Nissan’s funky Juke… A little off center, but fun and capable

By Lary Coppola
Toyota may have started it with its odd-looking Scion XB, but if I didn’t know better, I’d swear Nissan was trying to corner the market on funk. First the boxy Cube, with its wrap-around picture window, and now the all-new 2011 Nissan Juke, which defines funk in a totally new way.

The Juke, which Nissan calls a “Sport Cross” is the smallest crossover on the market, and delivers fun and utility in an economical package.

While substantially smaller than Nissan’s compact Rogue crossover, it comes in eight model configurations: The Juke S, SV, and SL, with standard front-wheel drive and optional all-wheel drive (AWD) available on all models. The transmission choices are a manual 6-speed or continuously variable automatic (CVT).

Built on Nissan’s B-platform (same as the Versa), the Juke is aimed squarely at the urbanized, 18-34 echo-boomer male. While Nissan says it has no direct competitors, it’s expected to be cross-shopped against the Mazda 3, Mini Cooper, Toyota Matrix, Scion tC and Suzuki SX4.
Walkaround: Based on Nissan’s Qazana concept vehicle, which made the international auto show circuit last year, Nissan claims its styling cues come from active lifestyle influences such as video games, motorcycles and rally cars. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but the Juke is definitely interesting to look at. It sort of resembles a sport-utility vehicle, in that it’s definitely masculine, with a wide stance, standard 17-inch wheels, and boomerang-shaped taillights similar to those on the 370Z.

Large, bug-eye headlights sit fairly low, while the turn signals are housed in separate recessed clusters positioned higher than usual, and back at the edge of the hood. But it’s unmistakably a Nissan, boasting the signature tri-face grill and declining roofline that gives it the feel of a classic two-door coupe. The rear door handles are hidden in the blacked-out portion of the rear pillars.

The Juke is smaller than some subcompact sedans, measuring only 162.4 inches bumper to bumper — nearly two feet shorter than the Rogue, and 17 inches shorter than a Honda CR-V. It’s also six inches shorter than Nissan’s sub-compact Versa hatchback — on a shorter wheelbase.

Interior: The Juke is just as interesting inside as out. It offers command seating positions up front, with a corresponding high shift position, while the center console resembles a motorcycle gas tank, finished with high-gloss, two-tone paint.

An advanced Integrated Control system interface Nissan calls I-CON, changes color and function depending on the mode selected. In C, for climate mode, it shows interior temperature, fan speed and airflow direction. In the Drive, or D mode, it displays engine functions and driving-related info, including three different throttle, transmission and steering settings — Normal, Sport and Economy, or ECO — a feature previously found only on much more expensive vehicles.

The base version Juke S comes with manual front seats, dual front and rear drink holders, speed-sensitive door locks, a single-CD audio system with steering wheel controls and auxiliary and USB ports, and Bluetooth phone connection.

Among the many upgrades available on the SV and SL to personalize the Juke, are leather seating, heated front seats, satellite radio, premium Rockford Fosgate audio, a back-up camera, Intelligent Key push-button ignition, power moonroof, privacy glass and a navigation system with real-time traffic information.

The Juke feels much like the Versa hatchback — only different. It has a 60/40 split folding rear seat that folds down into a flat load floor boasting 35.9 cubic feet of cargo space. The switch from full passenger capacity to maximum cargo space is quick and easy.

All Juke’s are equipped with a full complement of safety-protection features including seatbelts for five, dual-threshold front-impact airbags, seat-mounted driver and front passenger side-impact airbags, roof-mounted curtain airbags for head protection and front-seat active head restraints.

Under The Hood: The Juke is powered by an all-new, 1.6-liter turbocharged aluminum four-banger with direct fuel injection. It puts a healthy 188 ponies to the pavement with 177 lb-ft. of torque. Those are pretty impressive numbers for an engine this size.

The Juke’s optional advanced torque-vectoring AWD system offers features previously reserved for more upscale vehicles. The system varies the delivery of engine power between the front and rear wheels according to traction and driving demands, but can also move power back and forth between the rear wheels, helping move the Juke more effectively through a curve. The Juke’s AWD system is only offered with the CVT.

Behind The Wheel: The Juke is blast to drive. Our lengthy test drive took us from the densely urban environment of downtown Vancouver BC — one of the densest cities on the planet — to the wilds of northern Vancouver island, with lots of winding two-land blacktops to challenge the Juke’s capabilities. It took them all in stride, with plenty of power and surprising acceleration, as well as braking capability. The AWD system’s capability to move the balance of power between the rear wheels made those challenging twisties all the more fun.

The Juke is quieter than most cars this size, and even after a long day of seat time, wasn’t as exhausting as many cars in the segment can be.

Whines: Rear visibility could stand some mil
d improvement.

Bottom Line: You either like the looks of the Juke or you don’t, but it’s been a hit in both Europe and Japan with its target demographic. It’s versatile, comfortable, extremely capable, powerful for this segment, and loaded with technology. With the ability to personalize it to the point of semi-serious luxury, and pricing ranging from $18,960 to $24,550 – topping out at $29,425 with every available option — including a $950, 17” gunmetal steering wheel and $280 illuminated kick plates — there’s no reason it won’t be a hit here as well.