Things aren’t always what they seem. Take the Nissan Juke. With extra ground clearance, bold headlights set low, turn signals mounted almost on the hood like bug’s eyes and fender flares large enough to house monster-truck tires, I’ve always thought the high-riding Juke looked like a cartoon car.
By TOM STRONGMAN
But my opinion took a U-turn after a few blocks behind the wheel. It was fun. The turbocharged engine jumps to attention at the slightest poke of the throttle, the six-speed manual gearbox shifts easily and the handling is tight and lively. Plus, the upright seating position makes the car easy to get into. I guess the Juke is on me.
Nissan calls the Juke an urban sport cross, which is marketing speak for a stubby sedan that sits high like an SUV yet has the drivability of a sports car. Niche markets are all the rage, and the Juke is one way Nissan could carve a little extra space for itself. The Hyundai Soul is somewhat similar although it is more like a car than a small utility vehicle.
With a 1.6-liter, 188-horsepower engine, the Juke is available in two drive configurations: front-wheel drive and all-wheel-drive. Front-wheel drive comes with a six-speed manual gearbox or Nissan’s Xtronic CVT continuously variable automatic with sport mode. All-wheel drive comes exclusively with the CVT.
On the road, the Juke buzzed along quite happily. It felt secure and solid. There was a bit of wind and road noise but it was not excessive. Fuel economy is rated at 27 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway with front-wheel drive and the CVT. The manual gearbox is rated at 25 city and 31 highway. All-wheel drive drops to 25 city and 30 highway.
I would prefer the all-wheel drive system because it makes the most of the available traction given the circumstances, be that a wet road, snow or just dry pavement. Nissan’s relatively sophisticated system splits power from front-to-back and from side-to-side, as conditions require. In turns, torque is increased to the outside rear wheel to help eliminate understeer, or the tendency for the front wheels to push straight ahead when turned.
Prices start at $18,990 for a front-wheel-drive S and top out at $25,990 for an all-wheel drive SL. I drove a front-wheel-drive SL from Nissan’s press fleet, and its sticker price was $29,195.
For those who want an even livelier Juke there’s the NISMO (NISsan MOtorsports) version with 197 horsepower, a new front fascia, revised bodywork for greater down force, redesigned sports seats, lower ride height and 18-inch wheels. It starts at $25,290. Add Nissan’s optional all-wheel-drive system and that sounds like the Juke for me.
The Juke has three drive modes: Normal, Sport and Eco. Predictably, the car’s responses are a bit sharper in Sport mode and a bit softer in Eco mode. Nice feature, though.
The cabin is not overly spacious, given the car’s size. The front seats were nicely contoured, but I can imagine the sports seats in the NISMO would be better. The back seat is large enough for two adults, but just barely.
Trunk space is on the tight side, but fortunately the split-folding rear seat means you can open up room for larger items when needed.
The base price of the test car was $24,290. Options included a center armrest, carpet floor mats and the Midnight Edition package of black wheels, black mirror caps and black rear roof spoiler. The sticker price was $29,195.
Three years or 36,000 miles with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Tom Strongman’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org