fragile fixings. That on the test car kept falling from its supports; so much so that I eventually gave up and left it on the boot floor (the clips are in one of the cupholders, guys).

PLAY-PLAY COMPUTER

At the other end of the car, one of the rubber bonnet stops simply fell out of its socket and had to be retrieved from the engine and twisted back into place. And Nissan has included a play-play version of its awesome GT-R’s vehicle data computer – it has its uses (fuel consumption recording, for instance) but who really needs a g-force meter like that of an F1 car in a set of family wheels?

All but the entry Acenta also come with a stop/start button, cruise control and three driving modes; cruise control should be on every car but I sense the other two – particularly the stop/start button that is becoming ever more common across brands – are just excuses to pretend added value and a higher price.

Standard across the range are folding rear seats, power windows (driver’s has one-touch up and down), tilt steering adjustment, trip data computer, Bluetooth cellphone connection, auto aircon (except entry Acenta), audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel, iPOD and USB connections to the audio system (four speakers Acenta, six on Tekna) and external temperature read-out.

Auto headlights and water-sensing screen wipers come with the three upper models as do power adjustment and folding external mirrors.

COLOUR DISPLAY

The Juke was introduced to South Africa in October 2011 and Nissan SA made much then of the new I-CON command system and adjustable info-graphic display which adopts various displays, colours and functions depending on the selected mode. Climate mode shows interior temperature and aircon settings with the buttons mapped to air-flow preferences. D-Mode offers Normal, Sport and Eco driving, each altering throttle mapping, torque curve and power-steering assistance.

The colour display changes to display additional engine and drive-related information. All of which tends to draw the driver’s attention away from the road... yet all part of what Nissan said at the launch makes the Juke “a unique vehicle in so many respects, incorporating multiple technological and platform world-firsts in a car confidently carving its own path into the future of motoring”.

All very admirable, but I’ll bet most buyers will play with the D-Mode for a couple of weeks and then settle, simply, for Normal – even if, overall, the cute Juke is anything but, well, normal.

Nissan Juke 1.6 DIG-T Tekna specifications.
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