Nissan Juke Acenta Premium 1.6L review

3.5 out of 5
from 15,795 (Acenta Premium edition)

For

Well priced, lots of on-board tech, performs reasonably well for a crossover design, unconventional design will be a sell for some

Against

Plasticky trim for the most part, looks certainly won't appeal to all, not much space in the boot or back, not as large inside as it appears from outside, poor rear view, rev-heavy and searching for sixth

The Nissan Juke Acenta is, well, it's rather hard to describe without diving into a whole stock of synonyms for "unusual". Yes it has four wheels and vaguely resembles a five-door hatchback car-meets-SUV, but it's an unconventional design to say the least.

For some that will be the exact reason the Juke will be of interest: this is a stand-out car that doesn't fit in with the normal crowd. It's also fairly priced - from £15,795 for the 1.6L Acenta Premium petrol model we review here, less for the basic Visia model - when considering the slightly pricier competitors such as the Ford Kuga.

Looks may be subjective, but we've been eyeing up the Juke from almost every conceivable angle over the past week and it still makes us go temporarily boss-eyed from time to time. If Batman had imagined a mock-4x4 - again, the Acenta model we reviewed is front-wheel drive only, the 4x4 model comes in at around £20k - then we think Nissan wouldn't be far off the design with the Juke.

Has a week living with the Juke Acenta made us feel more superhero than standard, and how does the car feel from that all-important driver's point of view?

The Reverse Tardis

From the outside the Juke looks rather tank-like but it's like a reverse Tardis when it comes to its interior. It's because it's bottom-heavy - there's a lot of width, but most of that doesn't carry into genuine space inside because overall the length isn't dissimilar to a standard five-door hatchback.

Take the back seats for example: the Juke's slanted roof means there's not a mass of head room, which will be a problem for taller passengers. We don't think that they'd be any more comfortable housed in the back of a Juke than they would be in a five-door Fiesta really.

Things are certainly better up at the front where there's enough space to sit comfortably on both driver and front passenger side, including space for two drinks holders to the centre. Height is more abundant here too, but the seated position isn't as high as we'd expected. While it may appear SUV-esque it doesn't quite achieve that high and mighty ride position - don't confuse it with a 4x4.

From the inside this means those strange, bug-eyed toplight protrusions on the bonnet are an initial distraction when driving, although the broad field of view out of the windscreen and two huge, dog-ear-like wingmirrors do make visibility decent from the front.

Not the same can be said when looking back - the slit-like opening through the rear window isn't vast, while the tight shape to the centre-rear makes for blind spots from the over-the-shoulders view. Hardly unusual in many modern cars, but a point nonetheless.

Comfort & Trim

We've driven the Juke on long motorway hauls, down country back roads and around the big city to get plenty of variety under its wheels.

The longest route we took was a two-hour stint in one sitting which, after so much rear-planted time did begin to feel a tad uncomfy because the base of the seat feels disproportionally curved upwards to the driver's right side.

The Acenta we drove came equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels coupled with fairly stiff suspension. On those lumpy and bumpy London roads it made for some fairly stiff knocks, but nothing overly sporty. The height from the ground made bobbing over speed bumps a breeze.

The steering wheel is - just like the driver's seat - also height adjustable for repositioning, which can help not only the drive position but the height relative to the floor when getting in and out of the vehicle. That'll be important to some.

The Juke's interior design is basic to functional for a model that describes itself as "premium" - it's all plastic curves that don't feel great to the touch. Not that you'll spend all your time rubbing plastic panels of course, but it's a meaningful criticism in the case of the gearstick head which is moulded from a similarly plastic material and lacks the comfort for a long-term grip. Should you happen to drive around as unprofessionally as we do with hand rested to gearstick almost all of the time then, well, you'll promptly change your habit.

Not all trim is as such, however, including the chrome door handles on the interior which, like the rest of the car, are unconventional in their curved, half-moon-like shape.

The Tech

While the Juke's radio unit is similarly plasticky in finish to much of the interior, it does handle a fair amount of tech for the Acenta Premium's cash outlay. The basic Juke Acenta and Acenta Sport models don't include all of the below kit, so it's worth double checking the trim version in full - it runs from Visia to Acenta, Acenta Sport and Acenta Premium, then up to Tekna and beyond - should you be considering making a purchase.

There's built-in sat nav with touchscreen control that's easy to use and has clear voice instruction, including a zoom in/out knob that doubles up as a radio tuner when solely listening to the airwaves.

A single CD player is most likely all but defunct these days but is included, as is the more technologically exciting Nissan Connect. The latter makes it possible to plug in an MP3 player or smart device such as your iPhone. We had our Apple phone plugged in for the duration, where it was possible to use the steering wheel's controls to adjust volume and skip tracks with the click of the relevant button. Very smooth indeed.

Volume from the six-speaker system can go loud, and while it's not state of the art in bass delivery, there's as much wallop here as most are ever going to need without distortion.

Climate and drive modes are toggled between using their individual control buttons which in turn illuminates the central array of buttons with the associated controls. The wording is bright and clear so selecting between drive mode, air conditioning and adjusting the temperature with the twist of a dial is always easy to find and control.

Reversing also takes benefit of a reverse camera system that shows up on the central screen to assist with parking and, in many cases, keeping safe. Used in combination with the usual pigeon-like head-bobbing of looking about to avoid weaving cyclists and we found it was very useful for reverse bay parking, even if the camera is very wide-angle and therefore can make it a little tricky to assess distance accurately. A bonus feature for sure.

The Ride

The 1.6-litre petrol model we've had on the road is likely to be the most popular of options available. It might not be as powerful as the turbocharged and sporty Nismo version, but then that all comes at a considerable rise in cost.

Pound-for-pound the 115bhp engine has plenty of torque, but then it needs it: the Juke Acenta Premium, including its 17-inch alloy wheels on our review model, weighs in at over 1.2-tonnes.

That'll explain the low gearing and high revs then, as you'll hurtle through the gears fast to get this beasty moving along at pace - which it can do without too much trouble, and even if it's not going to blow your socks off, it's got enough grunt to deliver when it needs to.

The 5-speed standard gearbox is a little clunky and while it can change up smoothly enough, it can make some grumbly clicking noises too. We'd like to have seen a 6-speed option - which happens to be available in the more advanced, and pricier, Juke-R options - in order to keep this Acenta ticking along at pace down those open motorways. It'd help keep the noise down too, although we didn't find the external sound to be overbearing.

As mentioned there is also a drive mode selector which displays "normal", "sport" and "eco" drive options. It's the sport option that opens things up a little for zooming away in the low gears - there's plenty of pep in pulling away, while cornering is firm yet smooth thanks to the electronically assisted steering, irrelevant of the mode setting. We wouldn't call such steering sporty by any means however - it's light rather than fully engaging.

There are even other nifty options such as a measure of both the degree and direction of G-force, should you fancy it - though most of it will come from the responsive brakes rather than the engine's acceleration.

Verdict

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We can't argue with that, but we're also pretty sure that Jeremy Clarkson would go to town on the Juke - and we don't mean while sat behind the wheel, as if that would ever happen.

We're not totally sold on the car's unconventional looks, and it's not even just because of the way the car appears - it's because we don't think it brings as great a benefit to interior size or drive position as it could. The plasticky interior trim for the "premium" version's finish is also a bit of a push back.

It's the drive and the tech that save the Juke, in our view. While it is a wide beast to handle, there's plenty of pull from the engine, it ticks along nicely despite high revs, while the light steering is responsive. It plays out well against its similar SUV-like rivals for the price point, which is where a lot of the purchase decision is likely to lie.

The Juke is unusual, it's well priced, and it'll turn heads - whether for the right reasons or not. We've enjoyed our time with the Juke, even if it doesn't quite make us feel like the superhero we wanted to be.