"Is it electric? It looks like something kids [people in their 20s or 30s] would like. It's quirky. What is it?" This woman's golden retriever's nose is uncomfortably close to our crotch ("Don't worry, he's friendly!"...sure is) and she's poring over our new 2011 Nissan Juke SL AWD like it was from outer space. We don't blame her.
"No, Ma'am, it's not electric. It's actually turbocharged and designed for fun. It's kind of sporty. But you're right, it is quirky and probably something for kids."
Her dog wanders into a nearby stream and she belts out one last, "Is it even a hybrid? What is it?" before rushing down the embankment to save a dog from having fun.
Of course, the 2011 Nissan Juke SL is not a hybrid or an EV or any other type of newfangled alt-fueled world-saving contraption. But "What is it?" That's a real question. It's the strangest-looking car we've ever had in the long-term fleet and it handles better than anything riding on the same platform as the Versa should.
It's quirky and different and so what if we don't know what it is; we've got a Juke for 12 months and 20,000 miles to figure that out.
What We Got
Our 2011 Nissan Juke SL AWD CVT starts out with a turbocharged 1.6-liter direct-injection gasoline (DIG) four-cylinder engine making 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. As the name implies, power is sent to all four wheels (when the switch is flipped — the AWD system isn't permanent and is disabled, enabled or locked via rocker on the dash) through a continuously variable transmission. In this trim, the Juke is good for an EPA estimated 25 city and 30 highway mpg. It's also good for ripping $25,330 (including $760 destination fee) from your wallet.
Sure, there are less expensive options. The S model with FWD, the same 188-hp motor and CVT, cloth seats, iPod integration and Bluetooth runs $18,980. Upgrade to the SV and you get a sunroof, rear privacy glass, keyless ignition/entry, leather-wrapped steering wheel, satellite radio, automatic climate control and the Integrated Control (I-Con) system which allows control over Normal, Sport and Eco settings for throttle, steering and transmission as well as the climate control. This package runs from $20,280. The SV is also the lowest trim where you can select a six-speed manual transmission instead of the CVT.
The top dog is the SL. For the SL you take the SV and add automatic headlights and foglights, leather, heated front seats, an upgraded six-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system with 8-inch subwoofer, a rearview camera and an SD-card-based navigation system. This option is, of course, the most expensive at $22,570. Add all-wheel drive and the CVT and you're up to $24,570.
And then comes the options. These are limited as the Juke SL is already well equipped with USB and Bluetooth, navigation, leather and keyless entry. We got carpeted floor mats for $170 and a rear roof spoiler for $390. If you're going to go quirky, go all out.
All told, our Juke rings up a tab of $25,890, though this vehicle was not purchased by Edmunds, rather it was loaned by the manufacturer for this test.
Why We Got It
The Nissan Juke is billed as a "Bold Urban Sport Cross." Separately, we can define all of those words, put them together to define a car and somehow things get blurry. In our full test we wrote, "From the Group B-esque headlights to its comically swollen wheel arches and taillights that could have been pilfered from a 370Z, the 2011 Nissan Juke throws together a bizarre mishmash of styling cues. You keep staring at the thing trying to get your head around it, but the Juke is defiantly head-wraparound-proof. It's funky. It's ugly. It's funkly."
The French are familiar with crazy as they've had Citroen uglying up their streets for decades, but this is a new level of weird for a nation who values three-box design and classic values. After all, we're last in the developed world for modern architecture. It's just not how we roll.
And that's exactly the point here. The 2011 Nissan Juke is odd in a big way. From its hood-mounted lights to the trio of intakes in the lower fascia to the sports car taillights crammed onto a high-riding AWD sport cross, the Juke should be some sort of insubstantial flash in the pan. Thing is, though, it's not.
We know it drives well. But is the funky packaging useful? Will we be able to see through it over time? Does all-wheel drive and a turbo overcome all obstacles? Will the Versa in the Juke's DNA show through in the long run, or is this the book we're happy we judged by its shocking cover?
Current Odometer: 1,004
Best Fuel Economy: 22.9
Worst Fuel Economy: 21.5
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 22.2
This vehicle was provided to Edmunds for the purpose of this evaluation.