Nissan Takes a Risk on Radically-Styled New Juke
By Andy Bannister
The wraps have come off Nissan’s new European-designed small crossover, the oddly-named Juke, and it’s certainly not hiding its light under a bushel.
Due to be launched at next month’s Geneva Motor Show, the Juke represents the bold new spirit of Nissan, a company whose European reinvention seems to have paid off in terms of bucking the continent-wide sales downturn.
The Juke is one of those love-it-or-hate-it designs which is bound to divide opinion. The massive front end is particularly unusual, with six lights of various shapes and sizes widely spaced out, and an expansive version of the corporate front grille. Head-on it looks rather bug-eyed.
The side view is dominated by wildly exaggerated, almost cartoonish curves above the wheelarches, and details including concealed rear door handles.
The bland interiors of past Nissans have also been consigned to the rubbish dump, with the passenger compartment dominated by a centre console painted to match the outside colour scheme.
Young buyers are clearly in the company’s sights, and the styling has come from Nissan’s design centre in Paddington, London, which supposedly has its fingers on the latest urban trends.
The Juke name is an interesting choice. It is presumably inspired by a juke box, although British pronunciation means it will easily get confused with Duke, a peer of the realm. It’s only one consonant away from Joke, of course. And not that far from Junk.
The company is aiming the repeat the unprecedented European success Nissan has had with its larger crossover, the Qashqai (the European version of the North American market Rogue).
The Qashqai was a big gamble at the time, replacing the dull-as-ditchwater old Almera (an inferior Focus/Golf rival) with an entirely different type of car.
If the new model alienated some traditional pipe-and-slippers customers it certainly didn’t hurt Nissan, as a huge group of new buyers made a bee-line for the company’s showrooms.
The Qashqai, just facelifted, is now Nissan’s bestseller in many European countries, and has left rivals including Ford, with the Kuga, struggling to play catch-up.
Like the Qashqai, the Juke is being produced at Nissan’s plant in Sunderland, England, which proudly boasts that it is Europe’s most efficient car plant.
While the Qashqai has played it fairly safe in looks department, Nissan clearly feels a bolder approach is needed for its little brother.
It’s no exaggeration to say the Juke is the company’s most distinctively-styled smaller model since those unintentionally bizarre early Datsuns of the 1970s, like the Sunny and Violet, which the company would no doubt rather forget.
The Juke replaces the small Micra hatchback on the British production lines. The next generation of the Micra is moving to lower-cost India, so the UK workers will be particularly pleased to have secured this potentially more profitable replacement. A Japanese plant will also build a version of the Juke for non-European markets.
The Juke boasts a versatile interior with a sizeable luggage capacity, and in Europe will feature a 109hp 1500cc diesel and two 1600cc petrol engines including a 187hp turbo. Most versions will be front-wheel-drive, but a 4X4 option is available, although this car seems likely to be more at home in the city than pottering along country lanes.
Underneath, the Juke cleverly utilises a wider version of the platform shared with partner Renault, used on the Micra and Clio small hatchbacks. The compact overall dimensions this dictates will be another advantage in tight city spaces.
As with any company whose new model pushes the usual design envelope, Nissan is treading a thin line. It will be hoping the Juke is seen an edgy and different new car which urban customers will love, but there’s always the risk of deploying a styling quirk too far. The infamous Pontiac Aztek serves as a warning that these things don’t always go to plan.
Seeing it in the flesh will be the real test, but so far things look promising. Deliveries will start in Europe in October, and Nissan will be hoping to steal sales from cars as diverse as the new Mini Countryman, and Vauxhall/Opel’s clever new Meriva.
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