The Nissan Juke has never been a car for shrinking violets.
When the first generation launched a decade ago, its off-the-wall looks immediately split the world into two camps - those that got it and those that would rather walk than be seen in it. In that respect it was very similar to the Citroen C4 Cactus. But where Citroen chickened out and watered down the second-generation Cactus, Nissan has stuck to its guns with the Juke and retained but modernised the bold styling that made the old car so divisive.
The looks are sharper than the first-generation car but with many of the same features - such as the multi-tiered front lights - that made it stand out so much in the first place and it remains as divisive as ever. I didn’t hate the old one and actually quite like the new one. The segment has a few weird and “wonderful” looking cars - Ford Puma, Toyota CH-R - so the Juke isn’t out of place but its design will mean it doesn’t appeal to everyone.
Where Nissan has been busy rethinking things is inside. Not only is the new Juke a vast improvement on the old one but it’s also miles ahead of every other Nissan out there without being revolutionary in terms of layout or materials.
The old Juke tried too hard to be quirky and unique and ended up being messy and irritating. Here, a more straightforward approach means simple, clear controls are where you’d expect or want, rather than in the scattergun arrangement employed in the Qashqai and Leaf. Your eye is drawn to the large circular air vents, which give the cabin some character, and the large touchscreen which, like so many rivals, juts out the top of the dashboard rather than being properly integrated.
A leather dash top and ambient lighting in the doors and around the gearshift are attempts at making the Juke feel a little more upmarket and overall the materials are among Nissan’s best. They’re still not luxurious but far less scratchy and brittle and more in keeping with the car’s £25,000 price tag.
As with any B-SUV, space isn’t the Juke’s strong point but average-sized drivers and passengers should find it roomy enough. It’s definitely a four-seater, though, with a narrow rear bench, and heaven help anyone in the back seat if your driver is over six feet tall. A Skoda Kamiq or Ford Puma offers more space, particularly in the back seats. That’s true of the boot as well. The Juke’s 422 litres is pretty good but the Puma and Renault Captur have it beaten and to get that full capacity you have to set the adjustable floor to its lower level, which leaves a substantial lip. You can have a completely flat floor but at the cost of some storage space.
At the opposite end of the car lies a 1.0-litre engine linked to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The three-cylinder unit is the same found in the Micra, and the only one available in the Juke, with 115bhp and 133lb ft (148lb ft on overboost). Zero to 62 takes a substantial 11 seconds but the engine at least feels willing, if a little noisy.
In the cabin, there’s a simple rocker switch for drive modes which gives you standard, eco and sport, with the usual faint changes to throttle map, gearbox configuration and steering “weight”. Sport is hardly a dynamic revelation but overall the Juke is actually quite a pleasant thing to bash along an A road in. It’s not up to the standards of the Puma but it’s not as far away as you’d think, with light-but-not-too-light steering offering decent response. At higher speeds and on smoother A roads the ride is good but the Juke is let down badly by harsh low-speed performance on urban roads. It gets to the point where you wince every time you approach a pothole - not a criticism that can be levelled at the related Captur.
The Juke range starts at £17,860 - that’s around the same as a VW T-Cross or Skoda Kamiq and a touch cheaper than the Captur, Ford EcoSport or Puma. However, we were driving the Tekna, which comes in at £23,895. Add in our car’s two-tone paint finish and it totalled £24,870. It’s still well equipped for the money though, with functions like high beam assist, all-round LED lights and a heated front screen as well as the Pro-Pilot assistance with adaptive cruise, lane keep assist and traffic jam pilot, which combines the two. The eight-inch touchscreen incorporates Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, all linked to a Bose sound system with speakers in the front headrests.
The Juke might have been one of the first small crossovers to make it big but it’s got a far tougher challenge now. This second-generation car is much better than the first but so are its rivals. Its appeal is limited - partly by its looks but also by its relative lack of space and that single-engine line-up. However, it offers relatively good value and is more characterful and fun to drive than similarly priced rivals.
Nissan Juke Tekna
Price: £23,895 (£24,870 as tested); Engine: 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol; Power: 115bhp; Torque: 133lb ft; Transmission: Seven-speed DCT automatic; Top speed: 112mph; 0-62mph: 11.1 seconds; Economy: 44.1mpg; CO2 emissions: 116g/km