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Nissan's new market niche


Through a fluke of logistics, Nissan New Zealand has found themselves in the possession of an advance assessment Juke earlier than anticipated.

than have it taking up residence in the back lot, they decided it'd be better that the likes of us have a drive. And the reason it's appearing here and now is because it genuinely surprised us. So much so we thought we should tell you about it right away, rather than wait till January when the bulk of Kiwi cars start arriving.

The Juke, we suspect, is what some might refer to as a 'grower'; a car which upon first inspection seems odd; compromised; ugly even. But after time spent in and around it, one starts to see other aspects of its nature. Clever; beguiling; fun.

The frontal styling will polarise, for sure. We reckon it's down to the oversize fog lamps that sit like cartoon rouged cheeks on the Juke's face. Assessing it from stem to stern it's a bit like a Micra wearing hiking boots: a small car with big car wheels and arches. It is in fact a pretty faithfully rendered production version of the diverting Qazana showcar Nissan debuted at the Geneva Motor Show in 2009.

The more you walk around the Juke and assess it from all angles, the more its proportions reveal themselves as well-executed. And here's a thing: the design actually works. The three-quarter rear angle, for example, is as tidy and as sporty (and okay yes; as cutesy) as you'd want. The spiky taillights and the 'hidden' rear door handles help give the Juke the demeanour of a tall coupe, as does the way the roofline falls back from a peak at the a-pillar down a gentle slope to the c-pillar. Its side profile silhouettes that of an eager pup.

Inside the cabin, Nissan has added more to distinguish the Juke from anything else on its fleet. The centre console is colour-coded and set high like a sports car. The gear knob is a CVT swizzle stick (more on the transmission in a bit), but the position of both seating and stick resembles that of a performance-orientated roadster rather than a suburban supermini. The whole unit is designed to resemble the fuel tank of a motorcycle, as is the dual-cowl instrument cluster ahead of the driver. Again: on paper it sounds a bit misguided, but in practice it works. From a tactile point-of-view, and despite the ride height, Juke feels closer to 370Z than Micra when you're sitting inside.

Oh, one other caveat: our test car featured a 1.5-litre petrol engine, whereas New Zealand spec Jukes will all boast a 1.6-litre petrol. Other than that though, the tester featured the same set-up as Kiwi buyers can expect early next year. The 86kW 1.6-litre four cylinder is new to Nissan's local line-up and provides a fizzy, free-revving feel at highway speeds. Juke also boasts an improved Xtronic CVT transmission with a wider ratio spread than other CVT units. It shows too, offering a more satisfyingly stepped feel to the 'gear' than the nerve-frazzling rung-out nature of other continuously variable trannies. In our opinion the new Juke 'box is second only to Subaru's application of the technology in their Boxer-engined cars.

Juke will also come with dual front, side and curtain airbags, Bluetooth hands-free, an intelligent remote key and push-button ignition, a choice of 16" or 17" alloys and a button-festooned steering wheel. Also on offer will be a three stage Dynamic Control System changing throttle, gear and steering response between normal, sport and eco modes. Not bad for this end of the market.

So the only real unknown at this point is price, which Nissan New Zealand won't be drawn on. Obviously it'll need to be sharp and, if so, we reckon the Juke might just hit the ground running. Yes it's a bit odd. Yes it seems like a compromised package in terms of its size. Yes it's got a weird name...

Sound familiar? You see, Nissan has been here before. When you first saw pictures of the Qashqai, did you think it would be a winner? Did you think it would carve itself a new market niche and establish itself as a volume seller? We were skeptical then, and proven wrong. But Juke is quirky, fun to drive, well-built and comes with a decent array of kit. We'd like to think we won't get fooled again.

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