(Pocket-lint) - When we first reviewed the Nissan Juke we found it fun, but weren't entirely thrilled with its every aspect. So we stepped into the revamped 2014 Juke with some trepidation.
Described as the "facelift" model, we had fears that those distinctive looks might have gone through a Hollywood-esque A-lister surgery meat mincer. But no, the Juke in 2014 plays to its strengths and has tucked, trimmed and redesigned in enough of the right areas while adding Nissan Design Studio customisation and bright colour options to heighten its cool. It's still distinctive, but this is a facelift done right.
New engine options arrive too: we've been testing the 1.2L Turbo petrol alongside the top-spec 1.6L four wheel drive (4WD) automatic petrol model (in yellow, as pictured) to get a taste of what the range can offer. Elsewhere there are 1.5L diesel options in both 6-speed and auto.
Is the Juke indeed the duke of the SUV crossover world or by simply tweaking its exterior has it failed to give enough love to its interior specification and overall drive? We've been spinning around sunny Portugal for two days to see how it stacks up.
Take one distinctive looking SUV crossover, apply a facelift redesign, plonk in a new engine and you get the Nissan Juke 2014. It's not our vision of perfection, but in its new 1.2L Turbo form and with a silkier 6-speed transmission we found it outsmarts the original model at many turns, including CO2 emissions and fuel consumption.
The new design isn't a giant overhaul, but it a massages the original form into something more refined and, thanks to Nissan Design Studio customisation options, more exciting too. We'd certainly like to see more quality materials for the interior, although the 5.9-inch main touchscreen and Nissan Connect as part of the Eclipse Pack is a welcome addition.
The Juke can be a bit of a wild beast to handle given the firm ride and casual steering, but it's a lot more fun and far less rev-hungry than the earlier model. That makes it a viable and affordable crossover purchase that, if finished in that screaming yellow paintwork in particular, will continue to turn heads. It might only sound like a series of minor changes but, all in, it amounts to a more refined experience.
Perhaps we've got used to the Juke and have come to accept its style because we rather like how the 2014 model looks. After all, Nissan has sold half a million of the blighters so it's no longer the uncommon "what is that?" sight it once was. We've almost been converted.
Somehow Nissan has managed to make the 2014 Juke look svelter than before. And not by dramatically adjusting its proportions, but more by misdirection. The rear lights, for example, make the design look far less like someone has cut-and-shut the bottom half of a station wagon and plonked a small car's upper above it. The twisted L-shape lights cut through the body lines and, despite still having a considerable and shapely rear (it's all good, if that's your kind of thing) the proportions seem altogether more sensible.
All the lights have changed, including those at the front. The top-spec Xenon ones come with daytime running LED lights to give an extra lick of personality to the Juke's overall look. It's got a sharp, semi-snarling attractive look from the front.
Approach the car from down low - we've tried photographing it while kneeling, for example - and it takes on this strange stretched-out look though. Walk past it like any normal person and the casual eye-level view looks far more successful. It's a bit of a chameleon in that respect.
As for the interior - and although the finish is an echo of the original model which means it's still all rather plasticky - there are now various customisation options as part of Nissan Design Studio. Our eyes were diverted by a customised trim, including white and yellow interior panels in respective 2WD and 4WD models. Both did look rather cool and will definitely appeal to a given audience.
Out of the various trim levels - Visia, Acenta, Acenta Premium, N-Tec, Tekna - these colourful customisation options come into play from the Premium and above. The interior panels are free to choose from too, which is a bonus. Add a lick of paint to the interior to encapsulate the gear stick and air vents, some coloured stitching to the materials, and it's all a lot more fun. It is still overtly plasticky, mind, which is the next step we think Nissan's options roster should take: proper premium materials, to make it more competitive with something like the Mini Cooper.
However, the £13,420 Visia starting price can quickly be scrubbed out, and if you add the Eclipse Pack - including satnav and drive performance modes - then that price point further increases. Add the optional 18-inch alloy wheels in addition and there's then the option for coloured sections within the alloys that aren't offered in the 17in standard ones. But we think it's worth it.
The tech available in the 2014 Juke isn't hugely different from the earlier model. The plasticky central unit could do with more consideration, but we rather like the 5.9-inch touchscreen nestled in the middle as part of the Eclipse Pack. It's responsive and easy to read.
The latest version of Nissan Connect is available, so you can wire up a connected device such as your smartphone and data can be delivered to applications such as the included satnav. There's a "send to car" option in Google that we used to locate a beach cafe, for example.
But the built-in satnav wasn't without issue: some late direction announcements caused us to miss turns and then we were sent sailing over a grey chunk of screen for a considerable period in virtual no man's land. It's entirely likely this is all down a new road layout, but even later on in the day the GPS decided we were apparently driving over the tops of houses when, obviously, we weren't. The Juke might be a little crazy, but it's not that mad.
As we mentioned earlier the lane departure tech was on board our test model as part of the Safety Shield pack too. There's also blind spot warning, moving object detection, and a rear camera to assist with reversing. It's the last of these that's really useful given the poor rear view from the car.
The Eclipse Pack also opens up the drive mode selector to toggle between "normal", "sport" and "eco" drive options just like in the original Juke. It's the sport option that opens things up a little for zooming away in the low gears, while eco and normal go a little easier on consumption for when you need a more casual ride.
If you're the driver or front passenger then the Juke feels just fine in terms of height, but the rear seats of this five door don't offer considerable space on account of the slanting roofline. Again, it's much the same as the original in this regard: big exterior, limited interior.
One frustration when on the road was how the risen bug-eye headlamp protrusions on the bonnet give the perception of a vehicle wider than you're actually driving. Fortunately in our 4x4 N-Tec we had the automated lane departure sensors so an audible "beep" would alert us when we arrived too close to crossing a line in the middle or to the side of a road.
Take a glance in the rear-view mirror or turn your head back and the small opening through the rear window is far from vast. Even the front pillars can generate temporary windscreen blind spots when churning the stomach through twisty-turning country roads.
But that doesn't stop the new 1.2L Turbo from being a hoot to drive. Having spent much of the first driving day in the giantosaurus Nissan X-Trail the Juke felt small and nippy but, most prominently, that 6-speed was so much fun to slip through the gears at pace. Given the footprint of this car there's a good amount of pull from the motor, delivering 115bhp and 140lb/ft of torque. That's a lot more grunt than even the earlier 1.6L model had thanks to the 2014's updated drivetrain.
That extra torque paired with the new 6-speed transmission stopped the high revs we experienced in the original Juke, as tested back in 2012 too. That made a huge difference to the overall ride.
The steering does feel somewhat lazy, though, as we found when travelling (probably a bit too fast) around seemingly never-ending twists and turns just south of Lisbon. That's irrelevant of model, as we found the larger engine 4WD to produce much the same experience.
The ride is also rather firm, similar to the original and its stiff suspension. When joining a motorway bridge an exposed metal girder made us feel like we were temporarily flying in the 2WD 1.2L as the front tyres lost full grip with the ground below. It's that firm.
But tucked into cushy (optional) leather seats for half a day was always comfortable. Well, it was on the smoother road surfaces anyway. Despite the firm ride enough of the small lumps and bumps were soaked up for a smooth motorway experience. All we had to do was cruise along in the quiet cabin; the engine doesn't kick out excessive noise which is a positive. If you want some growl then you'd need to opt for the racier Juke Nismo.