2011 Nissan Juke - Road Test Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
"Driving the Nissan Juke is the biggest hoot going. It's indecently quick and fun."
Nissan calls the Juke, its smallest crossover, "The Bold Urban Sport Cross", and claims inspiration from rally cars and motorcycles to combine sports car performance and handling with SUV ride height, versatility, and available all-wheel drive.
The alleged motorcycle influence is in the center console, which, when viewed from some angles, looks like the fuel tank of a sportbike. But after a short time in a Juke, I detected more…
Well-damped, long-travel suspension to deal with bad pavement with no detriment to sport-level handling, plus a willing engine that goads you to silly fun… where have I seen that before?
Right, supermotard motorcycles. A supermotard, aka supermoto, is a combination of motorcross or enduro or dual-sport chassis with smaller wheels and street tires (or racing slicks if raced) and suitably modified suspension. They're light, capable of cornering angles exceeded only by MotoGP bikes, and much quicker, especially around corners, than logic or your eyes want to believe.
The Nissan Juke is the first four-wheeled supermotard.
How'd they do that? First, with a modified version of Nissan's B-segment chassis, with greater ride height and seven inches of ground clearance. Where cousin Versa has a 1.6-liter, 107-hp or 1.8-liter, 122-hp four-cylinder engine, the Juke gets a 1.6-liter four with an attitude -- 188 horsepower courtesy of direct fuel injection and an intercooled turbocharger. That gets to the ground by way of the front wheels with a six-speed manual gearbox or the front or all wheels with a CVT.
Watch the Nissan Juke AWD promo video
Trim levels are basic S, upgraded SV, with the I-CON integrated control system, a moonroof, automatic temperature control, Intelligent Key® pushbutton start/stop, and other interior upgrades, and the premium SL, with standard navigation system, rear-view monitor, leather-appointed seats (with heating in front), and an upgraded audio system among other enhancements. All may be had with front- or torque-vectoring all-wheel drive; AWD means CVT only, while FWD SV and SL models may be equipped with a six-speed manual.
• SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyers Guide
My first acquaintance with the Juke was at my local automotive journalists association's annual track day earlier in the year. That's a good way to go faster than is legal on the street, but hardly at race speeds. I was in something relatively quick, and was mercilessly dogged by a fellow journalist in the Juke. Huh? Yeah, he's better at that sort of thing than me, with plenty of vintage racing experience, but the Juke didn't look like a vehicle that would work well in that environment.
Looks can be deceiving. We came in, and switched cars. Instant grin on my part. That funny-looking crossover thing worked, and well. It was the FWD, stick, SV variety, and manual shifting allowed its willing engine to play, and work the well-tuned suspension.
I've just finished a week at home with the same Juke. Flogged for a day on the track, then in the hands of journalists for another few months, and none the worse for wear. It was still a happy little machine, and despite enjoying its entertaining acceleration and fine handling as much as possible, I still saw over 25 mpg for the week. It looks different, but it works as well as as any performance hatchback and offers the space and versatility of a small crossover. Don't try to categorize it, just drive it and smile.
Watch the "Heart of the New Nissan Juke" video
APPEARANCE: Want proof that the French (Renault) own Nissan? Here it is, combining the most charmingly bizarre styling cues and styles of French and Japanese cars and culture. If the basic proportions say "baby of the Nissan crossover family", the details say "What?!??". And then you smile. You expect the headlights to be on top of the fenders, with the turn signals beneath. Just the opposite is found here, with the round headlights below turn signals that sit under triangular fairings atop the front fenders. The grille and fender treatments are identifiably Nissan crossover, the relatively low greenhouse is semi-coupelike, with a windshield that, interestingly, doesn't extend to the leading edge of the roof, and the L-shaped taillights are a nod to those on the 370Z. The Juke sits high, with lower trim that can be interpreted as either skid plates (SUV/crossover/rally car) or hot hatch aero kit.
COMFORT: Inside, the Juke is as stylistically interesting and pleasantly weird as outside. Need a "personal spaceship" set for a low-budget, direct-to-YouTube sci-fi flick? Here it is! But fashion doesn't trump function. Instruments are easily visible, and controls are well-marked and easily used. The Juke's high stance means a comfortably upright seating position, with surprisingly good support considering the modest price. I didn't notice the "motorcycle tank" shape of the center console until reading Nissan's promotional literature, but perhaps I have different expectations of motorcycle tank shape. (and I usually see bike tanks from a different angle…) There is no covered storage, but the glove box is larger than usual, and hides the iPod connector. The SV gets a leather steering wheel rim and upgraded cloth upholstery. Front headroom won't be a worry. The rear seat is adequate for two or sometimes three people under 5-6 or so. There's plenty of cargo space behind the rear seat, and a 60/40 fold for the seatback when more is needed. There is a bit more storage under the load floor, and a space-saver spare beneath that.
SAFETY: The Juke is built with Nissan's "Zone Body Construction" with front and rear crumple ones. The Nissan Advanced Air Bag System protects front passengers with frontal and seat-mounted side impact airbags and all side passengers with roof-mounted side curtain air bags. Vehicle Dynamic Control enhances stability, and also includes traction control. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist ensure good stopping abilities.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Theoretically, highish (seven inches) ground clearance and a long-travel, moderately firm suspension shouldn't be the ticket for good handling response. And theoretically, bumblebees shouldn't fly… Body roll is minimal, despite the front-drive car's MacPherson strut front, torsion beam axle rear suspension's long travel and ability to comfortably soak up ruts and hole and other fine features of maintenance-deferred alleged pavement. Steering effort is moderate, with a slight quickening in response by use of the I-CON "Sport" mode.
PERFORMANCE: If, at just over 2900 pounds, the Juke SV manual is no ultralight, its 1.6-liter turbocharged and intercooled engine packs enough punch -- 188 horsepower at 5600 rpm, with 177 lb-ft of torque between 2000 and 5200 rpm -- to make that a non-issue. Direct fuel injection, called "Direct Injection Gasoline" or DIG™ by Nissan, allows a high compression ratio for optimum efficiency and power production. Variable phasing of both camshafts further improves efficiency and response throughout the rev range, and helps reduce emissions. It's a fine example of all that is good about turbos, with no noticeable lag if revs are kept up, and instant and strong torque when desired. With that sort of torque, gear choice is often not critical, and one gear will suffice at a variety of speeds. But when it comes time to shift, it's a pleasure, with one of the best shift linkages I've experienced in a front-drive car. Yes, there can be torque steer at times. But no surprise, there's plenty of torque. Need to move, quickly? A 0-60 time in the seven-second range sees to that. The I-CON system takes advantage of drive-by-wire electronic throttle control and electric power steering to allow three levels of re-programming. Default mode will be fine most of the time, with moderate throttle travel for easy modulation and a moderate weight to the steering. Sport reduces throttle travel for quicker response, and slightly increases steering weight. Eco mode increases throttle travel and didn't seem to affect steering noticeably. Despite liberal use of Sport mode and as much enthusiastic driving as possible, I got over 25 miles per gallon during my week, and many more smiles per gallon. EPA ratings are 24/31
CONCLUSIONS: The Nissan Juke combines unique styling with unique ability to make a functional and entertaining small but useful and fun car. Or whatever it may be…
2011 Nissan Juke SV
Base Price $ 20,260
Price As Tested $ 21,580
Engine Type turbocharged and intercooled DOHC inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection and variable cam phasing on both cams.
Engine Size 1.6 liters / 99 cu. in.
Horsepower 188 @ 5600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 177 @ 2000-5200 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length 99.6 in. / 162.4 in.
Curb Weight 2912 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 15.5
Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement 91 octane premium unleaded gasoline recommended
Tires P215/55R17 93V Goodyear Eagle RS-A
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA standard
Suspension, front/rear independent strut / torsion beam axle
Ground Clearance 7 inches
Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed 24 / 31 / 25.6
0 to 60 mph 7.0 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Splash Guards $ 120
Carpeted Floor and Cargo Mats $ 170
Illuminated Kick Plates $ 280
Destination Charge $ 750
2011 Nissan Juke on Two Wheels