2015 Nissan Juke Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 28, 2015

The 2015 Nissan Juke is part rambunctious rally-racer and part defiantly different crossover—and it adds up to a vehicle that you'll have some strong feelings about, one way or the other.

If you're looking for a sporty small car, and you think that standing out from the crowd is a good thing, you'll want to consider the 2015 Juke. And actually, the Juke has always been an outsider—a small crossover, with its priorities in a very different place than pretty much every other model on the market.

With a light redesign this model year, the Juke gives up no ground in favoring a scrappy, daringly different design as well as the performance to fully back up those first impressions.

And this year, the market changes quite a bit. With the arrival of several more 'mainstream' subcompact crossover models, like the Honda HR-V, Chevrolet Trax, and Fiat 500X, the Juke is standing even farther apart from the rest. But with some fine-tuned styling, and more features for the money at the base level, we think the Juke will continue to find a lot of buyers willing to make some sacrifices for a vehicle that looks, feels, and is surprisingly edgy.

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The Juke remains a genre-bender, blending a portion of adventurous urban crossover with a pinch of unusual performance car, seasoned with many dollops of wild-style design verging on modern sculpture. It occupies a unique segment: While it's nominally a subcompact hatchback with optional all-wheel drive—rally-racer inspired in some ways—it's also pressed to its potential in top Nismo RC hot-hatch performance form. And lest you forget, it's quite practical, all considering.

The Juke's exterior still seems futuristic several years on, so we're happy to see that Nissan has kept its changes to some minor tweaks that actually make the Juke look a little more menacing, a little less sci-fi. This year's refresh gains new front and rear fascias, plus new 'boomerang' headlight and taillight designs. They both become a little sharper in their sculpting, now with LED accent lamps, and they're a little more in line with the direction of Nissan's other more daringly styled models—the all-new Murano crossover and, we assume, the upcoming Maxima sedan. The slanted-back roofline and pert tail design—made neater this year with some work around the bumper—all add up to a vehicle that can look coupe-like from some angles (thanks in part to the 'hidden' rear door handles).

Inside, the design is carried over pretty much unchanged from last year, and the motorcycle-inspired gauges, shiny nylon upholstery, and colorful inserts bring a look and feel that's also quite out-of-the-ordinary. To some it's those details, and the color-shifting seat upholstery, for example, that are verging on gimmicky, and definitely a bit cartoonish. That said, the layout and switchgear are straightforward.

The Juke is tough to pigeonhole on looks, and the same applies to its performance. It's part a crossover permanently hamstrung by a teensy cockpit and a stiff, almost sportscar ride. But it's also a far more practical take on what the younger set wants in a coupe—a step more practical than the (three-door) Hyundai Veloster, really.

All these contradictions keep coming in the driving experience. Most versions are powered by a 188-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with either front- or all-wheel drive, and a continuously variable (CVT) transmission. Keep in mind the all-wheel drive here isn't really for performance and handling, rather for all-weather traction.

The powertrain, with the CVT, can be oddly ponderous for use around town; but drive it hard and the combination somehow adds up to something more rewarding. Beware, however, that gas mileage isn't anything to beam about. But the Juke's handling—and more specifically, its light, quick steering—redeem the package, provided you're into the performance side. If you're not, we could see the Juke's rather hard ride, which bounces and bounds at times, easily becoming a reason to pass in favor of one of the Juke's softer (and blander) rivals.

Those who want to get the most amped-up version of the Juke should go for the Juke NISMO or, better yet, the NISMO RS—with both of those performance version still offering a manual gearbox and, in manual guise, the NISMO RS getting a top-performance version of the same engine, making 215 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. As before, the NISMO Juke adds nearly 100 other revised components, including exclusive lightweight alloy wheels, a specially tuned suspension, more downforce, and more aggressively bolstered sport seats.

With subcompact proportions and a taller roof, you might think the Juke would pack in some useful space, but there's simply not as much passenger or cargo space as that exterior suggests—or not any more useful than a lower-riding, mainstream hatchback. Front seats have a nice, upright driving position despite the somewhat confined quarters, but in back space is extremely tight even for two (officially there are three seating positions). Those back seats are probably best left folded down—to 35.9 cubic feet of cargo space. Overall, we find the interior to be price-appropriate, although the very firm ride and still rather noisy interior make it an acquired taste—or a vehicle for which you're willing to overlook some definite flaws in its appeal.

All but the base Juke S include a so-called I-CON control system, which lets you choose drive modes affecting the attitude for steering boost, throttle response, and CVT behavior (if so equipped) to either improve fuel economy or make it more responsive. Climate controls are changed with the same screen, and it works quite well, as do all the controls in general. Overall, the materials and design are sharp and modern, with price-appropriate finishes.

The price of the Juke goes up modestly this year—to $21,075, which is just over a thousand dollars higher than last year's entry price. Yet the 2015 Juke—even at the base Juke S level—now includes Intelligent Key with push-button start, a backup camera, and the NissanConnect system with Mobile Apps and a text message assistant. Step up to the mid-range Juke SV and you'll take advantage of some of the better features, including a moonroof; a rearview camera system; push-button start; satellite radio; the I-CON system; automatic temperature control; and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The top-trim Juke (other than NISMO models) is the SL, which adds navigation; leather-trimmed seats; and an 8-inch Rockford Fosgate subwoofer with six upgraded speakers.

Factory options on the 2015 Nissan Juke are limited to an SV Technology Package (the upgraded infotainment, Around View Monitor, and Rockford Fosgate audio), an SV Cold Weather Package (heated front seats and mirrors), and premium paint.

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