Did Nissan Go Overboard With Risky Juke?

With many SUV consumers downsizing to economic hatchbacks and crossovers, Nissan has attempted to make a new segment that lies somewhere between. The Nissan Juke, proclaimed by the Japanese automaker as a “Sport Cross”, was designed with risks and rewards in mind. Did they go overboard with the risks, or will the rewards justify the design, development, and large advertising campaign they’ve dedicated to the October launch?

Let’s take a look.

Crocodiles and Sport Bikes

According to Dean Bowman, the “Nissan Insider,” designers turned to an animal not normally associated with a vehicle’s appearance. It’s not the first Nissan to use risky styling or segment busting features, Nissan Dealer Boston says.

“To add a little bit of attitude,” Bowman said, “the hood mounted lights are designed to resemble a crocodile that is staring at you, lurking just below the surface.”

The interior has sport bucket seats in the front and a standard 60/40 split rear, but Nissan went with the look and feel of a sport bike for its center console and gauges.

“Quirky” is what one review by the LA Times called the design elements, saying that the Juke was “for individualists who don’t want to sacrifice fun just because they’re pinching pennies.”

188 Horses

At first glance, the engine seems similar to other compact vehicles in its segment. Nissan turbocharged their new 1.6-liter DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine with Direct Injection Gasoline (DIG™) technology that produces 188 HP and 177 lb-ft of torque. The Juke’s performance adds a dose of fun to what would typically be just an economy car, Connecticut Car Dealer says.

Torque vectoring All-Wheel Drive rounds out the major performance features, potentially giving Juke an edge over the competition with better performance in slippery conditions.

Price vs. Risk

Consumers will make their judgments known quickly. We’re going into “buying season” with families settling into the school year and young adults heading into the holidays. The aggressive television advertising is clearly geared towards young, frugal consumers wanting performance and styling around $20,000.

With the base model S starting at $18,960, the SV starting at $20,260, and the SL starting at $22,550, the Nissan Juke is properly positioned to attack the proper demographic. The biggest challenge it faces is in identity. Is it a small SUV? A large hatchback? A crossover? Motor Trend calls it a contender for Sport/Utility of the Year, but most reviews are comparing it to hatchbacks.

USA Today called it “mutt-ugly” in a review that mostly sang its praises. That seems to be consistent – traditional publications aren’t sure what to think about this feature or that design, but most seemed to like the overall experience. Several vehicles in the past decade have shown that looking different isn’t always a bad thing, Scion Maryland says.

As with most vehicle launches, it will likely come down to advertising and the dealerships’ abilities to properly sell it. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it-with-no-gray-area kind of vehicle.

“We’re going to show it to everyone,” said Tom Martin from Seattle Nissan. “It’s the kind of vehicle that has a chance to appeal to anyone. Unlike most cars, you can’t pre-judge whether any individual will instantly fall in love with it.”

The first round of launch advertisements are out. “Donut” is currently all over network television. The exit tagline – “Innovation for success. Innovation for all.” –  is aggressive and pushes for mass appeal, while the video itself is focused on “young, bold, moving up in the world.”

Will it work? We’ll know in a few weeks.