2012 Nissan Juke Expert Review:Autoblog
Funky Hatch Is The Perfect Nissan Middle Child
We wouldn't blame you for thinking we're one stud short of a lug pattern on this one, but point your peepers to a few specs and you'll see what we mean. The Juke weighs in at less than 3,000 pounds in front-wheel-drive guise and packs a turbocharged, direct-injection 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that's good for 188 horsepower. For reference, the company's own Sentra SE-R hits the scales with an extra 88 pounds on its waist and 11 fewer ponies at its command. Opt for the manual gearbox in the Juke, and things get even lighter. Intrigued? We were too.
Photos copyright ©2011 Zach Bowman / AOL
Perhaps the biggest compliment that we can pay the design of the 2011 Juke is to say there's nothing to compare it to in the automotive food chain. Sure, there are borrowed elements from the 370Z in the taillamps and there's more than a little Kia Soul in the roof line, but by and large, the Juke is its own machine. That's no small praise considering manufacturers have been cranking out vehicle designs for well over 100 years.
Up front, the Juke serves up something of a puzzle with its lighting array. Those stylized lenses up top don't tackle main illumination duty like you'd think. Instead, they prefer to take care of both marker and turning-indicator work, leaving headlight detail to the pie plate-sized lenses set low in the front fascia. If that's not confusing enough for you, higher trim levels also get fog lights placed even closer to the ground.
From the side, the Juke boasts seriously bulging fenders front and rear as well as a short wheelbase of just 99.6 inches. In fact, from stem to stern, the crossover measures a mere 162.4 inches, or shorter than even the admittedly small Versa hatchback. Fortunately, the Juke comes from the factory wearing stylish 17-inch alloy wheels even in base configuration. Those sizeable rollers give the Juke a little extra attitude and serve to help avoid the pitfall of looking like an econobox... er, trapezoid. Throw in a set of rear door handles hidden in the C-pillar and the Juke comes off as a three-door hatchback from a distance.
The rear of the Juke shows more of a traditional CUV or crossover look with a rounded hatch, sculpted taillamps and a small roof spoiler. Despite its abbreviated package, it uses a fairly tall rear deck for loading groceries and the like, and we expect the painted bumper cover to suffer more than a little abuse at the hands of careless owners.
Jump indoors and the Juke delivers an interior with a greater attention to detail than we're typically accustomed to from Nissan. The driver is treated to a sport steering wheel with contours in all the right places and quality texturing that feels a galaxy or two ahead of the tiller in the Rogue. Large, easy to use buttons make short work of cruise control, audio settings and handling calls from the Bluetooth system. Door panels are decorated with painted plastic bits color-matched to the unique "motorcycle tank" center console, and large, rounded chrome handles add a little bit of brightwork to an otherwise dark cockpit. Our tester came in S trim, which means that it sacrifices the trick I-CON center stack of the SV model for more pedestrian dials and buttons. Base guise does net buyers an iPod interface, though navigating the menu structure via the controls on the dash and steering wheel is nothing short of confounding.
Otherwise, the Juke serves up a surprising amount of room given its tiny stature. There's enough space to comfortably ferry four adults around town without having to accordion anyone's knees, and there's a deceptively large area behind the rear seats for stacking up luggage or groceries. We have it on good authority that several propane tanks and multiple bags of groceries can fit back there at the same time, though a lack of tie downs or hooks makes for plenty of racket once the going gets twisty.
The eggs never made it home.
One of the best things about the trim structure with the Juke is that no matter what configuration you choose, you're guaranteed to find one very capable four-cylinder engine under hood. Our bare-bones tester made use of the same direct-injection, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder as the rest of the lineup. That means we had the good fortune of getting to play with a full 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. While we were itching to get a full week's worth of time with the six-speed manual transmission, our tester came lugging the Nissan CVT gearbox in front-wheel-drive configuration.
But that's not as bad as you'd think. Nissan has cleverly graced the Juke with the same "shiftable" CVT programming as found in the likes of the Maxima. Nudge the gear lever up and the transmission will happily provide you with a quick jump in ratios that's good for darting along your favorite mountain road. Speaking of darting, front-wheel drive will net drivers a torsion-beam suspension out back, though like many inexpensive small cars these days, the rear bar doesn't seem to hold the Juke back when it comes time to tango.
Keep the tach pointed above 2,000 rpm and the Juke will gladly dispatch any amount of tarmac with little argument. The hatchback kicks out very little understeer if you manage to keep out of the throttle. Really mash the skinny pedal, though, and the sizable pack of horses will do their best to torque-steer you away from your intended path of flight. The result is a small car that begs you to keep hammering, despite its tall ride height. The brakes are properly firm and though the electric power steering is a characteristically light, it's not enough to dampen the giggle factor.
It's worth noting that our particular tester was a pre-production unit with plenty of hard-won miles on the clock at the hands of sinister auto journos. That said, we did notice a fairly rough idle, especially when the engine wasn't up to operating temperature. At highway speeds, the cabin suffers from road and engine noise, though not enough to worry us. This is a vehicle with an MSRP lighter than its curb weight, after all.
The EPA says you should be able to net 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway from a CVT-equipped, front-driver like our tester, though after a full week of darting around the countryside, we saw a measly 22 mpg combined. Just remember, kids: Small turbo engines drink fuel just like their larger, normally aspirated counterparts when you have your foot burried in the carpet. In this case, Nissan's little alien sucks down premium juice, so it would pay to go a little lighter on the fun pedal should you decide to park a 2011 Juke in your driveway.
And how much will Nissan ask for the pleasure of Juke ownership? Prices start with the S Trim at $18,960, and buyers can expect power doors, locks, iPod connectivity, a six-speaker sound system and Bluetooth hands-free calling for that stack of cash. That sticker price snugs the Juke smack dab between the Nissan Rogue at $20,810 and the Nissan Sentra at $15,520. With decent (if a bit theoretical) fuel economy and a fun factor that's well above either of those options, the Juke represents the perfect middle child in Nissan's lineup. While it may not be as functional as the Rogue, we'll take that sacrifice for the bump in power and the handling hijinks.
The Juke is as close to a modern hot hatch from Nissan as we're likely to get anytime soon, and were it ours, we'd immediately begin looking into ways to get the vehicle a little closer to the ground. If ever there were a car that begged for the aftermarket to right its wrongs, the Juke is it. The styling may not be for everyone, but after a week with the five-door, we grew warm to its funky face. Hey, if people can welcome pug dogs into their homes, they should have no problem opening up the garage door for the 2011 Juke.
Photos copyright ©2011 Zach Bowman / AOL
Remember the Nissan NX of the mid-'90s? The tiny, econobox-based sportster was as cute as a bug and spent its brief lifespan mixing it up with other long-gone, sporty front-wheel drive affordables like the Mazda MX-3, Honda Civic CRX, Toyota Paseo and even the Hyundai Scoupe. While there were a lot of inexpensive, racy looking coupes back then, most automakers just don't see any money in that segment anymore. Instead, when they look to spin something off of their entry-level B-class chassis, most veer toward the white-hot crossover segment.
Consider the latest example, Nissan's 2011 Juke. Come to think of it, this in-your-face city slicker has some startling similarities to the NX. For one, at 162.8 inches long, it's deceptively small – just 0.4 inches longer than the '90s coupe. Further, both the Juke and the NX1600 rely on 1.6-liter four-cylinder power. And like the Sentra-based NX, the more emotional Juke is based on the same humble underpinnings that give structure to Nissan's workaday offerings, in this case, the Versa and Cube. And while the Juke may not be cute as a bug, there's something downright insectian about its Predator-like mug.
Despite not being a traditional sporty car, Nissan has been talking up its controversially styled mini-ute with many of the same descriptors, so we hopped a plane to Vancouver to see if the Juke could bob and weave its way into our hearts. Follow the jump to find out how it fared.
Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Paukert / AOL
We would love to just dive into a discussion of the Juke's performance – especially considering it offers such goodies as a new turbocharged, direct-injected powerplant and torque-vectoring all-wheel drive. Thing is, we can't. Like you, we're still puzzling over its appearance. So before we go any further, yes, the Juke's face is sure to be its biggest bone of contention – but among the young buyers that Nissan is seeking, it's also just as likely to be among its chief selling points.
So what gives with the Juke's look? It's as if someone took a Mr. Potato Head automotive design kit and handed the pieces to a Red Bull-addled toddler. Some lights here, a few grille bits over there, turn signal repeaters someplace... it's design anarchy. We can't remember ever being at a press introduction where company officials actually felt the need to explain where the headlights are (they're situated in those large bumper-level nacelles – the bubble-like protuberances up top house the running lamps and turn signals). The thing is, in person, we like the Juke's appearance considerably more than we thought we would.
For one thing, there's the scale. As we've alluded to before, the Juke is much smaller than a typical B-segment CUV – it's shorter than a Suzuki SX4, yet it has far more presence than anything that might reasonably be considered a rival. Its pocket-sized dimensions serve to reduce the intimidation factor and amp up its amusement. When viewed in-the-metal, the Juke's persona is more like that of a pug dog dressed in an oversized studded collar than a slobbering pit bull wearing the same. We're not ready to call it cute or sexy – not by a long shot – but it's properly unique and offbeat.
And there are plenty of eye-catching elements elsewhere. The Juke's profile is dominated by its balloon fenders, a design choice that mandated larger-than-normal 17-inch wheels. But there are also scads of interesting details, including the rear door handles hidden in the C-pillar, the aggressively tapered greenhouse and the unusual visibility of the front running lamps, which can still be seen peeking out even when checking out the Juke's rear three-quarter view. A pair of large, high-set boomerang taillights that remind greatly of the Volvo C30 dominates the rear. Thanks in part to its raked backlight, the Juke has a bit of the Nissan bubble-butt employed on the Versa hatchback (and before that, the Megane of Nissan's French partner, Renault). One thing that's not immediately noticeable unless viewed from directly behind is the subtle tapering of the rear glass – it's almost teardrop in form.
A pair of large, high-set boomerang taillights that remind greatly of the Volvo C30 dominates the rear. Thanks in part to its raked backlight, the Juke has a bit of the Nissan bubble-butt employed on the Versa hatchback (and before that, the Megane of Nissan's French partner, Renault). One thing that's not immediately noticeable unless viewed from directly behind is the subtle tapering of the rear glass – it's almost teardrop in form.
We've already told you how we think the Juke looks much better in person than it does in photographs, but we were curious as to how the public would react when they saw it on the street. Fortunately, waiting in line for a ferry to Vancouver's Sunshine Coast presented the opportunity for an impromptu focus group, as plenty of onlookers were openly curious as to what the funny-looking Juke was getting on about. Reactions were all over the map, from "That there's the ugliest thing I have ever seen." (fifty-something man in a white cowboy hat) to "I like the way it looks – I genuinely do!" (athletic forty-something woman who wondered if a mountain bike would fit in the back). We didn't conduct a poll, but we heard more positive comments than negative, so it appears Nissan might just be on to something. We were able to get seat time in a pair of Jukes: a Cayenne Red front-wheel-drive model and the Electric Blue all-wheel drive variant seen here – both in mid-range SV trim paired with Nissan's continuously variable transmission. A six-speed manual gearbox with surprisingly short throws is available in front-wheel drive models, but we didn't get sufficient time in one to pass judgment on its merits.
We were able to get seat time in a pair of Jukes: a Cayenne Red front-wheel-drive model and the Electric Blue all-wheel drive variant seen here – both in mid-range SV trim paired with Nissan's continuously variable transmission. A six-speed manual gearbox with surprisingly short throws is available in front-wheel drive models, but we didn't get sufficient time in one to pass judgment on its merits.
The Juke is powered by Nissan's first North American application of its new 1.6-liter direct-injected turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and in this state-of-tune, it provides a healthy 188 horsepower (at 5,600 rpm) and 177 pound-feet of torque (from 2,000-5,200 rpm). That's quite a bit of scoot for a vehicle that's about the size of a Ford Fiesta hatchback. In fact, it's more powerful than the 170-hp 2.5-liter four found in Nissan's Rogue, which weighs hundreds of pounds more and is longer by over 20 inches.
While continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) are hugely efficient and deliver excellent fuel economy, we've long excoriated this type of gearbox for their fun-sapping, rubber-band-like power delivery. Simultaneously, we've come to respect Nissan's take on the genre, as its XTronic family of CVT transmissions tends to behave more like traditional torque-converter automatics (at least in later variations), with the included six driver-selectable 'speeds' furthering the illusion. As we've seen in the past with the Murano and Maxima, it's possible to deliver a sportier-than-average driving experience in a CVT-equipped vehicle, and that's exactly the case here. There's good power on tap at all times, and calling for 'shifts' via the manual gearlever detent results in swift action. Use of the CVT also enables front-wheel drive models to return 27 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway. While Nissan didn't offer any acceleration times, we suspect the Juke will hit 60 miles per hour in the low seven-second range. Sadly, there are no paddle-shifters available, which strikes us as an odd, low-cost oversight on a vehicle billed as a sporty drive.
Helping our Juke's CVT perform more like an enthusiast's friend, however, was Nissan's new Integrated Control (I-CON) system, a bit of silicon whiz-bangery that allows the driver to tune the transmission, steering effort, and throttle to one of three modes – Sport, Normal or Eco. After briefly sampling the other modes, we left it in Sport, which programs in more aggressive throttle tip-in, cuts back on the electric power steering assist and institutes faux 'shift' points by making quicker-than-normal ratio shifts, alleviating the high-rpm audio torpor that many CVTs deliver. Even though the included g-meter is rather gimmicky, the I-CON system is a surprising feature at such a modest price-point, and we dig both its availability and execution.
Whether you're running in the front-wheel drive Juke or the torque-vectoring all-wheel drive model with its upgraded multi-link rear suspension (FWD models use a torsion beam and stabilizer bar setup), you'll find that the 1.6-liter kicks out sufficient power to engender a fair bit of torque steer. It's not the sort of thing that threatens to yank arms from sockets like an old Saab turbo (or a new Mazdaspeed3), but the forced induction comes on hard and quick north of 2,000 rpm. And even though the all-wheel drive system can gerrymander the power split between the front and rear axles 50-50 as well as slosh torque side-to-side between the rear axles to curb understeer (which it does), you'll never mistake the Juke for a rear-driver. There's no axle tramp, however, and the light, accurate steering and gobs of grip from its wide Goodyear Eagle RS-A rubber means that you always feel in control, so much so that the nibbling torque steer is actually quite entertaining. There's very little body roll and the disc brakes are pleasingly firm as well, both of which help to reinforce the feeling that the Juke's dynamics skew firmly toward hot hatchdom.
We're glad Nissan has chosen to imbue the Juke's interior with the same sporty and spunky spirit as its sheetmetal, as porting over the Versa's sober interior would've been a disappointment. On the contrary, the cabin is a lively place, beginning with the bulbous painted transmission tunnel that's available in either silver or red. Said to be inspired by the gas tank on a motorcycle, we just think it's cool and appreciate that the gearshift is located high and within easy reach. Also welcoming are the easy-to-read analog gauges, small-diameter three-spoke wheel swiped from the 370Z and surprisingly supportive cloth seats (leather is standard on the range-topping SL), though the gray fabric on our tester seemed like a dirt magnet. Standard features are generous and there's even a low-priced navigation option that does the job nicely.
Going back to the aforementioned I-CON system for a moment, the drive mode functionality is only half the story – the same set of buttons and screen also supervise the HVAC controls. What's so interesting about some air-conditioning and defrost buttons? It's the display technology. By using multiple layers of Mylar filters, the labels on the switchgear changes almost as if by magic from heating and ventilation functions to the drive mode selector settings. It's seamless "well, would you look at that!" technology, and paired with a screen that's easy-to-see in all lights – even with polarized sunglasses on – it's exceedingly trick stuff that we expect to infiltrate Nissan's lineup in short order.
In fact, there's little we don't like about the Juke's interior. True, it lacks a telescoping wheel. And yes, the dashboard cap and door sills are made of unyielding plastic and the headliner is coarse enough to qualify for a grit rating, but the controls are all well-placed and visibility is surprisingly good. We particularly like how the tops of the turn signals are visible through the upright windscreen, as they allowed us to better place the corners of the Juke in an apex – not unlike an old Porsche 911. There's even a useful amount of cargo space without the seat folded (and a surprisingly generous storage bin lurks under the floor of front-drive models just above the donut spare). What there isn't a lot of, however, is rear-seat space – legroom in particular. But no matter, Nissan says the Juke is targeted at Maxim-reading frat boys and twenty-somethings, and it's not really reasonable to expect something with a titchy 99.6-inch wheelbase to be a family hauler anyhow.
When pressed for a list of competitors, Nissan officials told us that they expect cross-shops as varied as the Scion tC, Mini Cooper, and Suzuki SX4. We can see some of that, as we tend to think that many of these buyers ask: "What's fun, funky and cheap enough that I can afford it?" Starting at just $18,960, the Juke definitely fits this category, but we can also see people stepping over from box cars like the Kia Soul, along with more traditional economy cars like the Honda Fit and the company's own Versa and Sentra. Nissan says it also expects car-conscious young people who might otherwise consider modding a used BMW 3 Series or Nissan 240SX to consider a Juke, which might be a tougher sell.Then again, it might not. With engaging and cheap coupes like the NX and MX-3 long gone and modern entry-level two-doors almost completely absent from our shores (Hyundai's Veloster isn't here yet and the Honda CR-Z doesn't deliver the goods), segment-crossing mash-ups like the Juke might just be the future of affordable entertainment. Make what you will of the way this Nissan looks, because in our book, that'd be no bad thing.
Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Paukert / AOL
New Car Test Drive
Stylish and versatile.
The Nissan Juke is a small, five-seat crossover with distinctive, fun styling, sharp performance and decent cargo space. Those who appreciate unique design and don't mind standing out should love it. It's a great car for running errands around town, hauling boxes, jumping in and out, parking in tight places.
The Juke was introduced as a 2011 model, so the 2012 Juke is unchanged. The Juke is built on Nissan's global B platform, proven with familiar cars like the Versa hatchback and sedan.
The 2012 Nissan Juke is offered in three trim levels, with front- or all-wheel drive, and it's available with high-end features like a Rockford-Fosgate powered subwoofer and navigation with XM traffic reporting.
The name Juke is supposed to suggest flitting around town, as a boxer might juke around the ring, and the Nissan Juke does just that. Juke's styling is aggressively quirky. It's built on a short, 96-inch wheelbase, making it agile for juking around town.
Juke's steering is responsive, and it sticks nicely to pavement on winding roads. Yet its short wheelbase, suspension tuning and relatively large 17-inch wheels combine for a ride the calls out every undulation. It's not sharp or harsh so much as bouncy. When you're driving the Juke over bumps you're fully aware you're in a tight little car.
Juke's 1.6-liter turbocharged direct-injection engine generates a lot of power for its diminutive size, giving it peppy performance. The engine delivers 188 horsepower, 177 pound-feet of torque and brisk acceleration.
The continuously variable transmission, or CVT, is one of the best examples of this technology to date. It can be used like an automatic, shifted into Drive and forgotten, or shifted manually with six speed ranges that sharpen performance. A 6-speed manual gearbox is available for models with front-wheel drive. The manual transmission wrings out the quickest acceleration and best fuel economy, but we found it also emphasizes torque steer and the raucous quality of the engine.
All-wheel drive (AWD) gives the Juke all-season capability though it reduces fuel economy slightly. Juke AWD only comes with the CVT.
Fuel economy ratings for all Jukes are lower than those of the competition. The Juke gets an EPA-estimated 27/32 mpg City/Highway with front-wheel drive and the CVT or 25/31 mpg with the manual transmission. With all-wheel drive, Juke is rated 25/30 mpg. Premium gasoline is recommended.
The Juke seats five, though there isn't much legroom in the back seats. The rear seat is split 60/40 and folds flat. And that's the best configuration: using the Juke as a two-seater with a lot of cargo space.
We found the front seats comfortable while driving about. The fabric is sporty in the Juke SV, while the leather in the Juke SL is impressive. The center console design is inspired by a motorcycle gas tank, and its hard plastic trim is painted a glossy silver or deep metallic red. It's distinctive, and cool.
The Juke competes in one of the fastest growing chunks of the new vehicle market. Juke front-wheel-drive models go head to head with the Kia Soul, while Juke AWD squares off with the Suzuki SX4, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. The stylish Juke can also be compared with the more expensive Mini Cooper Countryman ALL4.
The 2012 Nissan Juke is available in eight variants, with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive and a 6-speed manual or CVT automatic. All Jukes are powered by a 188-horspepower, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
Juke S ($19,770) comes with the CVT, cloth upholstery, air conditioning, power windows, power locks and mirrors, cruise control, 17-inch alloy wheels and a six-speaker stereo with single CD, XM satellite radio hardware, auxiliary input jack and Bluetooth connectivity. The Juke S AWD ($21,430) adds the all-wheel drive system, which comes with the CVT in all trim levels.
Juke SV ($21,080) and SV AWD ($23,230) upgrade with a more plush fabric upholstery, power moonroof, rear privacy glass, automatic temperature control, proximity key with pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the integrated control (I-CON) system with Sport, Normal and Eco modes for programming engine, transmission and steering response. The front-drive SV comes with the 6-speed manual, though the CVT ($500) is available. The optional navigation package ($800) includes a five-inch screen, upgraded speakers with a powered subwoofer and a USB connection.
Juke SL ($23,400) and SL AWD ($25,550) include the navigation package, and include leather upholstery, heated front seats, a rearview camera and foglights. The front-drive SL comes with the manual or CVT ($500). Options include a Chrome Package ($540), Interior Illumination Package ($490) and a Sport Package ($1,310), which adds a rear spoiler, stainless steel exhaust finisher and Gunmetal wheels.
Safety equipment on all Jukes includes front-impact airbags, front passenger side-impact airbags, full cabin head protection curtains, Nissan's Vehicle Dynamic Control, or stability control, antilock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), and a tire-pressure monitor. The rearview camera is available only on the SL.
Pretty, the Nissan Juke isn't, but it certainly shouts for attention. We'd call it cute, in an ugly duckling sort of way. It's a functional, practical package in a compact vehicle that stands out in the crowd.
The Juke is a small vehicle, with about the same footprint as the subcompact Ford Fiesta. Juke is substantially shorter in length than the subcompact Nissan Versa, though the Juke is slightly wider. Juke's exterior dimensions closely match similarly conceived crossovers like the Kia Soul and Mini Cooper Countryman.
There are lots of trendy themes in this so-called sport cross. From the side, especially the window outlines, the Juke appears to have borrowed from the reverse-wedge Soul. There's a family resemblance to the Nissan Murano and Infiniti FX, and from some angles you can also see the Infiniti G sedan. The Juke's taillights borrow their boomerang shape from the Nissan 370Z sports car. The camouflaged rear door handles, which we like, might fool you into thinking Juke is a two-door. There's a raked windshield, high beltline and broad shoulders.
The Juke also has design cues that shout originality. Its nose is full of circles, namely the big round headlights inspired by rally lights, and fog lights in the air dam. Nissan calls the amber running lights and turn signals integrated, but we'd argue that definition. They're slapped onto the tops of the fenders like barnacles.
Hyper-aggressive edged fender flares outline big wheel arches and suggest room for monster tires, making the standard 17-inch wheels look small. The 12-spoke wheels are fancy (not a bad thing) for a little car, but still lost in the cavern. The conspicuously high ground clearance adds to this effect.
The Juke looks best in the metallic charcoal brown, with gold specs in the paint catching the sun. There's also a nice metallic blue, and four different shades of gray. The optional Gunmetal finish wheels emphasize the somber effect, while the optional chrome package counteracts it.
The Juke offers more comfort and space inside than its compact exterior suggests. It's stylish (and dare we say a bit unusual), but its unique design features don't come at the expense of easy operation or practical function. Its overall finish is decent.
The weak link inside is the plastics. The door panels and dash covering are hard, scratchy and hollow-sounding. They're sturdy, and probably durable, but you can do better in this price range when it comes to appearance and pleasant surface feel. The decorative trim is even harder plastic, though it's painted deep and glossy in either silver or candy-apple red depending on the color scheme, and it looks terrific.
The seating position is high, and that affords good forward visibility. There's also a good view in the mirror through the rear glass. If it looks like it should be pinched, there's no problem. It can get a bit noisy in the Juke, especially when it's powerful little engine is working hard, but the standard audio system is up to the task, masking the noise at fairly low volume without sounding tinny. The gear-shift is set fairly high, rally car style, and the seats are comfortable in either grade of fabric or the superb optional leather. The fabric looks best in dark charcoal, and the leather in a rich brown. There's good bolstering that does its best to keep the driver's body in place, but the suspension allows a lot of upper body sway, or head toss, as it used to be called in the older Jeep Cherokees.
The gauges behind the steering wheel are good: black faces, white lettering, red needles, with brushed aluminum-like rings around the speedometer and tach. A range of useful information can be displayed in a little window between them. We like this feature, until recently reserved for much more expensive vehicles, but there's a problem in the Juke. In order to scroll for info, you have to reach buttons near the display, sort of like the trip-odo reset buttons most drivers are familiar with. That means either sticking your right arm between the steering-wheel spokes or wrapping it around the wheel while you're driving. The Juke isn't the only car with this poor design, but a scroll button on one of the spokes would sure be helpful.
The center stack is nice and big and wide, more like a square with rounded corners. At the top sits the audio system, or the optional navigation package and its 5-inch screen. All the buttons, knobs and dials allow simple, low-distraction function. Below are the climate controls on base models, or the I-CON (for integrated controls) system on all other Juke models. Think of I-CON as a central command center and display, adopting different display colors and functions depending on how it's used. In climate mode, the display shows the interior temperature settings, and the buttons control air-flow preferences. In D-Mode, the buttons change the three driving modes (Econ, Normal or Sport), while the display shows engine- and drive-related information.
The small screen shows turbo boost or g forces measured by the on-board accelerometer in Sport mode, and engine torque in Normal. It took a while to figure out what was showing in Eco mode. Our best guess is that it tells you how far your foot is down on the gas pedal, and it's useless. You don't need to take your eyes off the road and refocus them on a small screen down at the bottom of the center stack to know that.
We played with the navigation a bit, and we liked the way it gives ample notice before a turn. It wasn't challenged much, to be sure, because our route kept us on one highway, and a waterway, which the navigation lady who lives in the center stack couldn't see. Stay on the road for 28 miles, she said, as the ferry pulled away from the dock and headed 28 miles across the water.
Nissan says the center console was inspired by a motorcycle gas tank. Fair enough. It's awfully pretty, and it adds shape and contour to the car's interior, as opposed to the more typical, long box with levers and crannies on it. The Juke's console is a shapely tube, painted that rich, glossy finish. It begins at the bottom of the wide center stack, where the shift lever rises out the top. From there ii flows down and back and narrows, with a long black E-brake lever on the left and two cupholders and a coin holder on the right, before ending with an open bin between the seatbacks.
The Juke is a 5-seater, and the back seat works fine for kids into their early teens. Not surprisingly, there isn't much legroom in the rear seat, only 32.1 inches. Three people back here will be squeezed in every direction but up, and maybe up. too, if any of the three are taller than six feet.
With the rear seat up, there is 10.5 cubic feet of cargo space, comparable to a fairly small trunk. When the 60/40 rear seat is folded flat, which it does with one motion, there's a lot more room for stuff: 35.9 cubic feet. That's plenty of boxes or luggage, and slightly more room than you'll get in Nissan's Versa hatchback. On the other hand, there's quite bit less space in the Juke than in the comparable Kia Soul (50.4 cubic feet), and less than what's available is some compact five-door sedans like the Ford Focus (44.4).
When it comes to storage, front-drive Jukes add a secret stash that isn't available in all-wheel-drive models. There's an extra bin under the load floor, with a couple of cubic feet of empty space that's occupied by running gear and suspension attachments on AWD Jukes.
The Nissan Juke is a fun car to drive, in a jaunty, engaging way. Its modestly-sized engine is strong, made more powerful and efficient with direct gasoline injection, and acceleration is good. Its ride is fairly compliant but a bit bouncy, and that translates to some side-to-side body movement. Yet its steering response can be sharp, and it sticks to the pavement nicely. The NISMO performance-tuned variant, expected for 2013, offers genuine promise for enthusiast drivers.
The 1.6-liter turbocharged engine isn't new, but this is its first use in the United States. It accelerates convincingly up to 6400 rpm, where the rev limiter gently chokes the engine. Nissan claims that the full 177 foot-pounds of torque is available at 2000 rpm, and we trust they have charts from an engine dynamometer that say so. But there's a lot lost in the translation to the seat of a driver's pants, for example through the transmission. All we know is that when you floor it and watch the tach climb, you feel the strongest surge at about 3500 rpm. And when you floor it in a high gear at 2000 rpm, it feels like the torque stayed back there on the dyno bench.
This discrepancy is more pronounced with the CVT automatic. The six-speed manual still delivers the best acceleration, once you have the right gear. Yet the manual has its drawbacks. For one thing, there's torque steer (a sideways tug on the steering wheel) that doesn't exist with the CVT model under hard acceleration. For another, there's more noise, vibration and harshness in the Juke when a driver is working up and down through the gears with the manual.
We're still impressed by the responsiveness of the CVT. Technically, a CVT does not shift in steps like a conventional transmission, because its power transfer ratio varies constantly, keeping an optimum level for the engine and road speed. Yet the Juke CVT has six defined ranges, like speeds, and each can be selected manually. That makes a big difference in a small, lively car.
In a vehicle with a relatively short wheelbase, the cabin is going to feel the bumps more. In the Juke, you maybe feel them a little bit more than that. They're not sharp or harsh, but they are plentiful, and that translates into something the feels like sway or movement of the body. We'd call it a bit of flop more than discomfort. And still the Juke steers nicely in most circumstances, with accuracy and quick response, and It hugs every bit of the road. Its tires have a nice, large footprint for a car its size, and that has something to do with it.
The I-CON system, standard in all but the base Juke S, gives you three modes: Sport, Normal and Eco. Each mode changes the settings for steering effort and throttle (how much power for a given dip of the pedal). There's a noticeable performance difference between modes, especially with the CVT automatic, because with it I-CON changes the transmission's behavior as well.
Sport mode makes the gas pedal more responsive to movement, changes ranges in transmission more readily and makes the steering feel sharper. In Eco mode, the gas pedal is less responsive, the transmission works to optimize fuel economy rather than acceleration, and the sharp cornering gets duller. Don't expect immediate acceleration on a freeway in Eco mode, although you could hum along at 65 mph with the cruise control set, no worries. And if you're lightfooting it around town, Eco mode is great.
We didn't have a chance to test the traction in ice and snow, but we like the way the all-wheel drive works. Experience suggests that it will be a boon in sloppy conditions. The Juke's all-wheel drive is torque vectoring, meaning that it not only shifts power between the front and rear wheels, but also between the left or right wheels, as needed. This system can actually help rotate the vehicle through a curve and keep it tracking on the path determined by the steering.
There are paybacks with the all-wheel drive, of course. The Juke AWD has a smaller fuel tank than FWD models, because the all-wheel-drive mechanicals occupy some of the space used by the standard gas tank (11.8 gallons vs. the front-drive model's 13.2-gallon tank). Thus, the all-wheel-drive models have a shorter range.
They also get lower mileage. The AWD Juke is government-rated at 25 mpg City and 30 Highway, which is about what we got; closer to 25, actually, in the real world. That's not bad for all-wheel drive, and comparable to the similarly capable Mini Cooper Countryman. The FWD Juke is rated at 27 City, 32 Highway with the CVT. That's less than Nissan's Versa hatchback (28/34 mpg), and substantially less than one of Juke's obvious competitors, the Kia Soul (29/36).
The Nissan Juke is a cross between a sporty compact and a tiny SUV. Juke is charming, unique and engaging, and it accelerates in lively fashion. Its ride quality can be a little disconcerting, depending on where you drive. If mileage is a crucial consideration, a buyer can do better for less. The Juke will play well with those who put a premium on shout-out styling and visceral excitement. Those who put a premium on refinement and smooth ride might look elsewhere.
Sam Moses reported from Vancouver, British Columbia; with J.P. Vettraino reporting from Detroit.
Nissan Juke S ($19,770), S AWD ($21,420); Juke SV ($21,080), SV AWD ($23,230); Juke SL ($23,400), SL AWD ($25,550).
Options As Tested
Sport Package ($1,310) includes rear-spoiler, Gunmetal wheels and stainless-steel exhaust finisher; carpeted floor mats ($175).
Nissan Juke SV FWD ($21,080).
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