You know when you go to a party, or a bar mitzvah, or the excruciating work social, there’s always one person who is a bit…much. They’re making bad jokes, laughing loudly at the stupidest shit. Acting like they’re the life and soul of the party when actually they’re being an unbearable tit and the only humane thing to do for all involved would be to strap them into a trebuchet and launch them into the side of a tall building. This is the kind of vacuous twat who probably bought the original Nissan Juke.
Full disclosure: I was that vacuous twat once, but not for those reasons. I owned a first generation Juke for a few months at the beginning of 2019. I had broken up with a woman and written off my beloved R55 Mini Cooper Clubman by stuffing it through a fence, so I wasn’t in a great headspace for making good life decisions. The insurance money was burning a hole in my pocket and walking to my managers house every morning at 7:30 to ride into Gaydon with him was getting really fucking old fast, so I needed something black, funky and economical. I’m also a total attention whore. You can see my thinking.
So It’s Proactive, Huh?
After a few weeks I thought the Juke was just trying too hard. Some vapid marketing asshole probably suggested making the interior more X Games by ten percent, consistently and thoroughly. The low-res graphics could grade you on your mpg achieved in eco mode or display G forces in sport mode, for fucks sake. The eco mode was actually worse for gas milage because it throttled the engine so badly you had to nail the bloody thing to make any sort of progress. I was hoping for a sense of fun like the MINI. What I actually got was the “how do you do, fellow kids?” meme on wheels. A little bit of my soul died every time I drove it. I traded it for an 8J Audi TT as soon as my self esteem got back on its feet.
Please Sign These Papers Indicating You Did Not Save NMUK
It wasn’t for me, but the original Juke was for a lot of people. Previewed by the Qazana concept that debuted at the 2009 Geneva motor show, it was the second Nissan designed and engineered entirely in the UK after the Qashqai (closely related to the Rogue/Rogue Sport available in the US). The Qashqai had been a final throw of the dice for Nissan Motor UK (NMUK) after years of pissing yen down the plug hole. CEO in a suitcase Carlos Ghosn had instituted a brutal cost cutting regime across the whole of Nissan globally and told NMUK to get its shit together or else. Gambling that customers would pay a little extra for a chunkier, roomier and higher riding Golf-sized car the rather inoffensive looking Qashqai practically invented the crossover. Not for nothing was it nicknamed the Cash Cow by the UK motoring media.
Relaxing in a swimming pool full of money, NMUK wanted to do the same thing again for the next class down – Euro B (US subcompact). Nissan Design Europe (along with MG the only OEM design studio in London) came up with the design tautology of combining a beach buggy with a four wheeled motorbike. The Qazana previewed a stubby, wheel-at-each-corner stance coupled with a coupe sloping roof and large wheel arch haunches, and a bug eyed split lighting arrangement that placed the DRLs and indicators on the hood, with the main headlights lower down either side of the grill. Senior exterior designer of NDE at the time Matthew Weaver said:
“I was on the train one day and remembered seeing a young man in a flat cap with a diamond skull on it, a bling t-shirt, a pinstripe jacket and trainers. It was an eclectic mix, but I thought: if people don’t have to conform, why should cars? Different is good, it stands out. That is exactly what we wanted to achieve with Juke.”
Left unsaid was that such fashion victims should be fired into the sun.
Even the best car designs usually have one part that’s a bit challenging. Something that doesn’t quite allow your eye to settle and jolts the design into life. The original Juke broke this rule I invented because it was all challenging parts – a confection of mismatched details slapped onto an amphibian shape. Here’s the thing though; the stance (how it sits on its wheels) and the volumes (the outline of the car) are absolutely perfect. I didn’t get this when I first started seeing the bloody things everywhere, until I understood – it was meant to stand out like a goth at Salon Privé. Which is probably subconsciously why I ended up with one.
So did about 100k other people across Europe every year for nearly a decade, all expressing their individuality by buying the same thing as everybody else. Whatever, there was a bit more about the Juke than just its funky appearance. The first one didn’t really deliver on driving thrills, because it was bolted on tried and trusted mechanicals shared with various Renaults as well as the Nissan Cube. But it was cheap to buy and run and practical enough for young urbanites to fill the trunk with hideous diamond studded sneakers, or to give the impression they spent Sunday afternoon doing something active like getting injured playing Ultimate Frisbee in a desperate attempt to regain their youth.
The new Juke has grown up a lot. It still has an aggressive stance and style but it’s moved on from Killswitch Engage CDs to buying Taylor Swift albums on vinyl. Nissan has tempered the in-your-face attitude and subtly tweaked the proportions and graphics to better align with the rest of the range, which in the UK doesn’t include the new Z even though Japan is RHD like God intended. Thanks a bunch, Euro emissions legislation.
At the front this means the A pillar has been pulled rearwards – normally on FWD platforms it points ahead of the center line of the front axle, but on the new car you can see the A pillar points right at the middle of the wheel. This slightly moves the passenger cabin back to maintain a coupe-ish profile even though the car is a shade bigger all round. The roofline no longer dives south quite so drastically, which means at 6’2” I can sit behind myself without messing up my mohawk.
The classic Juke split headlight arrangement remains. There was no legislative reason for this originally – they just did it because it gave the designers what they wanted – an eye catching Down the Road Graphic (DRG). The DRL and indicator units have been moved further down the front and integrated into the surfacing rather than sticking out on top of the hood like the eyes of a submerged hippo. They lead nicely into the Nissan corporate V grill shape, and the pattern itself is neat in that only the lower half is actually open, but the repeating hexagons cleverly disguise it. On the front of a car, openings are the aero enemy, but you need them for cooling and airflow management. Look at the folded grill of a Jaguar iPace to see how it shouldn’t be done.
It’s Basically a Red Bull F1 Car
Sliding the passenger cabin backwards means there’s room under the hood to shove in a clever mild (non-plug in) hybrid system. The 1598 cc petrol four only makes 98bhp because it’s tuned for economy, but it’s paired with a 48bhp electric motor bolted on the end. Either or both of these power units spin the front wheels through a clutchless six speed automated manual. The way it works is standing starts are always handled by the EV motor, and then ICE kicks in to provide additional power as needed. During normal driving, the computer figures out whether to send ICE power to the wheels for speed or to charge the under trunk mounted 15kw battery, and takes control of synchronizing the gear sets which use dog rings for efficiency. Apparently it’s developed from Renault’s F1 power unit so you feel like Max Verstappen on a qualifying lap when you’re on the way to Costco. Provided there’s enough charge in the battery and you’re not on a hot lap, under 37mph the car will only use the EV motor, good for a couple of fume-free miles tootling around town.
It’s the epitome of seamless technology as an enabler. There’s not ten different hybrid modes to confuse you. You jump, stick it in drive and the system figures out the rest. Reverse is handled by the electric motor, reducing part cost and complexity, and there’s no flappy paddle bullshit – you get an e-pedal button to turn on regen braking if you want it (although it’s not quite strong enough to bring the car to a standstill) and another to use electrical power only, which it kept telling me wasn’t available and anyway the car did it on it’s own. And that’s it. The motor does sound a bit like a diesel fishing trawler when you really gun it, probably because it’s Atkinson rather than Otto cycle. The space usually taken by the rev counter is filled with an economy gauge – weirdly there’s no way of displaying engine speed information at all.
In the same vein the ProPilot driving assistant is one button on the steering wheel. The cruise control speed limit is a bit fiddly to set, but once engaged the system will gently steer to keep you in between the white lines and a set distance from the car in front. It had a bit of a drunken wander on the A46 roadworks on the way to Coventry – probably because the lane markings are not clearly delineated. I got busted by cameras for speeding through this section of dual carriageway a couple of years ago so I use cruise control through that section now to keep me under the 50mph limit.
Motorbikes Don’t Have Interiors
Having a motorbike gas tank inspired center console was an odd interior design choice on the old model because a motorbike gas tank is supposed to go between your legs not alongside them. Alongside means you’re about to have a painful dismount. Such over stylized nonsense has been discarded in favor of a more premium approach – the eyeball vents are a smooth delight and most of the bits you can touch without putting your back out are suede-alike, including the IP upper, the door panels and the center console, although this isn’t present on the cheaper trim levels.
And you need to be in a higher trim level to get the hybrid system, which I think gives the Juke one half of its appeal. Cheaper Jukes do without it and are the only way to get a manual if you’re one of those tedious row-your-own-or-death people (being able to drive a stick doesn’t make someone an elite Jedi Master car enthusiast. Mother Dearest had to be dragged kicking and screaming into an auto when her arthritis got too bad. She was in her mid-seventies. Point is, not everyone is physically able to drive a manual, and as a culture we should not be excluding anyone). The Juke range starts at just under £21k ($26k) for the boggo versions but the cheapest hybrid is £28k ($35k). The rich Corinthian leather spec Nissan lent me is £31k (nearly $39k).
The other half of the Juke’s appeal is it still maintains that ripped-straight-from-the-designers-sketchpad funk buggy look, but it’s much more cohesive and wholesome. The ride and handling balance is tilted towards fun without being crashingly sporty, and the hybrid integration feels perfect without being gimmicky and delivered pretty spectacular results – I averaged 50mpg imperial (42mpg US) over a couple of hundred of miles, which included me trying not to be late for my RC race meeting the other side of Birmingham, thirty miles away.
The original Juke regularly appears on ‘’worst designed cars ever’ clickbait articles, which totally misses the point of what the car was and what it was trying to achieve. It used to be that only mainstream OEMs could get away with something so outrageous, because they weren’t necessarily tied to visual brand identity and cheaper prices made up for shortcomings in other areas. Now premium OEMs are foisting challenging eye garbage with absolutely with no substance on us in the name of Instagram credibility, without understanding what the little Nissan gets bang on in terms of its design and execution and every day usability.
- Look At How Much Nicer China’s Nissan Juke Was
- Nissan’s Max-Out Concept Is What We All Imagined The Future Would Look Like
- Marvel At Nissan’s Weird Rebadges Of The Great Recession
- For Some Reason Nissan’s New Concept Car Is A Sports Sedan Turned Into A Camper That You Can Sleep In
An excellent and very interesting review Adrian, thanks!
Are those the actual US MSRP you mentioned, or just the UK prices converted to dollars at current rates. ‘Cause $39K seems a big ask, even for the top-spec hybrid w/leather.
Just wondering. 🙂
UK prices converted to dollars, but worth noting they include sales taxes and are an OTR price.
Duly noted and thanks. There’s SO little in the current US Nissan lineup that I can get excited about for years now… I kinda liked the old Juke simply because it was weird looking and relatively inexpensive, though I never drove one. The new Juke is more grown-up looking and not unappealing (relative to such kinds of cars) but it’s clearly not inexpensive anymore, even taking the last few years of inflation into account.
The first Gen Juke was weird to me. Even now, in pictures, in 2D, I kind of like it. But in person, I don’t. Not sure what about it’s appearance is hidden in pictures, but definitely a thing. For me it usually is the opposite, like how the most recent NSX looks bland in pictures, but awesome in the flesh IMO.
Pretty astute observation. You really do need to see a car in the metal to really understand it, and get a feel for how it works in it’s surroundings. Also, the human eye always sees things differently to a camera lens, which is why we still use full size models in the studio.
I think the thing with the original Juke is pictures flatten it and hide a lot of it’s weirdness, and emphasize it’s proportions and volumes, and minimize a lot of the detail.
I would argue that the original Juke was a fantastic design. Polarizing, sure, but in many ways it was the Ford Ka of our age, wrapping ordinary mechanicals in a balls to the wall quirky, confident styling package that didn’t look like any other CUV. The new gen is fine, a good evolution but it falls into the trap of having too many cliched cues from other cars like the ‘floating’ roof and much thicker cladding. I do wonder about your comment of the new one being ‘more cohesive’ because to my eyes it’s actually less, with more visual ‘noise’ everywhere and less individuality (where is that swage line coming from/going? the old one’s ‘coke bottle’ cues were obvious and endearing).
Fantastic if you love gigantic eyebrows and a perpetually surprised face
I never really understood the fuss about the original Ka – I thought it was a bit willfully avantgarde, built cheaply and burdened with boat anchor engines (to keep the cost down). I wouldn’t say the Juke was a fantastic design, because it’s not classically aesthetically appealing, which for me is a prerequisite. But, it does fulfill it’s brief admirably and absolutely is deserving of discussion.
I personally don’t think ‘fantastic design’ should have to fulfill classical aesthetics. The new generation Multipla was one of Fiat’s last ‘fantastic designs’ purely because it threw all those conventions out the window to arrive at something that really presented new ideas for packaging and function. In that same vein, the mk1 Juke presented a strong and clear statement for the direction of the mini CUV that was imitated but never replicated by any of its competitors. As for the Ka, it was a brilliant way of spinning old parts into a new and desirable (to consumers) package and allowed Ford to sell 3 door superminis in a market determined to kill the format, though of course it didn’t touch the whimsy and outright charm of the Twingo I.
The success of the original Juke will never cease to amaze me. I think it looks like ass, but I’m not exactly the target audience for modern cars anyway. But to think that such a controversial-looking design would become an immediate sales hit is just hard to grasp for me. Usually I’m the one who likes weird modern designs, and the ones I like are normally total flops. And somehow here’s this we’rd looking, nonsensical subcompact-on-stilts that I can’t stand, and everybody around me has one.
I think it was just marketing, and enough of it to convince NON CAR people that it’s cool. Nobody actually into cars I know of finds it remotely attractive and they all think it’s cringe.
Yeah, you may be onto something. It was definitely a triumph of marketing, and it was totally directed at non-car people. But the European sales figures are just staggering in my opinion. It’s no Qashqai of course, but in some years they were selling one Juke for every two Qashqais sold, and that still feels mind-blowing because they were selling a hell of a lot of goddamn Qashqais.
Ugh, I just wrote Qashqai like four times. I feel like I need a shower.
It’s pronounced ‘cashcow’ right?
Absolutely this. As car enthusiasts we have a certain point of view, and forget that the majority of people are NOT enthusiasts.
The Juke sold to people who wanted ‘something a bit different’ while being utterly conventional underneath.
Nice KMFDM reference. I used to often get earwormed by that song when I see a Juke badge.
I’d never really understood why they sold so many, the design just seemed like a random collection of needlessly quirky lumps, stuck onto a generic hatchback. Your article makes some sense of it.
The original Juke looks like a potato on wheels.
The new version looks like the old one and a CR-V had a baby.
If they weren’t relatively cheap, no one would even consider buying one. Kudos to the electric/gasoline setup, though. Nissan, now please put that in a better looking car!
More like Nissan Puke.
Point of order: the A-pillar stayed in exactly the same place – it’s overshooting the middle of the wheel just as before. The wheelbase grew by a few inches, most of which seems to have gone to the rear seats. I loved the look of the original Juke, and the new one’s not bad either. Great writeup!
Point of order. You’re wrong, car design is an art of nuance; the slightest changes can have a big impact.
But thank you for your kind words.