With a few exceptions, we love it when automakers break out of the pack and create new types of vehicles and unique designs. Very often, it works, but sometimes it can bomb — think Pontiac Aztek.
The Nissan Juke is one of those times that innovation worked. What is it? We think it’s a little bit crossover, a little more five-door hatchback with a strong element of sports car.
Juke is small and sporty looking, but it raises a flag for Barbara because she doesn’t like the two glass bubbles on the sides of the hood that house the turn signals and marker lights. It also has exaggerated wheel flares that give it a rugged masculine look. The distinctive rear end has boomerang-shaped taillights, which look like they might belong to a Volvo. Like most cars, it looks better in person than in photos, and we like it – except for the lights.
The sporty interior is totally original. The center console, inspired by a motorcycle fuel tank, is finished in the same high gloss paint as the exterior. The motorcycle theme continues with gauges that look as if they might have been plucked from a bike.
The Juke is about the same size and weight as the Kia Soul and Scion xB, but with significantly more horsepower. The Juke was the first vehicle sold in the U.S. that is powered by a Direct Injection Gasoline (DIG) turbocharged and intercooled 1.6-liter four-cylinder aluminum engine. The engine is rated at 188-hp and 177-lb.ft. of torque.
Drivetrain choices include the standard six-speed manual transmission with front-wheel drive or optional CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) with FWD or all-wheel drive. The Juke accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds giving it a second or two-second advantage over competitors, while producing better fuel economy, 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway.
FWD Jukes have MacPherson struts in the front and a torsion beam rear suspension, while the AWD models have a rear multi-link system. It handles quite well at higher speeds and when pushed through winding mountain roads. The combination of independent suspension, speed-sensing electric power-assisted steering and four-wheel disc brakes produced an agile and precise driving experience.
The AWD system has a new torque vectoring function that not only splits the torque up to 50/50 between the front and rear wheels, it also can transfer power from side-to-side on the rear axle. The system monitors vehicle speed, wheel speed, gear position, steering angle, lateral G forces and vehicle yaw rate, and then transfers the power to the outside rear wheel helping reduce understeer and improve handling.
Available in three models, S, SV and SL, Juke pricing ranges from $20,330, including destination charge, for the FWD S with CVT transmission to $25,960 for the AWD SL. Check all the option boxes to add an assortment of bling and the SL price peaks at about $29,000.
Standard equipment on SV and SL models includes power moonroof, Bluetooth, power windows and locks, iPod connectivity, XM radio, keyless entry and push button start. The SL model also has leather seating, navigation with real-time traffic and rear-view monitor.
The two upper level Jukes are equipped with Nissan’s new Integrated Control (I-CON) system. Mounted on the lower section of the center stack, I-CON controls climate functions and drive modes in a unique multifunction controller with digital display. The drive mode selector has three different settings – Normal, Sport and Eco that change the response of the throttle, transmission and steering to adapt to the driving style. We both liked the quicker response of the Sport setting, but were able to appreciate the way the Eco setting helped some drivers drive in a more economical manner.
In addition to being fun-to-drive, we liked the Nissan Juke’s potential all-weather capabilities and it’s utilitarian capabilities with features like extra storage under the cargo floor and expandable cargo space. It’s perfect for an active lifestyle with any age driver.