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.
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.