2011 Nissan Juke SL AWD: 10 Miles of Bad Road
August 08, 2011
I'd wanted to climb Telescope Peak, overlooking Death Valley, for years but was stopped by warnings that the last 10 miles to the trailhead required a vehicle with high clearance. The 2011 Nissan Juke SL certainly fits that description so I headed up there Saturday morning with two hiking buddies. What I didn't know was that a week ago that area was hit by a severe thunderstorm and the road was deeply rutted and almost washed out in sections.
It was a strange experience because, between the 1.6 liter engine, the turbocharger and the CVT, I never knew what I was going to get when I put my foot on the accelerator. There was no feeling of connection with the road at a time when I needed to be feeling every stone and rut under my wheels. I found myself wishing I was driving my 1987 Dodge Raider which had a manual transmission and a low range.
To be fair, the road was tougher than I expected -- more suited for the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor than the Juke -- and we did make it to the trailhead at 8,100 feet. The suspension handled the rocks and ruts without bottoming out and the Juke only lost traction once. The problem was the power train. It didn't deliver power predictably. I had noticed the same thing the night before when we climbed to the Mount Whitney Portal at 8,400 feet on pavement. At times it seemed completely out of power.
I did like the way the Juke handled and at highway speeds it felt solid with little wind or road noise in the cabin. The controls take a lot of getting used to and the nav screen is too small. The fuel economy is a disappointment too: the very best figures I got was the run from Lone Pine to Long Beach, 230 miles, during which the Juke delivered 28 mpg in ECO mode with cruise control set at 74 mph.
The road passes these charcoal kilns built back in 1877 but which look like they might have been the home of aliens landing in UFOs.
Here's a view from the summit of the salt lake around Badwater, the lowest point in the U.S.
Philip Reed, Edmunds senior consumer advice editor @ 8,720 miles