2011 Nissan Juke Long Term Road Test - Wrap-Up

2011 Nissan Juke Long-Term Road Test

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Read the introduction of the 2011 Nissan Juke to our long-term fleet.

When we first introduced our 2011 Nissan Juke SL, Features Editor Mike Magrath asked, "What is it?" A mini SUV? A compact crossover? A hatchback with really weird headlights?

Magrath wasn't the only one who was confused. Heck, even Nissan was a little hazy on the Juke, calling it a "sport cross" as if that means anything at all.

Our test sought to figure out where the all-new Juke fits. From our first drive of the Nissan we knew it was fun to drive. Senior Editor Erin Riches wrote, "Of course, you're never going to have the same feelings for the 2011 Nissan Juke that you would for a Z-car, but the Juke is the most interesting drive in Nissan's small-car lineup by a wide margin."

With that kind of enthusiasm behind it, the Juke was a natural fit for a long-term test. Would it still be fun after a year? Or would the sportiness fade and its limited size become a liability? A good 12 months behind the wheel would answer them both.

Order Up
Nissan offers the entry-level Juke S for under $20,000. Standard fare for all Jukes is a 1.6-liter direct-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder that generates 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. This most affordable Juke also had cloth seats, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and a front-wheel-drive configuration.

We decided instead on the top-level Juke SL, which extended the list of available features. The comfort of leather seating, convenience of navigation and panel-saving assistance of a back-up camera were the more significant amenities. Our SL had the CVT, the 1.6-liter engine and the optional torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system. This AWD system does not have a traditional center differential. Torque was instead distributed 50/50 when it was locked or 100 percent to the front wheels when unlocked.

The only options on our Juke SL were its $390 rear roof spoiler and $170 carpeted floor mats. In total, our Juke had an MSRP of $25,890.

Early Driving Impressions
Everyone was eager to drive the newest oddity in our long-term garage. Engineering Editor Jason Kavanagh drove the Nissan the first night and had this to say: "This little toad has handling that is best described as snappy. No, that's wrong. Spunky. It changes direction with enthusiasm and gives the driver heaps of confidence. This is because its steering is quick, body roll is minimal and the AWD system actively routes torque to the outside wheel when negotiating corners. Doing so nullifies understeer.... It's something you definitely notice when piloting this guy. Yay fun cars!"

Inside Line Editor Ed Hellwig added, "I have to agree with Kavanagh; the Juke is shockingly fun to drive. He focused on the suspension, which I agree is dead on, but I think the engine deserves plenty of credit, too. Even with a potentially soul-sucking CVT, the little 1.6-liter four-cylinder still launches this car from a stop with a shove. It builds power smoothly, stays composed at high rpm and even has decent pull down low. The only problem? It encourages a flat foot, so don't expect to see us getting anywhere near the EPA mileage ratings."

Interior Quirks and Quality
Inside the cabin we weren't quite as pleased initially. Secondary control knobs felt more flimsy than we liked and some thought the snapping sound made by the shift release button was flimsy. Although the onboard G-meter, which is similar to that on our Nissan GT-R, was neat, it was quickly deemed more gimmicky than useful.

But it was not all jeers from within the cabin. We grew to appreciate the quirky interior layout of the Juke. The interior panels were painted to match the exterior Cayenne Red of our test car, and contrasted with the SL's black leather, which looked pretty cool. As for the leather itself, it engulfed the steering wheel, shifter knob and seats. It appeared to be stitched together with care and made us curious as to how it would wear over time. (It held up just fine.) The fact that a car in this price range also came with navigation and a back-up camera as standard equipment was another nice touch.

Commuter and Dirt Devil
As a commuter the 2011 Nissan Juke soon drew comparisons to another long-term test car in our fleet, the Mini Countryman. Both CUVs were unique in their design. And both considered themselves to be sporty, performance-oriented alternatives to the typical crossover.

Senior Editor Erin Riches compared the two: "The Juke has really opened my eyes to the weaknesses of the Countryman. Here's the deal. The Juke has a much more usable power band. There's torque right away, where you can use it in cutthroat traffic, and that's something 0-60 times for these cars (both in the 7s) won't tell you. Further, the Juke is a better ride. It's not a soft ride, but with go-flats instead of run-flats, and a slightly more relaxed approach to tuning the suspension, there's more cushioning over impacts."

Now we did not order our Juke with all-wheel drive for commuting alone. When the time came to test the system, we had some fun with it. On the road to Telescope Peak, high above Death Valley, we subjected the Juke to 10 miles of road that we probably shouldn't have. Senior Consumer Advice Editor Philip Reed told the story: "What I didn't know was that a week earlier the area was hit by a severe thunderstorm and the road was deeply rutted and almost washed out in sections." Softball-size rocks required a slow crawl. This pace was not ideal for a turbocharged engine with little initial torque and a CVT that didn't offer a low gear. Still, the Juke handled it just fine.

Where it struggled with rocks, the 2011 Nissan Juke excelled on gravel roads. We learned this the fun way, in the form of a Juke vs. Datsun 510 dirt showdown. Senior Editor Josh Jacquot explained what made the Juke so great off-road. "The magic, the reason this car is actually enjoyable to drive on the gravel, is its torque-vectoring center differential, which is capable of sending 100 percent of the available torque (50 percent of the total torque) to the outside wheel while cornering. It's like a turning brake that actually accelerates the car rather than slowing it down. And it's more effective than you'd ever imagine."

Minor Problems, Moderate Cost
The process of accumulating miles introduced us to a few minor mechanical issues. The most annoying involved the rear hatch. For a time there was no measure of strength or finesse that could convince the dashboard-mounted warning light that the rear door was, in fact, closed. An adjustment of the striker by our local dealer remedied the glitch under warranty. An antenna fault warning light, which required the complete replacement of the head unit, was similarly addressed by the dealership. The cost for this repair was one day of missed seat time while we waited for parts.

We didn't escape a year of Juke ownership scot-free. Routine maintenance at 7,500 and 15,000 miles averaged a moderate $83 per visit. Some unfortunate luck with tires also set us back a fistful of dollars. A rock punctured a rear tire sidewall during the Datsun dirt-fest. Upon closer investigation, we realized the opposing tire was worn to the point of no return. We replaced the pair of 17-inch Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires for $462, mounted and balanced.

After the Honeymoon
Once the initial excitement waned, we had to make an effort to keep the odometer rolling in the Juke. It didn't come as naturally as in some other long-term cars. Perhaps it was the firm ride quality that bordered on rough or its compact size. Sure, a child seat fit snugly in the second row and the cargo area fit two carry-on bags, but there wasn't much left after that.

Other practical concerns brought the 2011 Nissan Juke down a notch or two. We averaged 22.4 mpg for the life of the vehicle, with our best single tank at 28.3 mpg. Considering the EPA ratings of 25 city and 30 highway mpg our results bordered on unreasonable. We blame some of this on the Nissan's fun-inducing demeanor, but that excuse only stretches so far.

Hard interior plastics were unaffected by our abuses and its leather seating remained in near-new condition over time. A driver seat creak developed, which inflicted the lone chink in its otherwise impressive build quality. From a mechanical perspective it was not without its snafus. But thanks to a spare tire, never once did the Juke leave us stranded.

The Verdict
We fell short of our 20,000-mile goal, yet still learned plenty about the Nissan during its stay. First and foremost, the 2011 Nissan Juke is an undeniably entertaining compact SUV. It's one of those rare cars that looks average on paper, yet feels lively from behind the wheel. Whether on the asphalt or in the dirt, the Juke's torque-vectoring AWD really worked well and provided the perfect complement to the well-tuned suspension.

According to Edmunds' TMV® Calculator our Juke depreciated just 19 percent from its original MSRP, based on a private-party sale. This equaled that of our recently departed Mini Cooper S Countryman. So add a respectable resale value to the list.

Like any SUV in this class, the Juke requires a certain level of restraint when it comes to packing. The limited cargo and passenger room means you need to travel light or have fewer friends/kids/dogs. The Juke is also a little on the thirsty side for its size, so there's a trade-off for its lively performance. As far as we're concerned, it's a fair trade. There aren't many compact SUVs that we actually look forward to driving, so the Juke is largely in a class of its own in that regard.

Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs: 165.54 (over 12 months)
Additional Maintenance Costs: $462.23
Warranty Repairs: ECM reflash, replaced head unit, adjusted hatch striker
Non-Warranty Repairs: Replaced 2 tires
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 1
Days Out of Service: None
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Best Fuel Economy: 28.3 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 17.9 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 22.4 mpg
True Market Value at service end: $20,925 (private-party sale)
Depreciation: $4,965 (or 19% of original MSRP)
Final Odometer Reading: 18,337 miles

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

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Past Long-Term Road Tests