2015 Nissan Juke Review

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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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2015 Nissan Juke

Styling

The Nissan Juke definitely stands out, with new front and rear details for 2015 that bring out its boisterous side even more.

Nissan's current lineup seems to include vehicles that we designed under two completely different schools of thought—one safe and conservative, the other bold and daring. The Nissan Juke, without question, fits that latter group.

The Nissan Juke definitely has more of a competitive set than it did a few years ago when it was introduced, but it remains an outlier—in a good way—in today's automotive landscape.

The Juke ties in the rough-and-ready looks of an amped-up rally racer with some of the utility (and looks) of today's smallest crossovers. Nissan calls it "a bold urban sport cross," and that's right in sync with what we see. It's futuristic, and polarizing, yet it's gained a loyal following. And in a mid-cycle refresh for 2015, the roofline and stance carry over unchanged, and Nissan thankfully hasn't changed anything significant in the sheetmetal.

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.

Otherwise, the look of the Juke is all hips and bulges, swells and angles. It could even be called cartoonish. The tall, swooped fenders up front, the low-mounted headlights, blade-like turn signals, and the predatory grille, as we'd call it—it all adds up to something completely different than what's elsewhere on the market. 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 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.

There's a new Juke Color Studio program that gives buyers even more ways to customize, with bright-color wheels, headlamp trim, side sills, rear spoiler, door handles, and fascia trim, all to accent the Juke with the color of your choice. These trims are sold individually, at the dealership, but can be included in vehicle financing.

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2015 Nissan Juke

Performance

Whether in high-performance NISMO form or in one of its more affordable trims, the 2015 Nissan Juke is sportier than other crossovers its size.

The 2015 Nissan Juke looks part playful, part menacing; and those impressions, quite appropriately, extend to the way it performs, rides, and drives. It's a stronger performer than most other pint-size crossovers, for sure, although it pays the price with a stiff ride, as well as some go-fast cues that might leave some wishing for a model that feels more sophisticated or mature.

Enthusiast types will also no doubt be disappointed to find that the six-speed manual gearbox is now absent from standard Juke models. To get a manual, you need to step up to the top-performance Juke Nismo or Juke Nismo RS models—and in that case, it's only paired with front-wheel drive.

Under the hood of Juke S, SV, and SL models, there's a 188-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that's turbocharged and direct-injected. In any of these models you can choose between front- and all-wheel drive.

You'd think this powertrain would yield a quick little urban runabout, yet it feels oddly ponderous in traffic with the CVT—and rather noisy when you do want to extract all the available performance out of the powertrain.

Although the Juke looks like it might be built for occasional trail use or rutted, muddy backroads, it's not really that. It's probably barely suited to a steep driveway covered in snow, and the all-wheel drive system is best thought of as a performance option for street use, bringing with it independent rear suspension instead of the front-drive model's torsion-beam rear. That would make it the enthusiast's choice despite the added weight, complexity, and cost--except that it means you can't get the six-speed manual transmission at all, as it's only available in front-drive Jukes.

SV and SL versions of the Juke with either transmission come with the I-CON adjustable steering and transmission response system. The Eco mode feels intentionally sluggish, to the degree that it interferes with smoothness (we tended to over-press the accelerator to get the desired acceleration, then had to back off, repeatedly); Normal mode is a good midpoint for drivability, while Sport mode actually feels sporty—raising the idle speed, reducing turbo lag, and sharpening the steering. But as we've noted in repeated drives of the Juke, it cuts even more into this model's already lackluster fuel economy.

You might sit quite high up in the Juke, but this is by no means a vehicle that ever feels tipsy or top-heavy. It feels like you're sitting high, over a low, well-balanced chassis. What really redeems the package, to us and to anyone who considers this vehicle as a sporty alternative, is its steering, which is quick, responsive, and surprisingly well-weighted, with more road feel and feedback than most small cars or other vehicles with the Nissan badge—short of the Z or GT-R sports cars.

Combined with that firm suspension tune, the Juke is a hoot. But its odd combination of a very firm suspension tune, combined with quite a bit of suspension travel, underneath it all, adds up to a vehicle that's an eccentric. Push the Juke a little too hard and it bounds and bounces; it's not all that happy with rough roads under any sort of driving.

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.

 



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2015 Nissan Juke

Comfort & Quality

If you gauge the Juke against other small four-door crossovers, the interior is tight and the ride is stiff. But against coupes, the Juke looks like a utility player.

It's all relative here. If you see the Juke as a sportier-flavored alternative to subcompact crossover models like the Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Fiat 500L, or Subaru XV Crosstrek, you could end up disappointed with what the Juke has to offer. But if you see it as a jacked-up performance coupe, its space and utility might seem quite impressive.

We tend to think the former. With all the new entries in this class—the ones we mentioned, as well as the Fiat 500X, Mazda CX-3, even the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport—it's difficult to argue that the Juke isn't the least practical in its class. The lone exception would probably be the three-door Hyundai Veloster, a model that's lower and a little more like a sports coupe than the Juke.

The high driving position is nice, giving the Juke a commanding view of the road not common in cars of similar size. On the other hand, even considering the Juke's subcompact exterior, the interior can feel significantly less spacious than that of subcompact cars like the Honda Fit or Ford Fiesta.

Backseat space is extremely tight even for two (officially there are three seating positions). Front seats are pretty fair for the Juke's size, with a height and backrest adjustable driver's seat, though again head and knee room aren't abundant, but merely adequate.

The back seats are probably best left folded down--to 35.9 cubic feet of cargo space. They're a bit higher than they need to be, which mashes taller occupants up against the headliner; the Juke can hold a pair of six-foot passengers, but not comfortably. If you opt for the sunroof, you'll lose even more headroom.

Flip down the rear seat and you'll get considerably more space, but still only about half of the volume you'll find in the Honda Fit. Leaving the rear seats in place, cargo room is just 10.5 cubic feet, which is a touch smaller than a typical sedan's trunk

While the cabin might include a lot more features for 2015, not much has changed about the materials or trims themselves; and that's quite alright as the presentation has always been a highlight—provided your tastes can run on the slightly garish side of performance-tinged. The shiny, color-shifting seat upholstery looks a bit cartoonish, but at the same time cool. The plastics and switchgear are unmistakably bargain-basement, but they fit together well design-wise, which make it all quite forgivable.

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2015 Nissan Juke

Safety

The Nissan Juke has a pockmarked set of crash-test ratings; yet its safety set is up to par.

The Nissan Juke definitely isn't the top pick in its class if safety is one of your top priorities. Its crash-test ratings may be cause for concern in some respects, however the Juke does have a good, solid set of safety features.

Although the Juke this year has been given a modestly refreshed front and rear appearance, with new headlights and taillights, as well as a few other details, its body structure carries over unchanged—and thus, we don't expect its safety ratings to change significantly.

That said, last year's ratings for the Juke were reasonably good in some areas and mediocre in others. The Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Juke top 'good' ratings in nearly all categories of testing—slthough in the small overlap test it only managed the lowest possible score of 'poor.'

In federal New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) testing, the Juke has in recent model years achieved just three stars in frontal crash tests, and four stars overall. The feds do give the Juke a top mark of five stars in side-impact crashworthiness, however, and four stars in rollover resistance.

Otherwise, safety equipment for the 2015 Nissan Juke is quite typical for a car with a starting price around $20k. Dual front airbags, side airbags, and side-curtain airbags are all standard, as are anti-lock brakes and stability control; as well as tire-pressure monitors that warn you of low tire pressures (or proper ones, if you're inflating them) by sounding the horn.

You might expect the Juke, as a curvaceous, fashion-forward model, to have quite awful outward visibility. But that's not really the case; most drivers should find that rearward visibility is quite good, considering the short side windows and thick rear pillars.

All models now include a rearview monitor system, which helps with that, too; and standard on the SL (or optional on the SV) is a useful (and potentially mishap-preventing) Around View monitoring system with Moving Object Detection.

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2015 Nissan Juke

Features

With more standard features, the 2015 Nissan Juke becomes a better value. And on the flip side, the lure of accessories looms large.

Nissan has, for 2015, brought the Juke's feature list much more in line with its presentation, and it's now a vehicle that offers at least some of the advanced features that its sporty, fashion-forward exterior might suggest.

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. As before, the Juke S also includes 17-inch wheels, an AM/FM/CD sound system with auxiliary input and Bluetooth; power locks, mirrors, and windows; keyless entry; and a split-folding 60/40 rear seat.

Stepping up to the mid-range Juke SV, you add many of the more desired features, like the i-CON system, with its multiple driving modes and performance screens; automatic climate control; a moonroof; satellite radio; premium cloth upholstery; and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

At the top of the 'normal' Juke lineup, the SL gets fog lamps, perforated leather upholstery, and an upgraded infotainment system with navigation, voice recognition, SiriusXM Traffic info, and Sirius XM Travel Link, which includes fuel prices, weather, movie listings, and stock information. It also includes a Rockford Fosgate subwoofer and six upgraded speakers.

Juke NISMO models add special sport bucket seats with additional bolstering, plus sport trim throughout the interior (with a different shift knob and door switch panels, for instance), as well as red stitching for the rear seats, a black antenna, and lots of other NISMO-exclusive improvements. The NISMO RS tops off the lineup, at $30,845 in AWD form, although it steps up to four-wheel vented disc brakes, a helical limited-slip differential for front-wheel-drive models, Recaro sport seats, carbon fiber interior trim, and special upholstery with leather and synthetic suede.

On all five trims of the Juke—S, SV, SL, NISMO, and NISMO RS—you can opt for front-wheel drive or torque-vectoring all-wheel drive. Although keep in mind that even on those latter performance models if you want a manual transmission you'll have to forgo AWD.

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.

Additionally, there's a long list of port-installed options, including a front-seat armrests, a rear roof spoiler, a stainless exhaust finisher, an interior illumination package, and gunmetal or black 17-inch alloy wheels.

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2015 Nissan Juke

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage remains quite disappointing for the Juke—whether you judge it against small performance coupes or other small crossovers.

The 2015 Nissan Juke is relatively fuel-efficient, if you gauge it against other sporty models; but versus other tall hatchbacks or the latest small crossovers it's surprisingly thirsty—especially in real-world driving, as we've found.

Official EPA numbers for the Juke rise slightly for 2015, to 28 mpg city, 32 highway (30 combined) with front-wheel drive, or 26/31 mpg (28 combined) with all-wheel drive. On a combined basis, that's 1 mpg higher than last year for both models.

Oddly, it's the more performance-oriented Juke NISMO that's the mileage leader of the lineup—due to its six-speed manual gearbox, which boosts the figures to 28 mpg city, 34 highway. With AWD, the Juke NISMO rings in at 26/31 mpg, while the NISMO RS and its boosted-up engine rates as low as 25/29 mpg.

We've managed figured that are well below the Juke's combined EPA ratings in real-world driving—think more in the range of 22 to 24 mpg in city-and-commuting-style conditions—but we will say, to Nissan's credit, that it's difficult to keep restrained and not take advantage of the powertrain's potential.

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