Fast Times takes Juke to Luzon’s surfing capital
Crossovers are a paradoxical species in the automotive kingdom.
In their quest to become all things to all drivers – combining the utility and imperiousness of a sport-utility vehicle (SUV) in a footprint that doesn’t require a mariner’s license to maneuver – they somehow lose their unique identity. As such, they’re typically scorned by car enthusiasts and motoring journalists for being dreary vehicles, often with the word “mom-mobile” included, as if something as wonderful as motherhood were some deleterious condition that threatens the “macho” delusions of motoring.
Nissan put the gender politics aside with the Juke, making it look like the spawn of an SUV and a praying mantis – and it really looks like nothing on the road, despite actually being a six-year-old design (it debuted abroad in 2010 and launched here in October last year). Its turn signals sit on top of the fenders, with its wide, black grill forming around the large projector headlights and U-shaped chrome trim. At the bottom is a double-layer, black lower bumper, containing the foglights and additional holes.
Indeed, eight of those striking faces met me as I pulled up to Nissan North EDSA for the company’s Ride and Drive event on January 21, with more of these strange creatures huddling together along the dealership’s side driveway.
After my colleagues in the motoring media and I had breakfast, Nissan Philippines, Inc. (NPI) Public Relations Manager Dax Avenido briefed us on the day’s journey: a 270-kilometer drive from the dealership to the Kahuna Hotel, Café and Restaurant in San Juan, La Union – touted as the north’s surfing capital – passing through North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) and Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX), then heading through some of MacArthur Highway’s twisting roads.
Paired with Hola! Philippines Online Editorial Assistant Paolo Chua, we headed over to our red Juke to load our things. We walk along the car’s “coke-bottle” side, with its pronounced fender flares, to the crossover’s steeply raked tailgate that is flanked by boomerang-shaped taillights.
The car’s roofline resembles the one on the GT-R supercar: almost square at the front then sloping towards the rear. As we opened the Juke’s tailgate, I immediately spot how that gorgeous styling has made the cargo area rather small. Although the opening is wide, taller items would hit the rear glass, the high sill makes loading and unloading heavy items difficult and if either Paolo or I brought any more stuff, we would have had to put the split-folding rear seats down (which do fold flat, though).
Speaking of the rear seats, the Juke’s design means anyone sitting in the back taller than 5’5” will have his or her cranium wedged against the roof. And if your head does fit, your legs likely won’t should you seat behind a taller driver. Indeed, it seems it’s not just the looks that are “un-crossover-like” with the Juke.
The front cabin is really the place to be with this car. Slipping into the driver’s seat, I notice hard black plastics abound, which is par for the class, but appreciate all the fun detailing like the podded gauges, the circular air vents and the clean center console surrounded by gloss black trim.
A neat feature of the Juke is the Integrated Control System or I-CON, which is essentially comprised of a main LCD display and smaller LCD displays in the buttons and dials. Select “Climate” and you can set how much hypothermia you want to get from Nissan’s legendary air-conditioning system. Select “D-Mode” and you can choose from the Juke’s three driving modes – Normal, Sport and Eco. Right above I-CON is a 2-DIN audio system with USB, auxiliary input and Bluetooth connectivity, which had a clear display and an easy-to-use interface.
As we waited to set off, I set the firm driver’s seat and the tilting steering wheel to my position, along with the large, electrically adjustable side mirrors. The latter are particularly helpful since the Juke has very poor rear-quarter visibility. Rear visibility is reasonable, aided by the standard rear parking camera.
‘What is it?’
Driving along EDSA toward NLEX, the first thing that struck me was how refined the Juke felt on the road. At city speeds, engine vibration and general outside noise were well suppressed, making it feel like a bigger car. But the firm suspension, combined with the 17-inch wheels and low-profile tires, meant bumps and potholes made themselves known.
Entering NLEX, we got the chance to test the Juke’s performance by getting it up to expressway speeds. Sadly, it was quite a wait since the 1.6-liter, twin-cam, 16-valve inline-4 producing 116 horsepower and 157 Newton-meters of torque was straggled by the Juke’s heft. Not helping much was the continuously variable transmission, which had to be set to Sport mode (putting the gearbox and engine in the most responsive setting) to really get moving.
Cruising at 100 kilometers per hour, the Juke’s refinement stood out once more, with the engine pulling at a low 1,600 revolutions per minute. Indeed, only the noticeable tire roar interrupted the serenity. Our convoy of red and yellow praying mantises then pulled off at Petron Lakeshore, where we filled our Juke to the brim with 95-octane unleaded. Fuel tank full and my bladder empty, Paolo and I set off on our own to our next stopover, Makkan Ilocano restaurant in the municipality of Agoo in La Union.
As we made our way north along NLEX and SCTEX, toll booth operators and even other motorists showed their delight at seeing the Juke, asking me what on Earth it was. I even had a friendly chat about the car with a couple in an adjacent vehicle as we waited in line at an NLEX toll booth. Frankly, if you’re the kind of driver who savors attention, a Juke will really get you some.
By the time we got to TPLEX, I did notice that the speed-sensitive electric power steering, although weighty and responsive, didn’t self-center very well. This means I had to make constant corrections to the steering wheel lest I gouge the Juke’s pretty body on the center barrier.
Leaving TPLEX for MacArthur Highway, the Juke’s short wheelbase and wide track meant for great handling. That firm suspension and accurate steering kept it stable around the corners, even at speed, while the strong brakes with firm pedal feel gave me confidence amid the fear of tricycles suddenly moving into my lane.
We made it to Makkan shortly after lunchtime, enjoying a variety of Ilocano delicacies like pakbet, fried dinuguan and bangus. With nothing more than a few coconut trees as a landmark, the quaint restaurant contrasts its dark interior with the light from its huge, plate-glass windows. After lunch, I gave Paolo the key fob and he drove us to Kahuna.
Sea, sand and surf
Once we arrived, I take a seat in the restaurant – which overlooks the beach – revelling in the cool seaside breeze and the crashing of the saltwater amid the buzz of people. Surfing champions Luke Landrigan and Nikki De La Paz welcomed us, informing us of the surf clinic that they will hold early the following day.
After a short nap at the neighboring San Juan Surf Resort, I strolled down the beach back to Kahuna, where Nissan had set up a stage and tables for our dinner party. By nightfall, we enjoyed our meals to the accompaniment of the hilarious Fat Session Band, with special guest Lea Patricio, delighted us with their quick wit and powerful voices.
The morning after the revelry, I set off in the early morning back to Nissan North EDSA in a yellow Juke, leaving the surfing to my more adventurous colleagues. On the drive home, two things stood out: first, the hood shook considerably in both this and the Juke I drove the previous day, and second, it managed a very good 17 kilometers per liter with the cruise control set at 100 kph and the Juke in Eco mode (which not only dulls the engine and throttle response, but also tones down the air-con from ‘Arctic gale’ to ‘early morning Baguio breeze’).
Just a bit more
To sum up, the Nissan Juke is an economical, refined and fun-to-drive crossover that looks absolutely fantastic and has good ground clearance for rough roads and most floods. And, as some people nicely observed on our home-bound stopover, it’s a great alternative to a mid-range C-segment sedan. However, much practicality has been sacrificed for its looks, while performance really needs improvement.
At P980,000, the Juke sits pricewise right in between competitors like the Ford Ecosport and the Honda HR-V. And as much as it pains me to say this, unless Nissan brings out more variants of this one-of-a-kind car, the Juke will be left behind by its rivals, who can bank on more than just looks to get sales.