The VehiCROSS Connection - 2011 Nissan Juke Long-Term Road Test
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2011 Nissan Juke Long-Term Road Test

2011 Nissan Juke: The VehiCROSS Connection

August 15, 2011

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“What is it?” Jim Poste asks me. “You can’t tell if it’s coming or going.” This is the usual smart remark about the Juke, only it has some irony since it comes from a guy who has owned so many Porsche 911s, a car that you really can’t tell if it’s coming or going.

Everyone is eager to diss the Atomic Frog, our 2011 Nissan Juke. It took me a long time to get it what it's about, but finally enlightenment came to me when I thought of Shiro Nakamura, Nissan’s chief designer.

Because it was Shiro Nakamura who brought us the Isuzu VehiCROSS.

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I remember driving that first VehiCROSS in 1999, when Isuzu brought it to the U.S. Derived from a 1993 concept shown at the Tokyo auto show, it came to production in Japan in 1997. It combined the basic hardware of the Isuzu Trooper with a cool BorgWarner all-wheel-drive system that vectored torque to all four wheels based on inputs from a dozen sensors (a big number in those days).

Isuzu hoped the VehiCROSS would support its aspirations in the Paris-Dakar rally raid, but as I discovered on Glendora Mountain Road (with Nakamura in the passenger seat and urging me on), it was actually better on asphalt, sliding through the corners like an angry although oversized rally car. As I told Nakamura, this was an SUV turned into a sports car.

But it’s hard to be first. The VehiCROSS was a spectacular flop, dissed by the usual narrow-minded observers in the automotive media who hated sport-utilities, couldn’t understand a high-performance sport-utility, and were disoriented by the styling. Only 4,153 were sold when U.S. sales ended in 2001.

Ironically, the BMW X5 also went into production in 1999, and within a few years it morphed into the X5 4.5i, an SUV sports car with big tires and lots of horsepower that prepared the way for the hot-rod Audi Q7, Infiniti FX45 and Porsche Cayenne. They all made it big, but they were actually just following in the VehiCROSS’s tracks.

Satomi Murayama developed the design in Isuzu’s European design studio with a group of British designers, but Nakamura (educated at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calfornia) championed the design. And apparently Nakamura's same willingness to be different came into play again with the Nissan Juke, a design from Nissan’s design studio in London that led to the Qazana concept car for the 2009 Geneva show.

Nakamura has just published a book about about design in Japan, Stories About Shapes in Japanese Cars. He notes, "I think design is becoming much more complex, not as simple as just making a nice-looking car, so I really want the young people to open your eyes and try to be, or should be, much more interested -- with more curiosity. You must have curiosity for everything. Curiosity is the power of creation."

Personally I like the Juke because it doesn’t look like a shopping basket. It drives a bit like a rally car, too. Let’s hope it meets a better fate than the VehiCROSS.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 9,850 miles


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