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This Juke's no fluke

Is it a car, a hatchback, or an SUV? Nissan's Juke has a radical design that may leave you befuddled, and a few drawbacks to boot, but it has seamless acceleration, low fuel consumption and is one of my favourite vehicles to drive around town or to the beach

Nissan has stepped on the gas, quickly expanding its product line-up in Thailand under its "Power Up 2016" mid-term plan, and we are definitely seeing the Japanese company introduce a stronger dose of excitement into the market.

For instance, the Juke is one of the new vehicles that Nissan is banking on to penetrate the Bt800,000-plus neighbourhood, which is usually home to regular sedans and hatchbacks.

Look at the Juke and you would likely wonder what type of "car" this is. While the top part can resemble a sports hatchback, the lower part of the car has been raised to give it a rugged SUV look. Walk towards the front and you'll be equally confused with the design of the Juke's face. There are two large bulbous Xenon headlights right on top of the bumper, while the turning lights have been moved up the bonnet and the fog lamps located right down the spoiler.

Yes, confusion somehow bears fruit in the Juke, as it is one of the attractions of the car. More people have approached me to ask about the Juke than, say, a Mini because it just looks so radical, especially with that "froggy" face and mixed-up "sport crossover" stance.

Several years ago, I had driven the Juke 1.6 Turbo brought in by a grey importer and was pretty much impressed with it except for one thing - the price. Since it was imported from Japan, there was that high import duty barrier and the Bt2-million-plus price tag did keep away a large number of customers. But the Juke offered here now is assembled in Indonesia, which means it can be imported to Thailand duty-free.

With prices ranging from Bt819,000 for the entry level 1.6 E and Bt858,000 for the 1.6 V featured today, the Juke is now affordable to a much larger group of people. In fact, I think it's going to steal a good number of customers from regular B- and C-segment cars. People want to be different and the Juke is a great car to show just that.

Step inside and you'll discover an interior that's different to other vehicles in many ways. The most striking feature is the centre console that reminds you of a motorcycle fuel tank. Right above the gearshift lever is the I-Con integrated control system that switches between the climate-control system and the driving mode (normal, power, eco). The entertainment system is up to date, featuring various wireless connections including wi-fi (via iOS or Android) and Bluetooth. There is voice recognition and the 7-inch touchscreen is also detachable - but, I wonder, what are the chances of a car audio theft these days? The multi-function three-spoke steering wheel looks and feels good, but all the buttons are on the left spoke, leaving the right side empty. You know right away that something is missing - perhaps the buttons for the cruise control.

Many would appreciate the great visibility thanks to the high ride height, but some may not flip over the quality of materials used in the cockpit. However, Nissan Motor Thailand says this is already an upgrade compared to the Jukes sold in Indonesia. Well, I say you can't really ask for much more considering the price.

There is enough space in front, but tall passengers will have headroom problems when sitting at the back. I've seen lots of people pointing this out as if it's a crime, but look at the rear-end design and it's obvious not much can be done. Anyway, how often will you transport a rear passenger who's taller than six feet? In fact, do you ever carry rear passengers? And if so, how many times per year? Nissan knows that people who buy the Juke are mostly single, and even if they are married, they'd have kids who won't be complaining about the headroom when seated in the back.

Dual front airbags, smart entry, foldable sideview mirrors, back-up camera and automatic headlights (with auto levelling) are offered, but automatic windshield wipers should also be included, after all.

The 1.6-litre power plant pumps out 116 horsepower and 154Nm - not very exciting when compared to the Juke's dynamic appearance. The engine is mated to a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) that offers seamless acceleration and low fuel consumption, but there's not much driving enjoyment. What you need to do here is to switch into sport mode and things get beefed up. The throttle response is quicker and the car feels much more athletic. But there's so much you can do with a 116-hp engine, so it is likely that Nissan will introduce the turbo version in future for those who can spend a little more.

The strut/torsion beam suspension gets stabilisers front and rear, while brakes are discs in front and drums at the rear. Both the suspension and brakes could do with some improvement in terms of beefiness as well as stopping power.

Alright, I might sound critical in many areas but that doesn't mean I don't like the Juke. Indeed, it's one of my favourite cars to drive around town or go to the beach. The design is awesome (especially with the burning-red car) and there are enough gadgets to keep you busy, or entertained. I'd even buy one for my daughter to drive to college - now won't she and her friends love it?!



Nissan Juke 1.6 V specs

Engine: 4-cylinder DOHC 16-valve with Twin C-VTC

Displacement: 1,598cc

Bore and stroke: 78.0x83.6mm

Compression ratio: 9.8:1

Max power: 116ps/5,600rpm

Max torque: 154Nm/4,000rpm

Transmission: CVT

Ratios: 4.006-0.550

Suspension (f/r): McPherson strut, stabiliser/torsion beam, stabilizer

Steering: powered rack-and-pinion

Turning circle: 11 metres

Brakes (f/r): vented disc/drum with ABS, EBD and BA

Length: 4,135mm

Width: 1,765mm

Height: 1,580mm

Wheelbase: 2,520mm

Track (f/r): 1,525/1,525

Weight: 1,193kg

Wheels: 17-in alloys

Tyres: 215/55 R17

Fuel tank capacity: 52 litres

Price: Bt858,000

Distributor: Nissan Motor Thailand


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