When the Nissan Juke was unveiled in the spring of 2010, it wasn’t entirely clear who might want to own a small car with a 4×4 stance and peculiar coupé styling. Experience has since shown that large numbers of people do indeed want a supermini on stilts with a sledgehammer approach to subtlety. The strong-selling, British-built Juke has become such a common sight on UK roads that its weird, four-eyed face now seems almost normal.
American brand Chevrolet will be hoping to enjoy similar sales success with its Trax, a chunky new supermini-sized off-roader that’s freshly arrived on UK roads. So how exactly will it fare when pitched against the class leader?
The word “crossover” was coined to describe cars that mix elements of off-road style with other automotive genres, and there could hardly be a clearer illustration of the term than the Juke.
Somehow, Nissan managed to take all the madcap claptrap usually reserved for one-off, motor-show concept cars and waved it all straight through to the showroom. So pieces of the interior resemble a scuba-diver’s flipper or a motorcycle petrol tank, there’s a bottle-rack under the front bumper, hidden rear door-handles, huge arches, a rakish roofline and a seemingly random selection of headlamps.
The Trax, by contrast, seems almost boringly square and conventional. But there is strength and character in its bluff, boxy design. And even a bit of subtlety.
The front may resemble a flat cliff face adorned with lamps, grilles and a gold bow-tie, but the sides feature some bulging organic surfaces designed to catch the light in a pleasingly fashion. For a smallish car it genuinely possesses big-car presence.
Inside, there’s a motorcycle-inspired digital dashboard – something of a Chevrolet hallmark – in an otherwise unremarkable setting. The hard grey plastics fall behind the Nissan’s softer surfaces both to the eye and the fingertip, though there are probably more places to store your stuff in the Chevy.
Winner: Nissan Juke
Performance & Handling
Chevrolet’s Trax is available with three engines: a 1.6-litre petrol engine producing 113bhp, a 1.7-litre diesel with 128 horses up its sleeve, and a 138bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol option. The lower-powered petrol engine may well be constructed from copper and brass, for all we know, given its geriatric combination of thirst and lack of power. The turbo petrol is much more in tune with the times, producing enough poke to whip the Trax to 62mph in 9.5 seconds.
The 1.7 VCDi diesel engine looks good on paper, with respectable tallies for power and torque and a 9.6-second 0-62mph score, but it proves as refined as a bulldozer on the road. If you value serenity, this is not the engine of choice.
The 1.5 dCi diesel offered with the Juke is a much smoother and sweeter companion, though it’s not as beefy nor as quick as the diesel Trax. The Nissan line-up includes its own underwhelming 93bhp entry-level petrol, and at the other extreme there’s the Juke Nismo, which boasts 197bhp and the potential to reach 62mph in 7.8 seconds.
Whatever kind of engine you choose, the Nissan will probably feel faster than the equivalent Trax on anything but an arrow-straight road, due to superior road manners. The Chevrolet is inclined to wobble, judder and fidget whereas the Juke manages to feel surefooted and poised even over quite appalling surfaces. The Juke has better steering too, sealing the deal.
Economy & environment
Nissan would appear to have economy sewn up, with its recently revamped 1.5 dCi diesel boasting a combined-cycle score of 67.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 109g/km. The best the Trax can field is the 1.7 VCDi option with 62.7mpg and 120g/km.
The decision is not so clear cut, however. The most frugal Trax is 18% more powerful than the most miserly Juke, six-tenths of a second quicker to 62mph and emits only 10% more CO2. That margin is within the bounds of variation due to driving style. Away from sterile consumption tests, on real roads and with more in reserve, the diesel Trax might easily turn the tables.
The Trax is also noticeably bigger than the Juke, providing superior space for occupants and 100 litres extra for luggage, meaning it starts with a disadvantage over the more waifish Nissan. Chevrolet also provides a fuel-saving stop-start feature with every manual-transmission Trax, while stop-start is an extra-cost option only on selected Juke models.
Equipment & value
Despite their butch looks, both the Juke and Trax will mostly be sold in front-wheel drive format. However, both ranges include a couple of 4×4 options at their upper ends. The four-paw Juke is only available with a CVT automatic gearbox and the more powerful petrol engines, while the 4×4 Trax is manual-transmission only but can be chosen with either a petrol or diesel motor. The Trax provides an electronic hill-descent feature, whereas the Juke gets a performance 4WD mode for improved handling on slippery roads, illustrating how the pair deploy extra drive with different priorities.
The Juke line-up includes three core grades, called Visia, Acenta and Tekna, plus the sporty Nismo edition and an N-tec variant that comes with navigation and online access. The basement-level Visia spec allows entry to Juke ownership from £12,995.
The Trax range starts at £15,495 but is offered in only two grades, called LS and LT, roughly equivalent to Acenta and Tekna in terms of kit.
A true like-for-like comparison isn’t straightforward, but a budget of £19,000 will buy a 1.4-litre turbo petrol Trax in LT trim, boasting stop-start, auto lights, tyre pressure monitor, cruise control and speed limiter, aircon, Bluetooth, USB and aux-in connectors, 18-inch alloys and electronic stability control. Metallic paint at £475 will bring the tally up to £18,730.
A modestly improved outlay of £18,995 will put metallic paint on a 1.6-litre turbo petrol Juke in Tekna trim – a more powerful and quicker car with a roughly comparable list of equipment, plus heated leather seats.
Chevrolet’s Trax is the more spacious and practical of these two cars and if it were substantially cheaper, it might have narrowly won this head-to-head. However, the price list isn’t nearly keen enough to make it the winner.
Nissan’s Juke takes the top spot with a resounding victory. Look beyond the love-it-or-loathe-it styling and it’s easy to see why Nissan’s Juke has become a success, clocking up 330,000 sales in its first two years. It offers a finely judged combination of comfort and capability, strong value for money, and could never be accused of being boring.
Winner: Nissan Juke