Nissan’s new tagline is Innovation For All. Often these slogans don’t have much substance behind them but the 2011 Juke could quite possibly validate the phrase all by itself even if the rest of their line-up consisted of 3 vanilla sedans and a pickup. It doesn’t though, Juke comes from the folks that bring us cube, Murano and 370Z.
Put those 3 in a Cuisinart, blend on high and pour into an international market and you’ve got Juke. It’s hard to tell from photos just how big this rig is. Before attending the press launch in Vancouver B.C. I figured it to be the size of a Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV, Ford Escape or Nissan’s own Rouge. Nope. It’s 3 inches shorter than a VW Golf with width about the same. It’s small undulating body is packed with personality. Most will cross shop it with an AWD Toyota Matrix, Mazda3, Suzuki SX4 or the upcoming MINI Countryman. Juke is clearly the extrovert.
The big debate
Discussion during the 2 day event never strays far from Juke’s “robiotic” design. Big round headlights encroach into the grill incorporating biological and organic shapes. Mechanical cues are found in the boomerang taillamps and motorcycle tank inspired center console. Nissan says their designers played with those themes throughout the whole vehicle and the result is quite polarizing. I like the side profile and backside but find the grill a bit much. Other writers in attendance like the face but not the behind. The only agreement is no one seems to agree.
Since the automotive press can be a bit “Inside Baseball” I checked with the average Joe and Jane. A 15 minute ferry wait finds a lot of Canadians crowding around the curious compacts and their legendary reputation for politeness remains intact. Everyone in line seemed to be smitten. Even prodded with loaded questions such as “Do you find it a bit odd?” returns a cheerful “I rather like it’s cheeky look”. All in that endearing Canadian lilt.
However you respond to the wrapper, Nissan is calling Juke a “sport-cross”. It’s mission? Blend the best attributes of a crossover and sports coupe. Juke is aptly named, it has moves and it’s fun to chuck into a corner. Riding on standard 17” wheels and Goodyear Eagle RS V-rated treads, all the adjectives that get an enthusiast excited can be put to use here- quick, agile, athletic, tenacious. It reminds me of the good times I’ve had in a Civic Si and Mazda3.
Providing oomph for all Jukes is a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder with direct injection (Nissan’s DIG acronym stands for Direct Injection Gas). It churns out 188 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque from 2,000 to 5,200 RPMs. That pep is channeled through a choice of a 6-speed manual (front-drive only and not experienced) or continuously variable transmission. Keep in mind Juke weighs an average of 3,070 pounds.
How Juke gets it’s moves
Front drive Jukes dance with a rear Torsion bar suspension with integrated stabilizer bar. Opt for the all-wheel drive system and it changes to a multi-link set up with a rear differential that channels power between the left and right wheels. It’s similar in concept to systems from Acura and BMW. Juke’s all-wheel drive system is intended for light duty only. That’s fine, not many crossovers find themselves bombing around the backroads. Nor do SUVs but that’s a topic for a different article...
I’m in a top line SL model with AWD and CVT. The seat of my pants says 0-60 happens in 7.5 seconds. Road noise is average, ride quality is good considering the sporty intentions. Fuel economy is decent too, my tester is rated by the EPA to score 25 city, 30 highway. A front-drive CVT snags a 27/32 rating.
I-CON is iconic
Slide into the nicely bolstered and heated leather seats and there’s more of that innovation Nissan speaks of. Look hard though. Appearing to be a standard set of HVAC controls is the I-CON system. Hit the D-MODE button and not only does the LCD display switch to provide torque and boost information, the flanking buttons also transform, not just color but wording as well. It’s great fun to watch the seamless operation. I can see where this tech would make an excellent human/machine interface if it were to be expanded to 3 or more different display pages. Unlike some high end luxury interfaces I-CON is elegant and easy to understand.
In D-MODE, drivers can chose between Normal, Sport and Eco and the different dynamics are very clear. Eco eases throttle tip in and changes the CVT ratios for max fuel savings. I don’t care for the rubbery dynamics that generally come with CVT transmissions but not only does Sport mode firm up steering effort, and sharpen throttle response, it blesses the automatic with simulated gear shifts. It’s also holds onto lower ratios longer when pushing through corners in Juke’s entertaining sort of way.
An interior for the gamer
Juke’s interior is a stylish place to see the world from. The cabin, comprised mostly of hard plastics, is nicely trimmed with faux aluminum and piano black pieces. The metallic painted center console is an inspired piece, wish it included an arm rest with covered storage. The target market (a mid-20s male who likes gaming, sports and Maxim magazine) will enjoy the Rockford/Fosgate sound system with subwoofer. A USB jack ensures smooth iPod connectivity, Bluetooth phone support is on board too. The only thing spoiling the looks as an obvious airbag cover on the passenger’s side of the dashboard. Make sure you can get comfy during the test drive, the excellent steering wheel tilts but does not telescope.
In back there are belts for three. They should either be children or very very good friends. Remember this is a small car and with the front seat adjusted for myself as a driver, this 5’9” car critic does not have much knee or foot room in steerage. No center armrest or headrest either. There’s one map pocket and door mounted slots for drinks. It’s not opulent, people won’t choose Juke for a carpool vehicle.
I’m traveling and unable to do the infamous TP trunk test. Filling in for the bath tissue is my luggage. I travel with 4 bags, a standard suitcase, tripod case, large camera bag and a computer briefcase. The swoopy lines of Juke’s backside keep cargo space on the tight side, the laptop bag is relegated to the back seat. Front-drive Jukes have a deep storage nook under the load floor. This sport-cross will seldom carry four let alone 5, so I can see at least one of the split rear seats permanently lowered. With both backs down it should swallow a bicycle with the front wheel removed.
With destination Juke starts at $19,700 for a front drive model. Load it up like my SL tester and it can climb to over 26 large with optional wheels, Illumination package and Sport package. But as people “right-size” from larger vehicles they expect the tech and creature comforts they’ve grown accustomed to.
In that regard Nissan says Juke is not a traditional price point small car. Uh... Earth to Nissan, it’s not a traditional car, period. In the past this vehicle would have been shut out of the US market. We never saw Nissan’s appealing Pao or be-1 and it took a decade for cube to come to our shores. Automakers are thinking globally now and with Juke doing gangbusters in Japan and Europe’s prelaunch promising, it makes economic sense to bring it to North America even if it sells in lower numbers than Altima. The design might divide but the driving dynamic unites and Nissan makes good on the Innovation For All claim. The diminutive Juke packs big personality.