We spent Tuesday with the 2015 Chevy Trax and ruled it was a fine-if-overly-innocuous tool of conveyance. Then twenty minutes with the 2015 Nissan Juke proved that, holy crap, a crossover actually can make you feel like an arm-flailing .gif of Kermit The Frog.
They Kept It Weird.
"When Juke customers pull up some place they want everybody to know they've arrived," Nissan's Sales & Marketing and Operations VP Fred Diaz explains. Hard to argue that one. The four-year-old bodystyle has been mildly refreshed for 2015 (pretty much just pinched head-and-taillights), and the new Juke is still impossible to miss.
"Loud and proud" still spills into the interior too. That "motorcycle gas tank-inspired" center console has been retained for 2015, along with the big chunks of painted plastic and accented seats. It's wild, it's distinctive, and it's more electrifying that any crossover has a right to be.
As the micro-SUV market blows up like a patch of mushrooms, some new players are trying to capture their own distinctiveness with in-your-face bodywork as well (Looking at you, Lexus NX). But the Juke manages to stand out while being just silly enough to counteract its ostentatiousness. It's the auto-pomorphism of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, and I think that has a lot to do with the car's success.
"Oh, when we first drew [the Juke] quite a few folks hated it," Nissan's Product Planning VP Pierre Loing told me, where "folks" refers to other executives who would decide whether or not to move forward with the funky crossover. "I loved it, enough of us loved it, and we had to have it. I went from one executive after another to get the design sold and of course, in the end, we went for it."
Glad they did, and I'm just as happy he was able to campaign for a continuation of the car's distinctiveness.
Driving The Base Juke And Its Evil Twin: The Nismo RS
The regular Juke isn't really fast, but it doesn't feel slow whether you're slapping through the rev range "semi-manually" or just letting it do its thing in "D."
The 1.6 turbo four-banger makes its presence known with a happy little hum as you step into it and surges enough once it's spooled to maintain the feeling that "yeah, I did buy a sporty car!" At least, for those who haven't driven serious sports cars.
Steering's direct, lateral grip feels downright meaty compared to the "don't-push-me-I'm-relaxing Murano.
The Nismo RS version has a few extra horsepower, but I reckon it's the manual gearbox that actually makes it more fun to drive. (Sue me, I guess I'm old school.) It also torque steers like a motherfucker and if you really crack the whip off the line, it's harder to control than a horse with his nuts in a vice.
Great seats though; every ride feels like a race when you're sucked into a stitched Recaro.
The CVT Doesn't Really Suck
Dropping the manual transmission option for the non-Nismo US Juke feels like a missed opportunity to me, but obviously Nissan's bean counters didn't see it that way.
I'm comfortable calling the base Juke "sporty," and I really think one of those with a three-pedal setup is really all the performance the little crossover needs. The fierce look of the Nismo contrives the Juke's attitude of "I'm just here for a good time" with a little excessive aggression, and at $28,000 are you really going to pick it over something proven(and comparably priced) like a Ford Focus ST?
The 2015 Juke's Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission mimics a good old-fashioned six, seven, or eight-speed in the base, Nismo, and Nismo RS respectively. It's a pale substitute for a proper manual, but it is snappier than a lot of other low-end manumatic systems I've driven.
A "+/-" clicker that's somewhat satisfying to thwack up and down toggles you through "ranges" that feel like gears. But the car overrides any initiative to ride the redline, so your right hand gets more out of the car if you're yanking the handbrake.
The Juke Is Still Tiny
Nissan's people told me the Juke "was almost a three-door," and it still feels like the designers didn't make much of a concession with rear access in the final form. Put the front seats in an acceptable position for 6' people, and the rear becomes pretty unlivable.
Cargo space isn't exactly abundant, but it's viable for two people's luggage or a week's worth of groceries.
An Energizing Car Can Also Be Exhausting
I've driven the 2015 Juke and its angry brother the Nismo RS version for short trips. Looking at them is exciting. Climbing into the cockpit gets you properly fired up; red LCD displays that supplement the easy-to-read speedo and tach manage to feel sleek in this application (as opposed to cheap) and the ride's taunt enough to help you convince yourself you're not a complete idiot for wanting to hustle around corners.
But I could see that rigidity getting a little tiresome after a few hours of seat time. Where the Chevy Trax was a peaceful place to sit (with significantly more generous passenger and cargo space) the Juke's intensity might become grating on long drives.
With Almost-Indistinguishable Updates For 2015, The New Juke's Still Dedicated To Being The Life Of The Crossover Party
I'm sure a good portion of the Juke's "engaging driving experience" is the psychosomatic effect of the styling, but in this segment the idea of speed is all you really need to sell "sportiness." As long as you don't have much stuff to lug and you won't be wandering too far from town, the Juke would like be a cheerful sparkle in your 9-to-5 existence.
Simpler Jukes seem pretty cheap; the base S FWD is up about $1,000 from last year but still starts a little below $21,000. A better-equipped SL AWD comes in just under $27,000 and the top-of-the-range Nismo RS is close to $31,000 before you start adding interior illumination packages and suc
The Trax is still a solid, subdued alternative. And I bet the Mazda CX-3 is going to be a good driver with tidy styling, but the Juke's still the visual stand-out in the segment and an all-around enjoyable small vehicle.
Images by the author and Nissan