2011 Nissan Juke SL FWD Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Since the Nissan Juke was introduced to the world at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show, this funky-looking little crossover has certainly attracted its share of attention. It's hardly surprising, really, because the designers at Nissan didn't just break the mold when they created the Juke, they appear to have blasted the mold into molecular dust, launched the debris into space, and had it spat back at them by an orbiting UFO in some entirely new other-worldy form. It really is different looking.

I was given a 2011 Juke SL to try out for a week, with front-wheel drive and a 6-speed, and I'm happy to report that it appears aliens know a thing of two about performance and handling because the Juke is more than just a styling statement, it's genuine blast to drive. Part of this has to do with the engine, which is a lively, direct injection 1.6L turbocharged 4-cylinder. It has 188-horsepower worth of zip and zing and thanks to the Juke's relatively svelte 1,313kg (2,895lb) curb weight in front-wheel drive trim, it moves things along surprisingly quickly while still turning in good real-world milage (the rated city/hwy economy is 8.3 / 6.4 L/100km with the 6-speed, or 7.3 / 6.1 L/100km with the CVT automatic).

The remainder of the fun-to-drive equation is a bit more difficult to pin down - it's alchemy and alien engineering, a lesson in how incongruent elements can come together to create a brilliantly unified whole. The Juke shares the same proven B-platform underpinnings as Nissan's Cube, Versa and Leaf and a number of Renault vehicles, but it's nothing like any of these cars and has its own very distinct personality.

The design was based on the Qazana concept car and was penned by Nissan Design Europe in London. It has a muscular lower profile with big rounded wheel arches, topped by a slim greenhouse that slopes downward at the back to create a coupe-like profile (an effect that's aided by the discreet rear door handles, hidden up high in the c-pillar window frame). The windows were reportedly styled to look like a motorcycle helmet visor in overall profile, and inside this theme is picked up by a central column that resembles a motorcycle gas tank (if motorcycle gas tanks had cupholders built in).

The Juke's front end is perhaps the most polarizing part of the design, with bubble-like sidelights sitting high atop the fenders, big round headlights sitting slightly inboard below the grille, and foglights (if fitted) sitting even further inboard in the lower valance. It's all a bit peculiar, but it didn't take long to grow on me and my family. We decided the Juke resembled, more than anything else, a leaf hopper bug. A giant alien leaf hopper bug. And I decided that I love how you can see the sidelights from the driver's seat - it gives you a great sense of where the car's corners are in tight quarters, and at night the gentle orange glow leading you along is just waaay too cool.

The glowing orange sidelights aren't the only cool thing you can see from the driver's seat, especially if you order up an SL trim Juke with the navigation package like our test car. The current trend in small cars aimed at a younger demographic seems to be offer only one or two feature-rich trim levels, and the Juke is no exception - the base SV gets alloys wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, power locks and windows, air conditioning, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a full featured audio system, and much more. The SL trim adds a glass power sunroof, heated front seats, push-button ignition, automatic climate control, fog lights and Nissan's ICON (Integrated Control) system. This provides a video-game like graphic display on the centre console, showcasing a range of selectable performance data: G-forces, turbo-boost, engine torque output, instantaneous or historical fuel economy and more.

Add the navigation package to the SL Juke and you get an awesome-sounding upgraded Rockford-Fosgate audio system with navigation system and backup camera, USB input and satellite radio. You also get beautiful perforated leather seating, just to sweeten the deal. My test car's black leather interior featured contrasting red stitching and red-lined perforations, creating a striking effect. It was very comfortable up front, and cozy but comfortable in the back (it's cozy enough that the headliner needs to be contoured aft of the sunroof to provide adequate headroom, but still spacious enough to fit a six-footer). The back seats are split folding to expand the smallish luggage compartment, and there's a good-size bin under the luggage compartment floor to stow items out of sight.

Both trim levels can be be ordered in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive guise. The front-drive cars offer a choice of 6-speed manual transmission or CVT automatic, while the all-wheel drive version is available with the CVT only. This latter fact is a crying shame, really. With the 6-speed the Juke is remarkably entertaining to drive - quick and agile, with a fun and frisky demeanour, more like a budget sports coupe than a crossover in many respects. The one problem is that it really does have trouble getting all of it's power to the ground, and in the corners it tends towards early understeer. Nissan's well-regarded torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system promises to entirely eradicate these shortcomings but the CVT transmission, as good as it might be, can't help but tame some of the 6-speed Juke's friskiness.

Still, that doesn't take away from the fact that the Juke is a feature-packed and fun-to-drive little crossover with a healthy dollop of style and some unique touches. With suggested prices starting at $19,998 (plus $1,560 destination charges) for the 6-speed front-wheel drive SV, and climbing to $26,648 for the all-wheel drive SL, the Juke also represents impressive value. My test car was priced at $23,548 plus $2,600 for the navigation package, and at that price it was loaded with all sorts of luxury goodies. Now if only I could get my Juke with a 6-speed and all-wheel drive!
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, Nissan, 2011, Juke, $20,000 - $29,999, Subcompact,

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