Nissan calls the Juke a Sport Cross, which ties in with its claim that it's a crossover between a sports car and an SUV. In that respect it's like the Suzuki SX4 that's been around for two years with the so-called sportcross field to itself, and the new Mitsubishi Outlander Sport with its launch just two months behind the Juke.
Small crossovers are the fourth largest and fastest growing segment, so watch for more vehicles like this, many with all-wheel drive like these three.
The Nissan Juke is built on Nissan's global B platform, that's been around long enough to be well proven. Its 1.6-liter turbocharged intercooled direct-injection engine is being seen for the first time in the U.S., but it too has been used by Nissan in Europe and Japan for some time now.
The name Juke is meant to suggest flitting around town, or as a boxer might juke around the ring, and the vehicle does just that. It's got a short 96-inch wheelbase, and a stance and style that looks rather jukey. Its styling is aggressively quirky, as Nissan likes to take chances. It's 7 inches shorter and 3 inches wider than a Nissan Versa hatchback, so you might get the picture.
It's a 5-seater, but naturally this size doesn't leave much legroom in the rear. The standard rear seat is a fold-flat 60/40, however, so there is good cargo space behind the front seat.
The seats are comfortable and the fabric sporty in the Juke SV, while the leather in the Juke SL is lovely. The center console design is inspired by a motorcycle gas tank, and its hard plastic is painted a glossy color, deep metallic red in our test model SL. It's distinctive, and cool.
The 188 horsepower with 177 pound-feet of torque provides brisk acceleration. The CVT transmission with its manual shifting is quick and sharp, however we found the 6-speed manual transmission detracts from some good qualities in the car, including the quietness and steering. The fuel mileage with all-wheel drive is an EPA-estimated 25 City and 30 Highway, and we're surprised that it's not more, given the modern 1.6-liter direct-injection engine.
The all-wheel-drive system divides the torque 50-50, with the capability to move all the torque between left and right wheels, to meet traction demands.
The suspension is fairly standard, MacPherson struts in front and multi-link rear, and combined with the short wheelbase and relatively big 17-inch wheels and tires, the ride catches every undulation. It's not sharp or harsh, but when you're driving the Juke over bumps you're fully aware you're in a tight little car.
The Juke is certainly eye-catching. Nissan isn't afraid to go out there with quirky styling, not even after the failure of the asymmetrical Cube, too quirky for its own good.
The Juke has features that shout originality. Hyper-aggressive edged fender flares outline big arches and suggest room for monster tires, making even the large 17-inch wheels look small. The 12-spoke wheels (six twin-spokes) on our fully equipped Juke SL CVT AWD test model were fancy (not a bad thing) for a little car, but still lost in the cavern. The conspicuously high ground clearance adds to that effect. It's 3 inches wider than a Nissan Versa five-door, and it shows.
The hood and nose of the Juke are loaded with things that shout for attention, namely the big round headlights inspired by rally lights, and amber running lights with turn signals that seem slapped onto the tops of the fenders like barnacles. Nissan says integrated but we'd argue that definition. Add foglamps in the air dam and the nose is full of circles. Our co-driving automotive journalist at the launch said the Juke looked angry, and furthermore was butt ugly, but we think she might have been a bit harsh. Many people will find it cute. On the ferry from Vancouver, B.C. over to the peninsula, our Jukes drew crowds of admirers, led by women. The Juke might turn out to be a chick car, if not a rock star.
The Juke looks great in metallic charcoal brown, with gold specs in the paint catching the sun; we like that color best by far. There's also a nice metallic blue, but after that there are too many shades of gray: four of the eight colors, in fact.
From the side, especially the window outlines, the Juke appears to have borrowed from the Kia Soul with its reverse wedge. From some angles you can also see Infiniti G. With invisible rear door handles, which we like, you can be fooled into thinking it's a two-door. There's a raked windshield, high beltline and broad shoulders.
The roof slopes down and the hips climb up, or at least they lend that illusion, thanks again to the arches and flares. There's a family resemblance to the Infiniti FX. There's a radio antenna in the middle of the roof that would be cool if it were a shark fin like on the Honda CR-Z. At the rear gate, the taillights borrow the boomerang shape from the Nissan 370Z.
So you've got bits of Soul, G, FX and 370Z. Still, the Juke comes across as original.
The seats are comfortable in the standard quality fabric, or 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 seating position is high, and that affords good forward visibility. There's also a good view in the mirror through the rear glass; it looks like it should be pinched, but there's no problem.
Overall, the Juke offers more comfort and room inside than the compact outside suggests. There's tons of cargo space, 35.9 cubic feet, when the 60/40 rear seat is folded flat, which it does with one touch. However, not surprisingly, there isn't much legroom in the rear seat, only 32.1 inches. The Juke is a 5-seater, but three people in the back seat will be squeezed in every direction but up, and maybe that too.
Nissan says the center console was inspired by a motorcycle gas tank. Hmm. Fair enough. It's awfully pretty, and a great idea to add shape and contour to a car's interior. It's not just a long box with levers and crannies on it, which might describe the current state of center consoles. It's a long shapely tube, hard plastic with glossy paint, for example a rich and deep candy apple red that looks terrific. It begins at the bottom of the wide center stack, where the shift lever rises out the top, 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 gauges behind the steering wheel are good: black faces, white lettering, red needles, brushed aluminum-like rings around the speedo and tach. Digital information is displayed in a little window between them, but there's a problem: in order to scroll for info, you have to reach a button that's nearby, meaning either stick your right arm between the steering wheel spokes or wrap it around the wheel, while you're driving. The Juke isn't the only car with this poor design. We wonder how it gets by.
The center stack is nice and big and wide, more like a square with rounded corners. Our Juke SL included the navigation package with the 5-inch screen that's at the top of the stack. All the buttons, knobs and dials allowed easy function. There's a small screen near the bottom that displays some graphics relating to your driving mode: it indicates turbo boost in Sport mode, torque in Normal mode, and we're not sure what in Eco mode. After we watched it and thought about it for a while, we realized it's useless. Basically all it tells you is how far your foot is down on the gas pedal. 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 gave you ample notice before a turn. However it wasn't challenged much because our route on the launch kept us on one highway. Also 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.
So you've got those three modes, Sport, Normal and Eco. There's a distinct performance difference between them, and not just horsepower. For example, Sport mode tightens the transmission shifting and steering, as well; in Eco mode, shifts are slower and sharp cornering doesn't exist.
The 1.6-liter turbocharged engine isn't new, but this is its first use in the U.S. The power is good in Sport, and the acceleration sprightly up to 6400 rpm where the rev limiter gently chokes the engine. Don't expect much freeway performance in Eco mode, although you could hum along at 60 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, in August, but we like the way the all-wheel-drive works. Nissan calls it torque vectoring. It's a 50-50 split from front to rear, but the torque can shift fully to the left or right wheels, as needed.
Nissan claims that the full 177 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 a nice 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.
We were impressed by the responsiveness of the CVT, in its manual mode with six ranges like speeds. That means a lot to a car like this.
As with any car having a 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. It hugs every bit of the road. The big 17-inch tires, on 215/55 tires, likely have something to do with that.
We also got seat time in a Juke with the 6-speed manual transmission, and we say: forget it. For one thing, there's torque steer that doesn't exist with the CVT model. For another, the NVH is significantly higher. For a third, it just makes the whole car feel bigger, with the loss of its sharpness.
Finally, the fuel mileage. The AWD CVT 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. We think a 2011 compact car with a 1.6-liter direct-injection engine ought to do better than that. Juke AWD has an 11.8-gallon fuel tank, smaller due to packaging than the front-drive model's 13.2-gallon tank, thus the all-wheel-drive version has a shorter range.
The all-new Nissan Juke is an all-wheel-drive (or fwd) compact crossover with distinctive fun styling, sharp sporty performance, and good cargo space. A well-equipped model will cost nearly $25,000 and get 25-30 miles per gallon.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Juke near Vancouver, British Columbia.