Nissan Juke: Definitely different


The 2011 Nissan Juke looks like a small SUV, and riders sit up a good bit from the pavement, which is nice. (AP)

Published: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 5:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 5:59 p.m.

The name isn't the only thing that's different about Nissan's new, small Juke hatchback.

New for 2011, the five-seat Juke looks bigger than it is and has oddball front styling. Round headlights can be mistaken for fog lamps and turn signal lights are positioned so high by the hood they can be seen from the front seat.

The only engine in the relatively lightweight Juke is Nissan's first-in-the-United-States direct-injection, turbocharged four cylinder that generates an impressive 188 horsepower and uses premium gasoline.

The decidedly distinctive personality of the Juke as well as the affordable purchase price are likely attractions for buyers.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $19,760 for a base, Juke S with front-wheel drive and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that operates for the driver like an automatic.

Buyers must pay more to pair the turbo four cylinder with a six-speed manual transmission. Starting MSRP, including destination charge for a 2011 Juke with manual and front-wheel drive is $21,060.

Meantime, the lowest-priced all-wheel-drive Juke starts at $21,260 and has a CVT. All-wheel drive Jukes come only with CVT.

Don't be surprised if people label the Juke differently. It looks like a small SUV, and riders sit up a good bit from the pavement, which is nice.

But the federal government's fuel rating agency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, labels the Juke a small station wagon, and many journalists describe the Juke as a hatchback, albeit a bit taller and beefier-looking than other hatchbacks.

The test Juke was a mid-range SV trim model with all-wheel drive and topped out, with optional navigation system, at just under $24,000.

I admit I never really warmed to the Juke's front styling, and the vehicle's side profile looks a bit unbalanced, too.

Designers for the Juke were primarily in Nissan's European offices and worked with the Japan studio. Nissan, headquartered in Japan, is partnered with France's Renault auto company, and the Juke styling wouldn't have surprised me a bit if it was on a Renault.

Once I got inside the Juke, the outer appearance was no big deal as the Juke's 3,183 pounds was nicely balanced and controlled, even in aggressive driving. There was comfortable steering, too.

The torque-vectoring all-wheel drive can shift power from front to rear wheels and to a single wheel to aid in steering and control.

With all-wheel drive turned on, the test Juke swept around mountain curves with poise, and body motions were well managed. Handling was pleasant in the city, too.

The Juke's turning circle is a small-car-like 37 feet, and the tidy size of the 13.5-foot-long Juke meant I squeezed into parking spaces easily.

Metal pillars, though, at the sides of the Juke windshield and at the sides of the back window were noticeably thick and blocked my views as I made left turns and backed out of parking spaces, respectively.

I grew tired of feeling most road imperfections coming through to passengers and hearing noises from the road.

There didn't seem to be much sound insulation in the test Juke.

I heard the Juke's 1.6-liter, direct-injection, turbo engine too, and enjoyed its spunk.

Torque peaks at 177 foot-pounds starting at a low 2,000 rpm and carries to 5,200 rpm, and I felt the good, strong pull of power as I accelerated.

It was strong enough that with the Juke tester in front-wheel drive, I noticed torque steer — the unnerving tug of the steering wheel to one side or the other when the car started up forcefully from a stop.

Note that all-wheel drive Jukes come with a button that can lock the system in front-wheel drive.

Torque steer abated but didn't completely disappear during aggressive driving when I stayed in all-wheel drive, which I did most of the time.

This all-wheel drive system in the Juke can apply as much as 50 percent of the torque to rear wheels to help maintain traction, and did a good job on slick pavement during the test drive.

Mileage, however, was disappointing, at 21.6 miles per gallon in combined city/highway travel that was 65 percent city driving. The federal government rating for the all-wheel drive Juke is 25/30 mpg.

Complicating this fuel usage is the fact pricey premium gasoline is recommended in the Juke for best engine performance. So, a fillup of the Juke's 13.2-gallon tank can cost more than $40 at today's prices, and my range, given my mileage, was some 285 miles.

The back seat, with only 32.1 inches of legroom, can feel cramped for long-legged riders. But windows on the rear doors go down all the way, and rear seatbacks split and fold down to provide nearly 36 cubic feet of rear storage space.

Front and rear seats feel like hard, yet supportive, foam and there was little in the test Juke SV that conveyed luxury or plushness.

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