Resist the temptation to make digs about the 2011 Nissan Juke's sheet metal. Be better than that. Rise above. C'mon, you can do it. Styling is subjective, after all.
Remember that member of the opposite sex you knew in high school, the one your mother wanted you to date? You know, the one with "a great personality?" That's the Nissan Juke.
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.
It's smaller than you think, too. Photos suggest that the Juke is a beefy sport-ute about the size of a Kia Borrego or a Toyota Land Cruiser. Nope. It's a pint-size thing that rides on the same platform as the Nissan Cube and Versa.
But the Juke has a whole lot more personality than those cars, and we mean that in the best way possible. Those flamboyant visuals aren't all bluster — the Juke delivers a fun-to-drive exponent beyond its plebeian roots.
Its chassis is coiled tight and changes direction as if it was fed a steady diet of British B-roads during its development. The 2011 Nissan Juke is far more Mini than it is Scion xB.
Yes, this puckerfish has genuine handling poise. Even in lowly front-wheel-drive guise, which forgoes the fully independent rear end of AWD variants for a simple twist beam, the Juke is sharp, nimble and willing to let you extract every iota of grip from the chassis.
Even the stability control cooperates in the fun, as it is surprisingly liberal in letting you play with the car's handling balance using the throttle. Heck, this Juke is more playful than a Volkswagen GTI.
As for ride quality, this frog's legs are firm enough to remind you of their ability to spring to and fro, but don't kick their occupants tiresomely. The steering — electrically assisted, and obviously so — could be better. It's precise, but there isn't much feel to it and the weighting is artificial especially when it's attempting to mitigate torque steer. There's also no telescoping action. Pshaw.
The Juke's slalom performance at the test track of 66.2 mph is substantial. In fact, it's far quicker through the cones than the last Mazda 3 we tested and nips at the heels of a Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8. Not bad for a vehicle riding on 215/55R17 all-season tires, eh? It clung to our skid pad with 0.83g of grip, exhibiting the same communicative nature we observed on the road. Braking from 60 mph consumed a class-appropriate 123 feet.
Our tester, a bare-bones entry-level "S" trim level with no options, comes equipped with a 1.6-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder that pumps out 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. In this, the least expensive 2011 Nissan Juke you can buy, there's a standard continuously variable transmission (CVT) rather than the customary manual gearbox. Odd, yes? Yes. But if you've seen the sheet metal, you know this is par for the course.
The idea of pairing a turbo engine to a CVT is like looping a rubber band to a Lycra stocking — by all rights, the Juke ought to have the world's most stretch-tastically annoying power delivery. And yet in the Juke, the combination works. Boost comes up pretty quickly and the CVT is responsive enough that the little amphibian squirts around town in a natural manner. It's not especially buzzy-sounding. You can catch the engine off-boost at very low revs, but once under way the midrange punch moves the Juke's 2,931 pounds around with authority. Premium fuel, however, is required.
As with many CVT-equipped cars, the Juke's acceleration is deceptively effective when you plant your foot to the carpet since the revs simply climb and hold near redline. Our tester clicked off 60 mph in 7.3 seconds (7.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) on its way to a quarter-mile of 15.5 seconds at 89.9 mph.
This is a respectable performance, but to be fair it involved a bit of juggling between the automatic and manual modes of the CVT. In auto mode, revs climb slower than in Manual mode, which hurts the launch. However, a bit farther down the track, auto mode's ability to operate the engine precisely at peak power gives it an acceleration advantage over the pseudo-shifting manual mode. Thus, the best acceleration resulted from launching in manual mode and then switching to auto once the revs reached the deep end of the tachometer.
Functionally, the 2011 Nissan Juke works pretty well. Visibility through the upright windshield is excellent and there's a sense of ample space in the front thanks to the tall roof. The backseat folds flat, usefully extending the high-bustle rear end's cargo volume. Your 6-foot friend won't be thrilled to ride back there for a long haul, but he's lucky you didn't make him walk instead.
Silver accents spruce up the dark cabin, which thankfully exhibits more styling restraint than the exterior. The steering wheel's nicely contoured grips suggest it was plucked intact from a 370Z, though the vinyl covering proves otherwise. Cabin controls in this base Juke are straightforward, with a simple three-knob HVAC interface and sizable radio buttons.
Automakers use CVTs as a fuel economy play, and the Juke's EPA fuel economy of 27 city/32 highway mpg is a solid showing. Don't place too much stock in the 21.5 mpg we observed in our Juke tester, as our drive time was relatively short and we spent much of it at — ahem — wide throttle openings.
As tested, our Nissan Juke stickers at a hair under $20 grand with destination, slotting neatly between the more affordable Suzuki SX4 and turbocharged Mini Cooper Clubman. It's a lot closer in spirit to the latter than the former, and while the Mini is a modern interpretation of a classic, the Juke hoes a row of its own. The Juke is not a color-by-numbers kind of car. It's an experiment. We're grateful that automakers are still willing to experiment.
The 2011 Nissan Juke may be hard to look at, but it's easy to like.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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