2011 Nissan Juke
Though it comes across as a bit jarring at first, Juke is an appropriate name for Nissan’s new entry in the subcompact hatchback section of the automobile grandstand.
Of course, they don’t use that terminology. In Nissan’s view, the quirky-looking 2011 Juke is a sport crossover utility vehicle.Juke is defined as a move or a feint designed to deceive or fake out an opponent, as when a football running back leaves a defensive player flat-footed. Originally, it meant wicked or disorderly, as in juke-house, a house of prostitution.
We’re fairly sure Nissan prefers the former definition. Whatever, the Juke is distinctive. Styling, from the front or rear, cannot be confused with anything else. Nissan describes it as purposeful and masculine in its quest to have the Juke appeal to young males.
As ever, the reaction to styling is highly individual. If you like it, it’s good. If you don’t like it, it’s garbage. One thing about the Juke, however: To most eyes, it looks way better in three-dimension metal than it does in flat photographs. The fenders are prominent, the roofline resembles that of the Kia Soul and the passenger pod is pinched.
Most unusual is the front view, with low headlights frenched as on fifties-era custom cars and other lights housed in blisters that resemble fighter-plane canopies jutting upward from the fenders.
The deception comes in the dichotomy between what the Juke fundamentally is and what it would have you believe. Basically, it is a four-door hatchback, and not a very big one at that in terms of what it can carry, though it feels like a bigger vehicle on the road.
At 13.5 feet long, it is only six inches longer than the diminutive new Mazda2 subcompact economy hatchback. Yet the Mazda2 actually has slightly more passenger/cargo space than the Juke: 87/13 cubic feet compared to the Juke’s 85/11. If you fold the rear seatbacks, there’s 36 cubic feet for cargo.Closest to the Juke in size is the boxy Suzuki SX4 Sportback. Other possible competitors—though none with the Juke’s avant-garde styling and horsepower—include the Mini Clubman, Kia Soul, Mazda 3 hatchback, Ford Fiesta hatchback and even Nissan’s own Cube, which is less powerful but has way more interior space.
Although the Juke comes up short in the utility department, it is a substantial car. It weighs 3,221 pounds and comes standard with a four-cylinder engine that extracts 188 horsepower from 1.6 liters with direct fuel injection and a turbocharger. That alone takes it out of the anorexia category.
Nissan started with the platform of its Versa hatchback, which has tidy dimensions but is so roomy that it is classified as a mid-size car. The Juke’s crossover designation comes from its jacked-up stance, which provides the driver with a better view of the road, and available all-wheel drive.
Crossovers, by definition, are car-based substitutes for truck-based sport utility vehicles. They usually have front-wheel drive standard, as does the Juke, with all-wheel drive as an option. Though they can negotiate mild off-road terrain, they are not intended to duke it out with Jeeps and Land-Rovers.
The Juke has no such aspirations either. It is all about the sport coupe experience, even mimicking a coupe by using Nissan’s trademark of making the rear door handles disappear in a high, blacked-out section.
It also has a sporting personality, with plenty of punch from the turbo motor and a suspension system and electric power steering that combine to neatly carve corners on curving roads despite the elevated driving position.
There are eight variations, in S, SV and SL trim. The sportiest are the front-drive SV and SL models with six-speed manual gearboxes. Prices start at $19,760 for the S with a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT) and climb to $25,350 for the tested SL with all-wheel drive, CVT and navigation system. The CVT is tightly wound and can be shifted manually.
Though those prices appear a bit stiff, even the base S model comes with a load of standard equipment, including stability and traction control, antilock brakes, tire-pressure monitoring, brake assist and brake-force distribution, side air bags and side-curtain air bags, air conditioning, and an audio system with Bluetooth and iPod connectivity.The tested top-of-the-line SL also had navigation, automatic climate control, leather upholstery with heated front seats, rear-view camera, motorized sunroof, fog lights, pushbutton starting, XM satellite radio and an upgraded Rockford-Fosgate audio system.
It made for a posh package. Although the seat bottoms in front are short in the thigh, the space is not confining. In back, there’s barely enough room for two medium-grade adults. The center-rear position, despite the fact that it has a seatbelt, seems designed more for punishment than transportation.
A few other negatives: The sun visors do not slide on their support rods to block sunlight from the side, the steering wheel tilts but does not telescope and there is no overhead assist handle for the driver.