By Alex Kramer
- Potent 1.6L turbocharged engine
- Slick shifting 6 spd manual transmission
- Surprisingly capable handling
- Snappy interior design
- Sub-compact size means limited practicality
- Exterior design is a bit cartoonish
Sometimes it seems like car designers are developing new models simply by taking the existing categories and just scrambling them together. Take the new Juke from Nissan. Styled like a crossover and based on the same B platform as the Versa and Cube, but armed with a potent 1.6 liter turbocharged and direct injected engine, the Juke is unlike any other car on the road today.
On paper the concept of a sub-compact sport crossover seems almost goofy, but after spending some time behind the wheel of the Juke, we can’t help but be impressed. This little micro-ute is just a ton of fun to drive.
The grins begin when you hop in and see that Nissan had the guts to throw in a 6-speed manual transmission, rather than a slow-shifting automatic. For those who can’t or won’t drive manual, there is an available CVT, but we’d seriously recommend going with the slick-shifting stick to take full advantage of the sweet little turbo motor.
Hit the gas, drop the clutch, and you’re treated to a surprisingly robust amount of acceleration. With 188 hp and 177 lb-ft torque on tap from the little turbo four, and a relatively modest 3,000 pound curb weight, the Juke has enough power to almost overwhelm its front tires. Luckily, torque vectoring all-wheel drive is also available and would surely turn the Juke into quite the little rally car.
Courtesy of the recent Western Automotive Journalists Media Days event, we even had the opportunity to throw the Juke around the track at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Although driving any crossover on a racetrack would seem to be quite foolish, especially given the extra weight and higher center of gravity, the little Juke turned out to be surprisingly capable and could even run with some of the larger, more powerful sports sedans.
The abundant torque available from the turbo means that unlike other subcompacts, you don’t have to be downshifting before every turn, and once you do get on the gas, the Juke pulls with authority. Approach a corner at speed and you’ll be surprised at the composed chassis, crisp turn-in, and healthy amount of grip available from the all-season tires.
Slicing through the turns, the Juke reminded us more of a hot hatch than any compact SUV we’ve tested. Only when entering the Andretti hairpin a bit hot on one lap did the Juke start to understeer quite severely, but even then the car remained controllable and was easy to bring back in line.
Now, we would concede that most owners in the market for a small SUV are not looking for something to take out on the track, and most serious car enthusiasts who do go to the track would take one look at the Juke and just smirk. Which raises the question, just who exactly is the Juke for? We’re still not sure and it will be interesting to see if the Juke ends up being anything more than a niche player in the small crossover segment.
On the inside, the Juke benefits from a modern looking and generally well laid-out interior, but there is no escaping the fact that this is actually a very small car, especially for one that stickers around $20k. We’d wager that the much cheaper Versa has at least as much interior room, if not more. The stylish, cute, but almost cartoonish exterior is also not for everyone and will likely appeal mostly to the young (and young at heart).
From a rational, criteria driven point of view, the Juke doesn’t make much sense, but take this spunky little crossover out for a spin and we promise you’ll end up with a smile on your face. Sometimes what makes no sense can be the most rewarding, especially if you’re looking for something fun.
- ENGINE: 1.6-liter Direct Injection Gasoline (DIG™) DOHC 16-valve turbocharged 4-cylinder engine
- HORSEPOWER: 188 hp @ 5600 rpm
- TORQUE: 177 lb-ft @ 2,000 – 5,200 rpm
- TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual transmission
- DRIVETRAIN: front-wheel drive
- FUEL CONSUMPTION: 24 City MPG/31 Highway MPG
- PRICE AS TESTED: $22,570
2011 Nissan JUKE Specs
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