2011 Nissan Juke: The Four-Cylinder Cute-Ute Hits Its Stride
April 19, 2011
It's hard to believe it was 15 years ago that the first compact crossover SUVs appeared on the market. These have always been and, likely, will always be strong sellers due to their ever compelling combination of utility, ride height, maneuverability and affordability -- but with rare exception (turbo Forester), I have never liked driving them and that includes most of the current-day models. Invariably, they're too slow, too clumsy-handling, too plasticky or some combination of those three.
But after five days in our long-term 2011 Nissan Juke, even I have to admit that this is a pretty darn nice vehicle to drive, cute-ute or not.
To start, the Juke is just not slow. It runs a 15.5-second quarter-mile, which is a half-second slower than the current Forester XT. The Subaru, however, has an outdated four-speed automatic, whereas the Nissan has a well-calibrated CVT, and once you adjust to its way of doing things, it's your friend in freeway traffic. There's a bit of lag from the 1.6-liter turbo (as there should be, it's a turbo), but even with a not-quite-full-throttle input, the Juke gets up to 70 mph smoothly. And it's easy to get back into the boost when you step out to pass.
Of course, there are plenty of other small crossovers that are decently quick (most with a V6), but most of them don't handle well (RAV4, I'm looking at you). Here again, the Juke is a pleasant exception. Its electric-assisted power steering actually has good on-center feel and adjusts the effort level appropriately as you add input to its compact steering wheel. Turn-in response feels quick to the point that you actually look for opportunities to toss into a corner instead of avoiding them. Brake pedal feel is good, too.
Finally, there's my complaint about the plastickyness of small SUVs. Now, the Juke is not a bit posh. But none of the plastics the cabin feel overtly cheap. Everything looks good. And except for the silly liftgate issue, the fit and finish is good inside and out.
Seemingly, the Juke is immune to all the things I usually dislike about cute-utes, and amidst my post-Mazdaspeed-3 delirium tremens, I am starting to fall for it.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 5,004 miles