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2011 Nissan Juke: The Juke Ain’t No Joke

When the Nissan Juke was unveiled on the Internet, blogs, Twitter, and even Nissan Fan Boys used words such as “Aztek” to describe it. In pictures, many might revile the Juke as unique, busy, or even downright ugly. On paper one might write the Juke off as being too small or “econobox-like” because it is based on Nissan’s B-Platform and measures up to be smaller than Ford’s 2011 Fiesta sedan. We recently spent a day with the new Juke, just outside of beautiful Vancouver, to try to figure out if it is the new ‘joke’ of B-segment vehicles.

Let’s first clear the air. This is a very small vehicle. It is only 162.4 inches long. The introduction of Juke has created a new segment in the U.S. market, as no automaker has previously produced a B-segment sized crossover for North America. The VW CrossFox and Ford EcoSport in South America are as close as we could come to a similar vehicle. MINI will soon offer the Countryman crossover, but this will most likely have a base price exceeding a fully-loaded Juke. The Juke starts at $18,960 for the Juke S and tops out at $24,550 for all the goodies on the Juke SL AWD. In Canada, where the Mazda3 is king, Mazda3 owners were all abuzz over the new Juke. Many of the owners remarked that they wanted AWD for those Canadian winters, and said that the Juke could fulfill that need. Nissan considers the Mazda3, Suzuki SX4, Countryman, and Matrix to be key competitors with the Juke.
While some may believe that the Juke has looks that only a mother could love, one can’t truly appreciate its design of until it is seen with the naked eye. This isn’t a vehicle for someone who just wants to blend in. From the eyes-wide-open headlights integrated into the bumper, to the traditional Nissan SUV vertical rear door handles, to the Volvo C30-esqe hind quarters mated with 370Z boomerang taillights, the exterior is busy and grabs your attention. Sharp curves, unique lighting designs, and short overhangs give the Juke an in-your-face look that is bound to get stares and finger pointing, as we witnessed in Vancouver.
While in Vancouver, we were stopped in line to load the Juke onto a car ferry (see picture) on our way to the Sunshine Coast. As we pulled up to the loading area, people came out of their cars to come examine this most peculiar car crossover/sport/hatch thing. Many found the Juke to be attractive. By no means were we conducting a scientific study, but women seemed to be much more excited about the Juke than men. While driving out of Vancouver people ran from their garages and into the street to ask us about the Juke. Is it a sport hatch? Is it a crossover? Is it a car? Where are the headlights? Nissan did their best during the press introduction meeting to categorize the Juke, and dubbed it a “sport hatch.”
The interior is a step above the Nissan Versa cousin, which the Juke shares a platform with. On the leather-trimmed SL models, gorgeous red stitching and a motorcycle gas tank inspired center console grab your attention when you sit down. The leather wrapped steering wheel leans more toward 370Z than Murano. It feels thick and meaty in your hands, with steering wheel switches for Bluetooth phone, radio and cruise control. The visual stunner of the Juke is the new Advanced Integrated Control System Vehicle Interface, which Nissan has dubbed I-CON. This isn’t your standard climate control set up. Using advanced mylar technology (we don’t fully understand it) and some expertise from Continental, the supplier, the climate control system morphs into a customizable driving mode and information interface. You literally touch the D-Mode button and the names of all of the switches magically change to Sport, Normal, and Eco. Hit the climate control button and they eerily switch back to an automated climate control set up.
At first, the I-CON systems appears to be very gimmicky. The driver can select from three modes. Normal mode is what Nissan thinks you would prefer if you liked vanilla ice cream. Sport mode firms up the electric power steering, changes the logic of the CVT transmission and changes the electronic throttle input to a more aggressive tip in. The Eco mode cuts back on the air conditioning compressor to reduce parasitic drag, brings the steering back to a lighter setting, higher gear ratios on the CVT, and greatly reduces the throttle response. The noted differences when driving between Sport and Eco were significant. Eco mode felt as if the turbo had fallen off at the last red light, while Sport mode provided very aggressive CVT tuning, as it was trying to keep the engine revving in the sweet spot so the single scroll turbo could spin to its heart’s content. The Eco mode can help reduce your fuel use which is welcome since the Juke does require premium fuel at the pump. Expect 27 MPG in the city and 32 MPG on the highway in FWD form. Its performance proved that this I-CON system is no gimmick, and works just as advertised.
All of this unique throttle mapping goes to Nissan’s new 1.6L direct injection gasoline turbo (Nissan is calling it DIG for direct injection gasoline) which provides more horsepower and torque than the familiar Nissan 2.5L I4. This highly refined and quiet 1.6L can spool up and spit out 188 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque while achieving 27/32 mpg (city/highway) in FWD form. We had an opportunity to sample the six-speed manual transmission and we were not impressed. The clutch had a very long travel and the throws were longer than we preferred. We were constantly rowing the gears to keep the turbo spooled, as otherwise the 1.6L DIG felt like like a 1.6L NA engine as the torque vaporized. The CVT is the way to go on the Juke. The CVT keeps the engine humming in the torque sweet spot allowing more fun, less turbo lag, and more smiles.
Another reason to opt for the CVT is the availability of the new torque vectoring AWD system that can send power to the wheels that have the most grip. The six-speed manual version can only be had in FWD form. The AWD version also offers up a trick independent rear suspension over a torsion bar design on the FWD Juke. Cruising through the curvy mountain roads outside of Vancouver made us want to tick the box for the AWD option. AWD only adds 43 pounds of weight to the vehicle but you also receive the independent rear suspension paired with the very good CVT transmission. AWD is now a must on the Juke.
It’s true that the Juke may not be for everyone, in fact, Nissan thinks the Juke will best fit men between the ages of 18-34 with a personal income of $45K+. These guys like to play XBOX, read Maxim and GQ, and obsess over live sports. Sounds like a few recent college grads we know. We can’t seem to recall the last time a vehicle was marketed only towards women that ended up being equally or more successful with men. Just because of the size (it’s oh so cute!) it is going to be very attractive to women as well. Women love cute utes. We’re sure Nissan won’t put up a fight if women want in on this “manly” vehicle.
The expression “looks can be deceiving” could not be any more true when speaking about the 2011 Nissan Juke. The Juke is fun to drive and carves up the road with torque vectoring all wheel drive, ‘better-than-most’ feeling electric power steering, and an interior that doesn’t scream “I bought a small car and all I got was this cheap interior.” The Juke has standard Bluetooth hands-free phone, iPod connectivity, active head restraints, and much more. The SV and SL trim levels offer an impressive list of options including Nissan’s Intelligent key with push button start, auto climate control, power moonroof, navigation, and a USB port for additional media choices. Leather, heated seats and a rear view camera are designated for SL models only. We sampled a Juke with navigation and without. If you’re really into iPods or other media devices, we recommend the navigation version. The standard radio has a very small display, which makes iPod adjustments on the fly the fastest way to need two Excedrin.
Overall, the Juke is really about being first to market in the sporty crossover B-segment market and doing it well. The Juke offers a lot of technology, love ’em or hate ’em looks, a European tuned suspension, and a quiet and fun powertrain combination. The recipe book used on the Juke calls for only the finest ingredients. The outside might look a little out of the ordinary, but wait until you see a Juke in person before passing judgment. Nissan is definitely on to something good with the Juke and we think it is worth your time to take one for a drive starting in September 2010.
One of the best videos we have seen to date showing direct injection technology:

Nissan’s all-new torque vectoring AWD offers tenacious grip and is a first in a B-segment vehicle:

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